Help Yourself and Your Marriage During Holiday Stress

 In Individual Work

Help Yourself and Your Marriage During Holiday Stress How does a person take what’s given to them and transform it into something that makes them proud of their living skills?

Here’s what I mean by this overly wordy question: The holidays bring with them once a year demands on time and money that are unusual and often lead to increased stress. By now most of us know the usual suspects – gift buying, holiday parties, extended family, cards, trees and on and on.

On top of all of that there are expectations others have for us – that we’ll come through (‘you’re coming to our Christmas party aren’t you?’) and the expectations we lay on ourselves.

The expectations often trigger questions around our self esteem – ‘am I doing enough?’ ‘did I buy the right gift?’ ‘is my wardrobe ready for all this?’ We all, of course also ingest expectations from family and friends. They are perhaps well meaning but that doesn’t stop us from questioning whether we are ‘good enough,’ generous enough, or caring enough. The natural consequence of self doubt is increased stress levels.

Here are a few coaching tips I learned as a youth while working on a 500 acre dairy farm in Pennsylvania.

• The cows (in our case Holsteins – the black and white cows for you city dwellers) need to be milked and fed daily. How does that show up during the holidays? This way: we each have certain daily commitments that cannot and should not be given less attention. Pay attention as you go into the holidays to your own ‘bottom line’ commitments: exercise/ meditation/ healthy eating/ family time/ rest. Pencil these in your December calendar (see below). They are an important part of keeping your ‘center’ peaceful.

• Preparation for spring planting starts in the winter. Preparation for social events means planning. Grab a calendar page of the month of December. Write down every gathering you have been invited to. Then prioritize them with a number 1 – 10, 10 being ‘I’ll only go to this one if I have absolutely nothing better to do.’ One of course is the essentials – the gatherings that unless you’re in the hospital, you’re going. My suggestion is that you keep this calendar page in the kitchen where you can ‘tweak’ it daily. Next create a list of all the things you have to do and pencil that in your calendar as well. By naming the activity and giving it an appointed time you honor not only your commitments but your limitations as well. Remember: highly stressed people are frequently not good at setting boundaries.

• Always clean up after yourself. At this time of year things change quickly. If you need to back out of an engagement do it now. Don’t postpone it. Call or email and gracefully decline. That way the person hosting the gathering feels respected and you will not be carrying a ‘should’ as stress. This too reflects your willingness to establish boundaries for yourself as well as honor your true limitations.

• Too much summer silage sickens the cows (silage is stored grasses from summer that cows love. It is their winter ‘treat’) For us it’s sweets, booze, pastries – all delicious. Too much of this equals lower energy levels, higher anxiety levels and lower self esteem. Enjoy the goodies but train yourself to be conservative in their presence. Leave half the piece of pie on your plate, sip the drink but don’t ask for a second.

• Harvest time is a time for celebration. This time of year we celebrate families coming together, we celebrate a time for recognizing the importance of loving who we love, we open our hearts to the needy, we think of ways to express all this (gifts, letters, cards) that will convey our gratitude. Don’t be stingy with your loving, be careful with your spending. We all know the size of a gift is not its most important communicator of value. Careful attentiveness to who you’re giving to and to how you appreciate them will far outweigh a careless financial indulgence. Less is often more.

So we can all learn from the farm. We can all learn to walk within the rhythms life offers. We can all accept that we’re good enough just the way we are. We all belong in the family of things. Hugs all around.

Stephen

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