Happy Holidays or Hassled Holidays?

December 19, 2017
propel

Tis the season to be crazed. Adding all of the holiday activities to the demands of your already busy life can cause you to feel like you’re caught in a tidal wave of obligations. Rather than happy holidays, this time of the year may become more like the hassled holidays.

The signs that the holidays are causing more stress than satisfaction come on gradually. It’s not a single calamity that overwhelms you, but a series of demanding situations that make it more and more difficult to keep up. It starts with the feeling that you’re responsible for making the holiday’s great for everyone else. You’re already pushing to get your regular routine accomplished, and you’re fighting to find time for shopping and gatherings of friends and family. In your spare time, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself at the office party, your best friend’s open house, and your children’s holiday events.

As the pressure mounts you feel the waves of anxiety and guilt. You try to stick to your healthy routines, but the need to get everything done can eventually sabotage your efforts to exercise, eat well and get enough sleep. As stress mounts and coping behaviors decline, you can feel overwhelmed.

People suffering from holiday pressures can experience difficulty making good decisions, setting priorities, remembering details, and managing their time. Emotionally they feel frenzied, impatient, and irritable. Behaviorally they become curt, demanding, and overly reactive to frustrations. Pleasant conversations with people become pure torture because they feel like they’re wasting time when they have so much else to accomplish.

Your brain becomes overloaded when you have too much to do and too little time in which to do it. As the demand on your time and energy intensifies, you become more easily distracted because the chatter in your mind makes it hard to pay full and thorough attention to any one thing. This isn’t a mental illness nor is it a character defect. It’s your brains’ natural response to excessive demands.

As your brain becomes increasingly flooded with the fear that you won’t be able to get everything done, there’s a corresponding decrease in your ability to creatively solve problems and successfully manage your emotions. Fear creates negative feelings such as anger, anxiety, and depression and limits your responses to fight, flight or freeze.

You can counteract the negative impact of being harried during the holidays by creating positive emotions. First and foremost you must take care of your body by getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating nutritiously. If your body doesn’t get what it needs, your brain won’t work well.

You’ll know that you’re getting enough sleep if you can wake up without an alarm clock. You’ll know that your body is getting the fuel it needs if you’re consuming whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein rather than sweets or fatty foods. You’ll know that you’re burning off the stress chemicals that accumulate in your brain if you’re moving your body briskly for at least 30 minutes most every day.

By keeping your brain chemistry in balance, you’ll wake up refreshed and able to start each day by getting organized. Write down the important items you’d like to accomplish, and designate 20% of them as priorities to get done that day. Rather than getting sucked into the black hole of answering emails or voice mails, attend to one of your top priorities. Do not let yourself get distracted into any other activity until you’ve completed your top priorities. When you scratch items off your to-do list, you’ll feel terrific. Then give your brain a rest every hour and a half with a 10 minute break.

Another method for generating positive emotions is to engage in interactions with people that make you feel good. The best way to do this is with face-to-face connections. Smiles are contagious, so bring your sense of humor to these conversations. The best way to build positive connections is to respond enthusiastically when people respond to your asking them: “What do you enjoy most about the holidays?”

The most important strategy for enjoying the holidays is to reflect on your values. What are your fondest memories from past holiday celebrations? How could you replicate a similar scenario this year? What do you think is most meaningful at this time of the year – family, friends, spiritual renewal? During the upcoming holiday’s you’ll be making memories that you’ll look back upon in the future. Focus on what’s most important and they’ll be holidays you remember fondly.

Dr. Tom Muha is the Director of the PROPEL Institute and author of PROPEL to Quality Healthcare: Six Steps to Improve Patient Care, Staff Engagement and the Bottom Line.

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As the science of optimal human functioning has emerged, Dr. Muha has become a leading practitioner of positive psychology. He has been at the forefront in the study of how people involved in healthcare systems can achieve the highest levels of success and satisfaction. The PROPEL Principles empower healthcare professionals to apply six positive psychology principles – Passion, Relationships, Optimism, Proactivity, Energy, and Legacy – to overcome challenges and achieve remarkable results.

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