By Shelley Anne Friend

Years ago, I created a program called Handling Holiday Stress. It was a six-hour training session designed for teachers, but it seems just as relevant today as it did years ago. So, as a holiday gift to our Iron Butterflies Project friends, I am turning it into a story and I hope you find it helpful.

Holidays seem to bring out the best in some people and the worst in others. Many people love every minute of the frenzy of decorating and attending parties and celebrating the season. They love shopping, cooking and preparing to entertain as well as the events themselves. Whether it is religious or secular, some people just love the energy and exciting that comes with the hustle bustle of this time of year.

Others, however, don’t. For some people it causes inordinate stress. It may elicit loneliness or fears. Sometimes people fear not purchasing just the right gift, or not having enough time or money, or not knowing how to balance all the activities can lead to stress. Also, this time of year may bring up sad memories of disappointing holidays of the past. And, many families experiencing recent loss or illness, struggle with how to get through the holidays without the person they lost.

Here are some suggestions you may want to consider:

  1. Maintain a sense of normalcy. Keep to your regular schedule of eating, exercising and sleeping.
  2. Manage your expectations of yourself. Sometimes we place higher expectations on ourselves than others do.
  3. Manage your expectations of others. Do what you can/want for others, but make yourself a priority. Set limits of how much time you will spend doing for others and take time for yourself and your priorities.
  4. Make a list for groceries and gifts. Plan your healthy meals, and the people who will receive gifts from you. Just like it’s risky to go to the store when you are hungry or without a list, the same is true when you go shopping at a store or online.
  5. Try to stay in the moment. Focus on what you have to do one day (or hour or minute) at a time. Thinking ahead to a weekend dinner party on Monday is one thing, but obsessing and worrying about it will cause stress all week.
  6. Set priorities. As Stephen Covey says, “put first things first.” Decide what is the most important and do that first. There is usually time for the other less important things.
  7. Be careful not to PRE-crastinate, if you can possibly help it. Pre-crastination, basically, means doing busy work that may or may not be important as a way to put off something we don’t want to, or don’t know how to, do.
  8. Don’t PROcrastinate if you possibly can help it. Procrastination may occur when we fear not knowing what or how to do something. Or, it may be because you thrive on chaos.
  9. If you don’t know how to do something or need help, call for backup!!! Ask friends and family for help. Be specific and unambiguous. Be sure to thank them.
  10. Do something special for yourself or family. See a holiday movie together, go caroling, or bake treats or create a meal together.
  11. Set a financial budget and stick to it. Create homemade gifts for neighbors, friends and even family members.
  12. Try not to judge…yourself or others. As a general rule, I believe people do the best they can. So, maybe your gift to yourself can be to let go of things that usually bother you.
  13. Stay hydrated. That’s my solution for almost anything. Drinking more water keeps everything working. An added bonus is it forces you to take breaks more frequently.
  14. Eat more veggies. That’s my other solution for everything. If we fill up on veggies, we are not as tempted to indulge in food that will make us feel guilty later.
  15. Listen to a favorite podcast or song. We have links to inspirational songs and podcasts our readers have chosen.
  16. Share stories of meaningful holiday memories with people you love, and us!

Whatever you celebrate, religious holidays, family time or being with friends, take time to appreciate every minute. Gretchen Rubin says, “the days are long, but the years are short.” And, Nathanial Hawthorne said, “time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.”

Shelley got her degrees in Public Policy and Communication from The University of Texas and The University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She worked in government and has taught Organizational, Intercultural, Interpersonal and Group Communication, Leadership and Public Speaking on the university and college level for many years. She studied Intercultural Communication as part of the Fulbright Program in Bulgaria. Then, she and a colleague taught Intercultural Communication and Cooperative Learning to participants from all over the world in the Fulbright International Summer Institute, also in Bulgaria.

Shelley teaches part-time at Austin Community College and works as a Communication Consultant in the public, private and non-profit sectors. She sits on two Boards of Directors.  Joshua’s Stage is the premiere performance center in Austin for children/individuals with a wide range of special needs. Featuring classes in theatre arts, dance, digital photography, and filmmaking. Check out their story. And, FaithWorks of Abilene is a non-profit whose mission is to “help the underemployed, through personal, career, academic and spiritual development, acquire the confidence and skills for gainful and long-term employment.” Their motto is “it’s never too late to become what you might have been.” In other words, they create the environment for Iron Butterflies to flourish. We will post a podcast about FaithWorks of Abilene soon.

She married her college sweetheart, Travis Kessler, and they have two smart, strong, beautiful, successful and loving daughters, who married two creative, supportive, strong and loving men. They have one magnificent grandson, who makes the world a better place through the twinkle in his eye and his infectious laugh.

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