As you know, the holidays are coming. And, of course, they bring with them additional stresses (as if we weren’t stressed enough, already.)
As you prepare for the holidays, you may find yourself resenting the extra work, effort, and planning/scheduling you have to do. Perhaps you are telling the story of how put-upon you are. Or maybe you are telling yourself the story that the end result isn’t worth the effort. Or that you don’t have time for all this. In effect, you are saying it is a waste of your time and energy.
What if you reviewed your story and decided that it WAS worth the effort. How would that change the stresses? Wouldn’t that suddenly alter the efforts you are making to one of INVESTING rather than spending/wasting? Remember that investing is done with the expectation of reward/return in the future. Look at the returns (rewards) of your effort (enjoyment of the meal, the relationships strengthened or repaired, the affirmation of family, the reaffirmation of love and affection through gifts….)
Did you notice something very important there? The level of stress you feel is not related to the effort involved, but rather, to your attitude about it – a value judgment. We tend to stress around things we don’t want, don’t like, and/or don’t enjoy. Stress is a sublimation of our fight or flight reaction. When we aren’t permitted to attack someone (or something) physically nor to run away, we end up “stuffing it” inside – and generate stress.
The solution, however, is not to beat someone up. Nor is it to run away from everything. Instead, we should take the awareness of stress as a sign that our inner attitude and our outer circumstances are in conflict. In some cases we will want to adjust our attitude. In other cases we want to change the circumstances.
Let’s look at the situation that we might be able to correct by adjusting our attitude – one we might be likely to encounter at the holidays.
Perhaps the holidays will require you to get together with Uncle Fester this year. You and Uncle Fester have a “personality clash”. Or, at least, you have had in the past. As a result, you are expecting more of the same this year. Just the thought of dealing with him is sapping your strength and raising your stress levels.
How can we make that different? First, look at why you are clashing. Are you expecting him to be like you? Are you expecting him to be different than he is? (Do you hear that word “expecting”? There’s that pesky attitude, again.)
What if you if you released your expectations for him? What if you expected him to be the same?
“But that’s the problem. I’m expecting him to be just like he is every year. That’s what’s causing me stress.”
Really? I would suggest that part of what is causing you distress is your expectation/desire for him to be different than he is. What if you allowed him to be who he is and not who you want him to be? Once you decide to let him be who he is, he becomes like a lot of other people you encounter. (You may not choose to hang out with those people, but you treat them quite civilly in your interactions with them. If you don’t and you can’t – you may want to consider a visit to a therapist.)
Back to Uncle Fester. If you want to take it one step further, look for the ways that his personality is actually a benefit to him. (You are noticing his good points and his strengths.) When you do this, you make him back into a human being rather than someone who exists to make your life miserable. (Note: while there is a small possibility that he exists to make your life miserable, the odds are highly against it, so you are better off assuming that he isn’t there for that purpose – just as you aren’t here just to make his life miserable (even though you may be doing it.)) By the way, it doesn’t mean you have to be the way he is – or that it would be a benefit to you. But, by looking for his good points, you might even discover that he has strengths that could complement yours.
“But, John, do I have to do that?” Nope. It’s your choice. You can choose to keep your distress and energy-draining viewpoint or you can change it. But changing it is as simple as changing your stories.
So, as you enter this holiday time, instead of working on a big list of dos and don’ts to relieve stress, look at the stories you are telling yourself. Change the story and you change the meaning of the event. Change the meaning of the event and you change the way you handle the stress. You can actually turn the distress into eustress. (Remember that distress is the bad stress and eustress is the good stress.)
Give it a try. And then report back. I would love to hear your experiences with this.
Need a little help with reinterpreting your stories? Connect with me and let’s talk about it. I have additional resources that can make all the difference for you.