Are your holidays filled with relaxation and quality time with family or are you resorting to drinking a little too much eggnog to make it through?. If you are, you are not alone. In fact, 90 percent of Americans who completed a survey indicated that they feel stress during the holidays and 24 percent experience difficulty with family members. If you’re looking for ways to reduce holiday stress and create warm memories with your family, follow these five tips from positive psychology and bring the magic back to the holiday season.
Let Go of The Past and Stay Present
Just like in the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” sometimes we are haunted by the ghosts of Christmases past. We tell ourselves that because our mom has always been critical or our dad always brings up politics and religion that they will this time too. We prep ourselves for the discomfort this has caused in the past which makes us brace for this holiday. Instead try wiping clean the slates of past transgressions, arguments, tears and discomfort. Sometimes letting go seems more difficult because we think that by not holding on to anger, hurt or frustration we are somehow condoning the past. When you let go something or forgive someone, you aren’t saying that everything was okay, you are just saying that it cannot hurt you anymore. Be like a first time visitor to your own family. Be curious, open-minded and look for the good in people’s words and actions. Martin Seligman ,the founding father of positive psychology, recommends breaking habituation, savoring experiences and using mindfulness as ways to increase happiness in the present.
Focus on The Positive
Instead of focusing on the really bad meal you are served year after year, try being impressed the beautiful holiday decor or the great after dinner drinks.. Be a detective finding the good things that are going on around you. Neuroscientists have studied the brain and discovered that as you practice looking for positive your brain actually becomes more adept at finding other positive events. Our neurotransmitters are like wire covered in plastic coating, but in our brain that coating is the myelin sheath. The more times a particular neuropathway is used, the thicker the myelin sheath becomes and this , like a well-developed muscle, strengthens your positive mindset. So when heading home for the holidays try finding something positive in each moment. Eventually this will be come less of a task and more of your brain’s default mode.
University of Pennsylvania did a study in 2005 that proved one of the greatest contributing factors to overall happiness in life is how much gratitude we show. At Thanksgiving we all pay attention to things we are grateful for. Why not try including a little gratitude at every family gathering? Having each family member state one thing they are thankful for has become a part of my family’s holiday meal tradition. You can also adopt a daily gratitude pracice like journaling 3 things each day your are grateful for. This effective method is proven to decrease stress and increase subjective well-being (aka happiness).
Keep Your Usual Routine
Gretchen Rubin, author of My Happiness Project and Better Than Before has researched how our habits make us happier. Her advise over the holiday season? Stick to your habits. This means, if you are an early riser, continue to get up early even if you are surrounded by night owls who like to sleep in. If you exercise regularly, you need that exercise for mood balancing endorphins. Don’t skip the work out and then wonder why you are so cranky. Staying on a sleep, exercise and eating routine that works for you will keep you balanced. This doesn’t mean not to indulge in a treat or try something outside your normal pattern, it simply means that creatures of habits are comforted by those habits! Not only will this help you to avoid holiday stress, it will also make the transition back to work or home an easier one when the holiday is over.
Give Presence not Presents
San Francisco State University did a study that demonstrated that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased greater well-being than material possessions. This means that giving gifts doesn’t make you as happy as sharing experiences. Part of the human happiness equation is our need for social connectedness. Instead of buying clothes, chocolates or candles, try taking everyone ice skating or on a sleigh ride instead.