As I think about holiday stress, I can’t help but think about my old friend, Jim, a perfectionist. His tie knot is always centered, his shoelaces symmetrical. Jim plans for his holidays four months in advance. He plans every activity in meticulous detail. Eventually, he begins losing sleep and gets so worked up that he ends up going nowhere. It has been more than a decade that he has actually gone anywhere on the holidays.
Then there is Sid, a high achiever who is filled with the most exotic holiday stories you have ever heard — swimming with sharks or walking on water with a yogi. I feel unworthy sharing that all I did was gain two pounds eating marshmallows and watching “Home Alone” for the 16th time while holding my wife’s hand.
But that is exactly the kind of holiday I like. I want to remind Jim and Sid, and myself, that holidays are about relaxation and relationships.
Research shows our ambitions and perfectionist disposition have converted holidays into a risky time of the year. January is the “divorce month,” partly from the relationship stress test that occurs in December. “Christmas coronary” and “Hanukkah heart attack” describe the increased cardiovascular risk during the festive time of the year. Stress plays a role in that.
Here then are five simple tips to live your holiday season to the fullest, whether you are a perfectionist, a high achiever or a “Home Alone” diehard:
1. Prioritize relationships
Holidays are the times to deepen and nurture your relationships. Heal the previous divides, bridge the gaps and reach out to your friends and loved ones you enjoy spending time with.
2. Flow with imperfections
There is no such thing as a perfect party or a perfect trip. Remember, travel is about having good time with your traveling companion. Also remember that if you haven’t met your loved ones for some time, you may have forgotten their quirks. Bring greater acceptance and forgiveness when you meet them this season.
3. Savor your sleep
A common stressor is accumulating sleep debt that can hurt your quality of life and well-being. Ensure you get your sleep, even if it means missing a late night show.
4. Stay within your budget
The thrill of holidays can evaporate quickly when credit card bills arrive. Plan your spending ahead and stay within your budget. Keep a 10 percent contingency, if you can.
5. Celebrate the spirit of the holidays
Use Thanksgiving as a reminder to be grateful, Christmas as a reminder to be forgiving and New Year’s as a marker of new beginnings.