Business of Well-being

Don't Let Holiday Chaos Over-stress You

Thanksgiving through New Years is a very busy time for most of us.  The additional stress of the holidays gets piled onto all of your ongoing responsibilities and can drain your energy, not to mention your patience! In the frenzy of this time of year you can bring some calm and even creativity to the chaos.

Use Quiet Mind Thinking

A technique I call, Quiet Mind Thinking, is a wonderful tool that can be used any time to increase your focus, creativity and at the same time, reduce your stress.  This technique is very useful when you are having difficulty coming up with ideas for anything from planning a holiday party to a work project.  

It's very beneficial when your mind is simply too full of stuff from all your responsibilities to focus effectively.  You'll need some relaxing music, a quiet place to relax with no interruptions, paper and a pen.

  • Set aside a block of time (10 to 15 minutes should be enough; 5 minutes is better than none) to think quietly.  Make sure you do whatever you must to eliminate possible interruptions.
  • Identify ahead of time what your focus will be.  Are you trying to write a speech? Come up with a marketing idea? Plan a party?
  • If possible, put on some relaxing music.  This isn't imperative but it certainly is helpful.
  • Close your eyes and do some deep breathing for a couple of minutes to relax yourself and slow down your brain.  Focus on nothing but relaxing until you feel your body starting to let go (relax).
  • Have a pen and paper ready.  Allow yourself to think only about your focus.  When distracting thoughts come into your mind, gently push them aside.  Say to yourself, "Oh well." Return to relaxing and deep breathing.  If the distraction was something important, write it off to the side of your paper.  Return to only thinking about your focus in a relaxed way.
  • As thoughts come to you about your focus write them down in a relaxed way.  You can't force these thoughts.  Simply allow them to surface.  After writing them down, return to relaxing.  Jot more thoughts as they come to you.  After several minutes you'll usually have much if not most of what you need to consider for continuing on with your project.

That's all there is to it.  The more you practice this technique the more success you will get from it.  By relaxing you allow ideas to surface that are already inside you.  When your brain is on overdrive it's hard for these to get through.I recently presented this technique to a group of advertising executives.  

They were sure it wouldn't trigger more creative ideas for their ad campaigns than their tried-and-true more hyper-techniques.  However, after a few minutes of Quiet Mind Thinking all were very impressed with the totally new ideas that surfaced!

And it's a much more relaxing way to get great results! To bring some order to your chaos, slow down your brain and let the great ideas surface!

Let Positive Values Guide You Through Holiday Stress

Holiday frenzy can also distract you from what is truly important in your life.  You'll stay focused on the important things better while reducing your stress if you let your positive values guide you.Values give meaning to who you are.  They define you.  They can help you make decisions and set priorities and limits.  

For example, if you value family relationships more than money, you will make decisions that favor family over money. There are many positive values such as honesty, loyalty and healthy living.  At this time of year with so much time being spent with family and friends other positive values may take center stage: love, peace, acceptance of others, patience, sense of humor, kindness, generosity, faith, forgiveness, and relationships.

Let your positive values de-stress you by being conscious of them during stressful situations.  For example, if you become upset when someone pushes in front of you in a grocery store line, you are allowing your frustration to be more important than your positive values.  

To de-stress, bring your positive values of "patience" and "acceptance of others" to your conscious mind to help you "forgive" that person for pushing in front of you. As you madly dash around buying last minute gifts and just the perfect items for your holiday meals, rather than getting into a frenzy, focus instead on the people you are doing this for and ask "why" are you doing it for them.  

Your values show up in your answers.

  • Ask yourself, "Why am I doing all of this?" Your answer may be, "Because I love to see the looks on everyone's faces when they see the decorated house.  It brings me joy to please those I love." In this example the values of "pleasing others", "love", and "relationships" are present.  

    If you feel truly blessed in pleasing others these are probably positive values.  As you are pushing yourself to get everything done, remind yourself consciously that you are doing this for the people you love and allow the joy of pleasing them de-stress you.
  • Sometimes your answers to this question will point to stressful values such as perfectionism or meeting others' expectations of you, like:
  • I'm doing this because I should;
  • Because no one else can do it as well as I can;
  • Because if I don't no one else will;
  • Because everybody expects me to;

If your pleasing others is more obsessive and fear-driven (if I don't please them then I am a failure) it is a negative value.  These answers indicate a martyr-type perception that can only lead to holiday stress.  Ask yourself:

What do I want to do (versus have to do)?

What do I prefer to see happen (versus what should I make happen)?

  • Pursue what you want and prefer to do versus what you should or have to do.  This can begin to soften your rigid rules that are stressing you.

The holidays are a potentially wonderful time of year.  Love of family and friends and commitment to religious beliefs can buffer you from stress in your day-to-day life.  Let your holidays be more meaningful and less stressed by allowing your positive values to guide you.

A New Year's Resolution to Reduce Your Stress

If I could wave a magic wand and create a successful New Year's resolution, it would be to reduce daily stress by problem solving on what's within your control and coping with what is beyond.  An inordinate amount of energy is spent, by most people, on fussing about things that are beyond their control especially other people and how they "should" and "shouldn't" be.  

When you try to change something stressful that is beyond your control, guess what happens to your stress level it goes up!In general, things beyond your control include other people, their personalities, habits, reactions, health, the weather, traffic, taxes, the overall economy, etc.  

It's within your control, however, to change your own reaction to these situations to reduce your stress. You have many options in coping with the things beyond your control.  The best coping skills are ones you can use when you are face-to-face with your stressor.  

For example, let's say you and your partner are at a New Year's Eve party and he's (or she's) talking and laughing too loudly.  It's embarrassing to you.  His behavior is a reflection on you. But, his behavior is beyond your control.  Your reaction to it however is within your control.  To cope, you'd need to accept and tolerate his behavior.  

Coping skills that could help include deep breathing as you affirm, "He's more demonstrative than I am and that's fine.  I love him as he is."  Repeat this to yourself whenever you find yourself judging him negatively.  You could also find and appreciate the humor in it.  

You could ask what your embarrassment says about your ability to unconditionally love him (although save this for another time so you can enjoy the evening). Ultimately, it all boils down to what you think.  Wherever your thoughts are going, that is where you are going.  

To cope, you must replace embarrassed thinking with thoughts that will help you accept.  Embarrassed thoughts lead you to embarrassment while accepting thoughts lead you to acceptance.

Next, what's within your control includes your own choice of reactions (emotional reactions included) and your thoughts.  Problem solve on the areas of your stressor that are within your control.  In the above example (as in all situations) you have three general options:

  • Do something different to try to bring about a different outcome;
  • Leave the situation;
  • Accept it and cope with it;

Let's say you decide to change your reaction.  To do this, you first need to know how you typically react.  Let's say you generally glare at him when he's loud to communicate to him to be quieter.  Wishful thinking is not a stress reduction skill; so do something different! Identify your options that within your control.  

You could assertively and with sensitivity explain why you think he should be quieter and how it makes you feel when he's not.  Perhaps offer a compromise that if he contains himself for tonight you'll change something he finds embarrassing or irritating about you.  Offer him a reward.  

The options for solving problems are limited only by one's creativity. No matter what your stress, serious or trivial, identify what about it is within and beyond your control.  Cope with what is beyond and problem-solve what is within your control.  The New Year will be much less stressful for those who increasingly do this.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year

To successfully us my Quiet Mind Thinking technique, to live your positive values, and to focus your problem-solving energy on what's within your control you must remain conscious of when you are starting to get carried away by your holiday pressures.  

Each time you see yourself getting sucked into a stress whirlwind, take a deep breath and remind yourself of what's truly important: that irritating person in front of you taking too long to pay for their purchases or your appreciation for the meaning of the season? It's a choice that's always within your control.

About the Author

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M.S., earned her Master's degree in Community Counseling/Psychology from her home state of Minnesota.  In 1982 she founded InterAction Associates, her speaking and coaching firm.

Order her 2010 published book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple and request her weekly, published, emailed column, Stress for Success, published in a Gannett Newspaper, at

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