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Relieve holiday stress with these tips from Dr Cale

The calendar has flipped to December and the kids are eagerly counting down the days until Christmas. While they relish the season, many adults are stressed to the max. With just a few tips, you can relieve the stress that the holidays bring. How? It’s really quite simple. Get with reality!

Too often we engage in fantasy…fantasy about creating the perfect moments, creating what should be, rather than living with what is…fantasy about the impossible rather than dealing with what is possible. These are the sources of stress! Stress is really a thinking problem, not a reality problem. Reality doesn’t create stress. It is our thinking about reality that creates the stress.

In particular, it’s our thinking about “non-reality” that causes the stress. We create some fantasy about the impossible Christmas day. We create a vision of perfection, which would require us to work 48 hours each day to create. We develop a movie in our head about what should happen, rather than living in the reality of what we know is likely to happen.

We start talking to ourselves about what we need, or what the children need, in order to be happy. We say things like, “We have to buy one of those new widgets or otherwise the kids will be miserable.” We then travel to a dozen stores and spend endless hours tracking down that one item. As we finally make the purchase, somewhere inside there is a part of us that knows we have engaged in an unhealthy process.

This is an article about waking up. Let’s wake up to reality, and make the holidays more joyful, more generous, more thoughtful and more loving.

Here are my top 9 rules for making the holidays happier.

1. It won’t be perfect, so give it up. That’s right, the holidays will not go perfectly. You will not find all the things you want. Your kids will not respond the way you want them to. Your husband or wife will not like all the things that you spent hours toiling over.

The turkey will be dry. Guests will be late. The tree will lose its needles because you forgot to water it. The dog will eat the new decorations. The fuse will blow on Christmas Eve. You’ll have the flu on Christmas morning.

And the list goes on. It won’t be perfect…so give it up.

2. Kids need a better you, not a better present.

Actually this isn’t quite right. They don’t need a better you. They simply need all of you.

Rather than being consumed by thoughts that take you elsewhere (into the fantasy about what has to happen or should happen or in some way living in the future) your kids simply need you to be present in this moment. When you do that, a better you will show up. This brings you into the reality of the moment, and not into some fantasy about the future…not into some story about how things could be better.

3. Remember: When things get stressful, think: “It’s just a thought!”

Here’s a bit of personal magic. When you find yourself thinking about something that’s out of your control, just tell yourself, “It’s just a thought!” When you find yourself engaging in a fantasy about perfection, remind yourself, “It’s just a thought!” When you find yourself running fearful movies of holiday disasters in your head, say it again, “It’s just a thought.”

You get the idea. Anytime you’re engaged in thoughts that take you out of the reality of the moment, and into a dream of some perfect moment or some disastrous moment, just remember that magic phrase: “It’s just a thought.”

4. Make a reality plan, then cut out a third of it.

Put your life on paper as the holidays approach. Make a realistic schedule of all the things you have to do that have nothing to do with the holidays. Then start putting in your holiday activities. Remember all the places you have to go, the parties you have to attend, the phone calls you have to make, the cookies you have to bake, the presents you have to wrap, and then review it with someone who can help you step into reality. After you do that, cut out a third of the activities. Cut a third of the presents. Cut a third of the demands that you put on yourself.

Now you’re stepping into reality. Put that plan on the wall somewhere where you can see it, and everyone can begin to live in it.

5. Engage the family in activities of giving, not getting.

Find a way to ensure that the children learn about giving during the holidays. Make certain that you go through the used toys weeks in advance and sort out the infrequently used items and have the children do repairs, clean them up and package them to give to others.

Establish a time to visit the elderly, and to have the children make cards and cookies.

Insist that they volunteer to help neighbors decorate, or even clean up for the elderly couple down the street.

As the years pass, I guarantee you that these will be become the memorable events in your children’s lives, not the presents that they receive.

6. Kids need structure, so make sure there is a daily plan.

In order to keep children’s behavior in line during the holidays, you’ll find that things function much more smoothly in a structured environment. Set up a daily plan, and stick to it. Make sure the kids can see it.

As part of this plan, make sure that there is a structure, which maintains a commitment to doing their work before they play. Put in daily responsibilities and make sure that these are completed before they play.

You may think that this sounds harsh, but you will find their behavior is more manageable. Children feel more comfortable in a structured environment with clear limits.

7. Maintain limits with consequences, not with threats and lectures.

If you want kids to maintain control of their behavior and to play within certain limits during the holidays, you establish those limits by maintaining clear consequences, not by maintaining threats and lectures and negotiations with the kids.

If you are at a friend’s house and the kids start getting too loud or physical, take them to the car and do a time-out for 10 minutes. If you have to do it a second time, don’t hesitate to do so. They’ll get the message quickly.

Let say the family is trying to enjoy a Christmas meal and your strong-willed child insists upon belching at the table. Be willing to excuse him and put him in time-out, even if you have to do it in front of the entire family. If you try that once or twice, and it doesn’t work, be willing to put his food down the garbage disposal. Again, you might have to do this a couple of times, but he will get the message.

Remember: you establish limits with consequences, not with words. This is true during the holidays, as well as the rest of the year.

8. Remember the 80 / 20 rule: Put 80% of your energy on what you want, leaving only 20% for what you don’t want.

Spend 80 percent of your time engaging and noticing healthy behavior. A touch on the shoulder, a smile, a nod, or a light-hearted question all serve to promote healthy behavior.

On the opposite side of the coin, walk away from all the annoying, irritating and whining behavior. Walk away from comments such as, “I’m bored” or “Why didn’t you buy me that?” or “I don’t want to go to Grandma’s house.” Walk away from all of the behaviors that are not worthy of your attention.

Reserve the bulk of your parenting energy to catch the healthy behavior. Make sure your kids feel your energy and investment in the healthy patterns which can then grow.

9. Be a model for what you want not for what you don’t want.

We want our kids to happy, joyous and lighthearted during the holidays (and always, really!). We also wish for them to be grateful and appreciative.

But what do we model? We often model irritability, agitation and anxiety. We run around like chickens with our heads cut off, and keep trying to manipulate things that are often out of our control. We express little gratitude for what we have, and keep trying to create something more so that life will be complete.

As we do this, we still expect our kids to be light hearted, grateful and happy throughout the holidays. It just doesn’t work that way.

I am fond of repeating a simple truism, “You cannot escape what you model.”

So, during the holidays, this is why it is essential to join with reality. If you engage in fantasies, about what should be, what could be, or have ideas that are unrealistic you’ll get caught up in a battle with reality. You may become easily agitated, loose sleep, fret about the parties or the gifts, and through it all you miss moment after moment of life.

This is a LOT to focus on.  Here’s my thought:

Pick 2 that resonate with you, and make that your focus this December.  Everyday… put you attention there.  It is the cumulative effect of the small things…that really matters.