5 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress

Ah, cure the holidays. The season of celebrations can also bring added stress. Parties, people, and pressure can detract from the meaning of this special time. Worshippers from all religions celebrate holidays in early winter. In fact, the Interfaith Calendar organizationlists 14 religious holidays in the month of December. Whether you participate in Christmas, Hanukkah, or Winter Solstice observations, here are some ways to reduce holiday stress this season:

Composite image of festive man holding christmas gifts

1/ Keep it Simple. It’s easy to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves to find the perfect gift, host the most extravagant dinner, or plan the most outrageous event. Social media has added to our misperception that everyone else is out-doing us on the holiday activity measuring stick. Remember, comparison is the thief of joy. Keep the go-go-go to a minimum and focus on quality time with your loved ones. Do a puzzle. Read together by the fire. Share a cup of hot cocoa. Those are the moments your friends and family will remember.

2/ Express Gratitude. Tim Robbins once said, “Trade your expectations for appreciation and your world will change in an instant.” Simply put, when we focus on what we expect from situations or other people we almost always feel disappointed, frustrated, and stressed. Expressing gratitude has a positive impact on our performance and lives, both at home and work. A study by The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania showed the significant impact managers can have through the expression of appreciation. While executing an annual fundraiser, management split their team into two groups. The first group called alumni and solicited donations the way they always had. The second group met daily with the head of the department who repeatedly thanked them for their tireless efforts. Can you guess the outcome? The group on the receiving end of gratitude raised 50% more in donations than the other group!

3/ Practice Mindfulness. The holidays can bring about added anxiety due to regret about the past and worry about the future. Mindfulness is the process of bringing your full attention to what’s occurring in the present moment. The term “mindfulness” is a translation of the Pali term sati, an element of Buddhist tradition. Rather than letting concern about what inappropriate things Uncle Fred might say at dinner consume your thoughts, try being fully present in the current moment. Staying grounded in the present helps us get that extra task done, enjoy the company of loved ones, and leads to greater well-being and health.

4/ Do a Daily Sensory Detox. Ding dong, clink, zoom, jingle jingle, zippp, cha-ching…oh the joyful sound! With the hustle-bustle of the holidays comes sensory overload. From crowded shopping malls to loud gatherings to children screeching with delight, it’s easy for your senses to be taxed. Find 15 minutes each day to do something alone in a peaceful, quiet place. Go on a nature walk, or set your alarm to get up earlier than everyone else and enjoy a few serene moments to yourself.

5/ Savor the Significance. If you feel yourself getting your tinsel in a tangle, remember the lesson by Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch. “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” As you celebrate 8 crazy nights or the rebirth of the sun, take the time to reflect on the reason for your season.

Wishing you a very Happy Holidays and an impactful New Year!


Ban the Valentine’s Day Performance Plan

I’ve been called a Valentine’s Day scrooge. It’s true. I love people. Not Valentine’s Day. During the 14 years I was married, my husband was out of town for 13 of them and we barely acknowledged the day. Last year, the guy I was dating fell asleep on the couch at 9 pm and I watched Sports Center by myself.

Our culture has turned Valentine’s Day into a performance based holiday. I liken it to a grown-up version of standardized testing. Unnecessary pressure is placed on people to express their love for each other. Boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses everywhere rarely pass the test. Single people feel obligated to appear sad. Mothers of young children turn into competitive lunatics.

Those of us less-crafty-types with small children feel lame on Valentine’s Day. A few years ago, my friend, Polly-the-Pinterest-Addict (girl, I love you), made these:

I have NO idea what they are, but don’t they look fabulous? This friend inspires me to be a better mom, and I love the creative things she does for her boys. But that photo launched me into a moment of inadequacy. Am I doing enough for my kids on Valentine’s Day?

On to the school parties. Check out these gorgeous card boxes by two girls in my son’s class when he was in first grade.

The boa! The glitter! The ladybugs! I have box envy. The problem is, I have a full-on panic attack when I walk into a craft store AKA foreign land that causes the right side of my brain to hemorrhage and me to drop dead in the pipe cleaner aisle.

I also loved this one with the lace.

I know you’re dying to see my son’s box…

Yep, that’s the reverse side of some leftover Christmas wrapping paper.

Adding to the paucity of my self esteem at these annual class parties are the beautifully crafted hand-made cards and gifts. I call it a success if I can get my kids to write their own name 23 times on store bought Disney cards.

This time of year I’m out of steam. It takes me two months to recover from the ridiculous, evil Elf on the Shelf’s antics. I mean, er, I’m still tired from implementing all my fun Elf on the Shelf ideas! (Can we take a break from the performance pressure please?)

In the leadership development work I do with my consulting firm, I coach executives and athletes to maximize their potential and perform their best. Peak performance is critical to my clients’ success in sports, business and life. An important distinction for any leader is this:

Your performance does not equal your identity.

Who you are is determined by your core values and by living those values with integrity each day. Your identity is not affected by your performance at work, on the playing field, or on Valentine’s Day.

If LOVE is one of your core values, let’s take back the holiday and focus on what’s important: Loving others well.

Here are three ways you can live out this core value:

  • TELL people you love them. Not just on a holiday. Tell them every day.
  • SHOW people you love them. Do something unexpected for a friend. Send a card for no reason. Make your family’s favorite meal on a Tuesday.
  • REACH OUT to those who might not feel loved. Chances are you know someone who is hurting from painful circumstances. They’ve lost a parent. They’re the new kid at school. They’re going through a divorce. Notice them. Befriend them. Invite them to lunch. Or simply pick up the phone.

Join me to ban the performance plan inherent in our society’s celebration of Valentine’s Day. Of course, if you’re a talented baker or crafty-type and you enjoy those activities as an expression of love, rock on sista! All you romantic guys, keep supporting the economy and pay the 300% markup on flowers and candy this week, especially if your wife’s love language is chocolate!

For those who might feel less-than on this holiday, keep in mind it doesn’t matter if yours is the best gift, most delectable treat or embellished card. Take the pressure off yourself and do one thing.

Love others well. Every day of the year.


The Key Difference Between Resolutions and Resolve

Millions of Americans made New Year’s Resolutions this week. Most of them will fail. In fact, 25% of people bail on their resolutions after just one week. Are you one of them? All of those good intentions to make improvements in your health, family, or career…do they actually work? Research shows that less than 8% of us are successful by the end of the year.

Don’t be discouraged by this dismal statistic. Many well-intentioned people simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to make their resolutions stick and accomplish their goals.

Do you want to make this year different by turning your resolutions into habits and lasting change? You can. The key is understanding the subtle difference between a resolution and resolve.

RESOLUTION is defined as a decision to do or not do something.

RESOLVE is defined as firm determination to do something.

Notice the difference? One is wishful thinking. A fleeting moment in time. The other involves ongoing action with a fixed purpose. A dedication to the process.

Anyone can make a resolution. Not everyone has resolve.

Here are four ways to improve your resolve and achieve your goals:

1. Design SMART goals. Things like “exercise more” and “increase sales” aren’t going to get you the results you want. A SMART goal is:

Specific. You can’t measure success if your goal is vague. “Pay $3,000 down on my credit card balance” is specific. “Reduce debt” is not.

Meaningful. In order to maintain resolve, your goal needs to compel you to stay dedicated on the days you don’t feel like it. Meaningful goals are not boring. They stimulate you intellectually, move you spiritually, challenge you physically, and energize you emotionally.

Achievable. Goals should stretch you, and get you out of your comfort zone. At the same time, they should be realistic. A dream of mine might be to play on the LPGA. I’m much more likely to shave 5 strokes off my handicap this year.

Relevant. Your goals need to be tied to your core values and “burning why.” Are they aligned with who you are? Do they follow the mission and vision of your organization?

Time-bound. Your goal needs a timeframe. Deadlines keep you focused and motivated. “Lose weight” is a vague resolution. “Lose 20 pounds by June 1” is a SMART goal.

2. Write down your goals. You are three times more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down, and make them visible. Display them somewhere you see them daily.

3. Stay outcome driven, and process focused. Let the desired result drive you, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Focus on the next right step. If you look at the entire action plan required to meet your goal, you can get bogged down in analysis paralysis. You can’t eat an elephant in one day. You do it in bite-sized chunks.

4. Celebrate milestones. You won’t accomplish the change you want to make in your life overnight. Improvement worth making requires endurance and dedication. You may get discouraged along the way and be tempted to quit. Don’t wait until you reach the end goal to celebrate success. Revel in the small victories along the way. Want to lose 20 pounds? Throw a party when you’ve shed the first five.

Don’t make useless resolutions you won’t keep this year. Instead, develop a firm determination to make lasting changes in your life.

Wishing you a Happy New Year, and the resolve to reach your goals!


No Story but Your Own

Have you ever felt like things are going swimmingly in everyone’s life around you, meanwhile you’re drowning? Do you ever get stuck in your own stuff?

Ya, me too.

I love the power of a good story. This summer I’ve been reading through The Chronicles of Narnia with my kids. We started with The Magician’s Nephew and have almost completed A Horse and His Boy. The only book in the series I read as a child was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, so this is a special treat for me.

In C.S. Lewis’ famous series, he brilliantly provides several illustrations of God’s love for us. As the Christian allegory goes, Lewis uses the character Aslan (a lion) to represent Jesus.

Last night’s chapter struck me. We often seek to understand why bad things happen, in our own journey and in the lives of others. It is in times of walking alone in darkness that we realize God is there. He has been there the whole time, waiting for us to speak.

Shasta (the “boy” in A Horse and His Boy) was lost. He was wandering in the dark on a lonely road, dwelling on his misfortune. It was in this dark place that he met Aslan for the first time.

“I do think, said Shasta, “that I must be the most unfortunate boy that ever lived in the whole world. Everything goes right for everyone except me.”

His mind was racing and he was drowning in his circumstances. Can you relate? His thoughts were consumed with all the bad things that had happened to him. He can no longer rely on his own strength. It is in this moment of complete emptiness when he realizes Aslan’s presence.

“And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks. What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.”

Have you ever walked Shasta’s road? Have you walked along in darkness? Felt completely alone, yet realized you weren’t alone?

“Who are you?” Shasta said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep. “Tell me your sorrows.”

Wow. I forgot. God wants to hear my sorrows. My tendency is to try and suck it up and stay positive. To not complain. To rely on  my own strength. God wants to hear your sorrows.

Shasta told now how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

God’s response to your sorrows is to tell you your story.

“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and—

“There was only one, but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept…”

God not only knows your story, he is an integral part of it.

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, ” I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”

He tells no one any story but his own.

I have struggled while I watch friends suffer. Children get cancer. Spouses leave. Breadwinners lose jobs. Why? I’m not told any story but my own.

In my own story, I’ve walked some dark roads. I’ve felt sorry for myself. I’ve lamented the attack of several lions.

I’ve felt like everyone around me is happily married while I’m going through the pain of divorce. Like all the girls at the ballet studio are gleefully dancing while my daughter cries in the corner. Like I gave up my career for over a decade and there’s no way I can get it back. Like all my friends carry their designer handbags and drive carpool and complain when their husbands are out of town for a week while I take out the trash at midnight…again.

But God longs for me to speak. He wants me to share my sorrows. And in conversing with him, I’m reminded he is with me and an integral part of my story.

There is only one Lion.

Does this allegory speak to you? When are some times you’ve realized God is telling you your story?