How to turn the stress of the holidays into a good time to learn

It’s a stressful time of year when times are normal – and the second year of the pandemic is anything but normal, especially when combined with inflation, gas prices, food and fuel shortages. toys and shipping delays.

The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, with Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa in quick succession.

It’s a stressful time of year when times are normal – and the second year of the pandemic is anything but normal, especially when combined with inflation, gas prices, food shortages. and toys and shipping delays.

For help coping, CNN reached out to stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, editor of Contentment magazine, produced by the American Institute of Stress.

This conversation has been edited slightly for clarity.

CNN: Why are vacations usually so stressful, even in normal times, and what can we do to reduce that pressure?

Dr Cynthia Ackrill: We have a lot of expectations about what we’re supposed to do or feel, don’t we? We have catalogs that show us that we must have the perfect type of a beautiful house, decorated to the hilt for the holidays.

We believe that we should have happy families where everyone gets along. We try to do too much, we spend too much, all with an unrealistic expectation that we can deliver whatever brings us joy.

It was a lot of pressure before the Covid. It’s even more pressure now. So, now is not the time to push ourselves through – we are exhausted just from the treatment of the past two years! It is time for reflection. It’s time for more patience, compassion, and kindness. It’s time to let go of the inappropriate behaviors of overeating, alcohol abuse, and overspending that can be so much a part of the vacation.

You don’t need five Christmas trees to understand the meaning of Christmas. Instead, we need to spend personal time accelerating behaviors that satisfy us, add meaning, and make us stronger.

And I think we have a wonderful opportunity this holiday season to focus on what really matters to us and our families. An opportunity to lower unrealistic expectations and do only the things that make each person meaningful and bring us joy.

Start by having a reunion with your family.

Ask each of them to look back on the previous vacation and answer this question: “What activities or choices have left you with the most positive or meaningful memories?” What were the unnecessary things we did, or expectations we had, that made you and the rest of us feel more frustrated or disappointed instead? “

Start a proactive conversation with your family.

What is a victory for you – and you and you for this vacation? What are the things that impressed you the most? What activities have we done that make you smile when you think about it?

Now mix it all up.

Each person in the group may have a different reaction, so the family can sit down and decide how to weave all of these wishes together or compromise.

We don’t want to give up the good times of the holidays: taking a break to think about what matters, having conversations with family members we don’t usually see, sending people cards or sharing memories to make them feel good. know that we are thinking of them.

But let’s distill the rest to get a better reward / cost ratio. How can you make the most of this season and maintain or replenish your mind, body and spirit? What can we do so that we are all fulfilled and fulfilled?

Finally, make a timeline, or at least a plan.

Decide, as a family, how to fit those gains into a vacation plan, and eliminate – or at least set limits – on anything that uses us instead. Of course, some energy draining things have to happen, so how can we schedule more energy recharge time?

It’s a good time to learn.

What a great lesson for the children to watch us do this and be a part of it. What a great lesson to say, “What could we do differently this year? What if giving back to the community is more satisfying to us than making our traditional list of whatever we want? “

Making changes may not be as easy as it seems. The brain loves habits; the brain loves traditions and rituals. These are paths that, once created, can be walked without thinking. It takes less energy to repeat a behavior you’ve done often than it takes to create a new one.

This is why in relationships, so many arguments are really like a dance that you have done and know well. You’re not really engaged in a new and fresh perspective every time you have a fight. To change this dance, it takes energy – you have to sit, think and meditate. The payoffs are so worth it.

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