Tips for a stress-free holiday season
Whether stress is induced by holidays, natural calamities or day-to-day activities, the question of how to deal with stress, anxiety, frustration or being overwhelmed is the same. The key difference is that in spite of our pleasant expectations of the holiday season, we end up confronting the intense and energy-draining negative feelings that make us anxious as if we have lost control of ourselves when dealing with ourselves or our loved ones.
The big question is this: Should we look for tips to deal with self-inflicted stress? Should we look at holidays or life in general? Should we strive to ensure our activities do not cause any stress? Or, can stress become both our friend and a teacher, showing us the path leading to self-awareness?
As I contemplated and reflected on this question, it reminded me of a trip to India where I had an opportunity to visit a camp inhabited by families displaced by flooding caused by heavy monsoons. The camp was crowded with strangers, friends, family members and foes living next to each other. It was common that family members who were not on speaking terms found themselves camping next to each other and interacting together. Despite the long lines of strangers standing next to each other to get daily rations, children and adults were playing imaginary games to keep each other occupied as working cell phones and TV’s were out of reach at the camp. Still, I did not find any paralyzing stress among them.
Now compare that with holidays here, stress comes from long lines, too many strangers around us, and dealing with relatives we want to avoid. What can we learn from the camp inhabitants so that our world view during the holiday season does not lead to stress and anxiety?
Here are my interpretations of the observations I had with the campers. It reminded me of something attributed to Buddha who explained, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.” In other words, if I think and feel stressed out, then I am. Learning to notice and change our thoughts and feelings for our well-being is a lifelong practice known as the “Art of Living”.
Power of Forgiveness and Acceptance
When camp members were living next to their foes or family members whom they had not spoken with in years, the power of forgiveness was quite enlightening. This dramatic situation helped them put in perspective what was really important. They let go of old assessments, forgave them and started a new relationship.
Do you find yourself in a situation where your boss, colleague or employees did not understand you or your relatives act in ways that make you feel depressed during the holidays? Just like the campers, you can accept them as they are even if you do not agree with their views. By simply interacting with them in your own compassionate way you can learn from it and grow from each and every experience.
Power of Connectedness
Human beings are social beings. A great example is the campers who were standing next to a stranger used that time to interact with each other. They were connecting, and in the process, satisfying their human need for social connectedness. Next time you are standing next to a stranger during holiday shopping or next to a person during a business seminar, try to make eye contact and strike up a conversation. Spending face-to-face time with others instead of talking on the phone, texting or emailing, might help us make that all important, human connection.
The campers did not have the constant distraction of non-human elements like cell phones, texts, emails and TV. They were either alone or interacting face-to-face with others. In other words, they seemed to be more “Being” than “Doing”. They were living in the present and counting their blessing of being alive, as well being kind and gentle to themselves and others. Be aware of the power of being present, forgiving and acceptance. Be mindful of the fact that you are responsible for your own happiness and peace of mind, and no one else can provide you with that in your life.
Zen and Buddhist practitioners are always mindful of the power of the Beginner’s Mind. A wise person once stated “In the Beginner’s Mind, there are many possibilities, but in Expert’s Mind there are few.” It is important to be childlike with curiosity, excitement, and other emotions but without any judgment. Enter this holiday season with a mind free of expectations and experience it with a fresh perspective of the Beginners Mind and you may be surprised by the connections
Our brains are wired for us to be tribal and to make us love gathering with other people. During the holidays and rest of the year, bring that non-judgmental Beginner’s Mind as you approach everything you do. Bring beginner’s curiosity when you spend time with your family and friends during the holidays. Think of the curiosity and excitement you felt about them when you met them for the first time. You may discover something new you have not noticed. Become curious about the changes they might be going through. Learn to get to know them every time you interact with them. They may be pleasantly surprised to notice the curiosity you have about who they are or have become.
When someone annoys you during holiday party or at work, let go of your old assessment of them and approach them with the curiosity of Beginner’s Mind. Approach work with the curiosity where you see various possible ways to solve a nagging problem. Involve family and friends to do something different and plan it together for fun.
Vijay Singh is an accomplished executive, leader, consultant as well as a life and business coach. He works with business owners and individuals in co-creating a work/life balance.