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An Essential Key to Avoiding Holiday Stress

It’s during this time of year that we often hear the proverbial, “I just dread the holidays.”

I previously shared how this “dread” and its associated stress and anxiety can be lessened by letting go of control, as well as offering some useful decontrol tools.

Buy my wife recently shared with me a holiday story that clued me in on an essential key to avoiding holiday stress.   She had to buy some last minute gifts at our local mall’s department store, which required wading through these nerve-racking hurdles:

*First, she had to join the line dance of cars a block long entering the parking lot.   (Not fun if you like to move when you line dance, as my wife avidly demonstrated when we first met.)

*Once in, she had to drive like a matador would to avoid the cars aggressively darting for parking spaces as if they were winning lottery tickets.

*In the store, she was forced to navigate through hordes of frenzied shoppers and clothes strewn about as if there had been a teenage slumber party the night before.

*And after finally finding what she was looking for (actually she didn’t really find it, but didn’t want to leave empty handed after all the hassle), she was sentenced to a 15 minute wait in the cashier’s line.

“Gift wrap,” she was eventually asked? Amazed to discover there were actually sales clerks in the store, she very sweetly (or maybe it was tartly) said: “Thank you, but the thought of waiting in another line is unbearable.”

When I asked her how she managed to waddle through everything without losing her cool, some words of wisdom (definitely hard earned) rolled off her tongue:

“If I’m entering the madness, I have to accept that’s all part of it.” 

I thought a few moments about what she had said and then a glowing streak of enlightenment flashed through my mind:

That’s it! An essential key to avoiding holiday stress is being able to accept “what is”. 

Yes, and in this case, the underlying reality is that the holidays are truly maddening times for most of us, and once more (another streak),

We are powerless over changing any of that!

(That is, short of banning the holidays altogether.)

That being the heavy traffic, rude people, too few sales clerks, delays, family dinners with disgruntled parents and estranged siblings, and the like. (Many will nonetheless persist in trying to change or control that which can’t be controlled. I could write a book about how harmful that is for you and others emotionally and spiritually, and even financially–actually, I did write one, and it’s been an Amazon best seller now for over three years.)

What it comes down to is that there is really only one thing we can do in such trying situations:

Accept it! 

You may ask, how will this help avoid stress?   When we accept things (and people) as they are, it is as if a heavy burden has been lifted from our shoulders. We no longer have to worry or obsess over the matter. And this, in turn,  spurs choices and options for us, such as: do something nice for ourselves; plan better; keep things simple; breath deeply; maintain an attitude of gratitude for all the good things in our lives; and be of service.

As we become more aware of these choices, we no longer feel so “stuck” and our stress and anxiety begin to lessen and even dissipate. Why? Because with acceptance,

Nothing remains to stress over.

You may now be thinking, yeah that’s all good and dandy, but it’s much easier said than done. I can understand your skepticism, really.   Hopefully this acceptance truth will alleviate your doubts some:

Accepting is simply surrendering that which you never had—control.

Not having control, that’s a hard one, I know. But you need to accept that, too. So what is there to lose by practicing acceptance? The short answer is Nothing! If you are still with me to this point, and I truly hope so, and are willing to give acceptance a try (remember, the reward is less stress) then I recommend that you follow these:

Four Acceptance Tools and Strategies

*   Be More Aware of What You Can’t Change or Control. Try to recognize when you are powerless over changing or controlling things or people. This is not easy, to be sure, because it is easy to get so wrapped up in things, especially this time of year.   If you begin to feel the “dis-ease” that comes from being controlling or overreaching, take a moment and ask yourself, “Do I really have the power to change this?” Or, “Is it really that important?” Or, “Should I let it go for now?” With such query pauses, the answers usually appear quickly.

* Be More Understanding of Others. Be mindful that the holidays are stressful for others as well.   Hence, try to be more patient and kindly toward others; after all isn’t that a traditional hallmark of the holiday season? Also, don’t take things too personally. When you do have unpleasant encounters with others (perhaps evoked by their rudeness or anger), detach or remove yourself from the person or situation, rather than provoking or engaging. Arguments and divisive behavior only create havoc and more stress.

*Don’t Control. When you control, you can’t accept—pure and simple. If you control less, you will be able to accept more.   The correlation is that direct.   (I describe effective decontrol tools in this blog under that category at the right column of this page, as well as in my book.)

*Maintain Realistic Expectations. Our expectations increase during the holidays. We often expect our children, mates, and friends to act like angels, even be perfect; i.e., be on time, thoughtful, help out, read our minds, and such. These kinds of expectations inevitably lead to conflict and resentment by us—and them–and this only increases our stress and anxiety. (See my post, “How to Lower Family Expectations“)

In closing, please keep in mind that,

            Acceptance is fundamentally a choice we make.

I encourage you to make that choice during this holiday season, and I wish you holidays that are abundant with love, peace, serenity—and acceptance!

And remember to,

Let It Go–and Accept “What Is!”


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  • Esperanza Bermeo
    Posted December 30, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    No change is possible without accepting the situation or reality you want to change. You have given me some invaluable strategies to learn to accept. I really appreciate it.

    • Post Author
      Daniel A. Miller
      Posted January 2, 2015 at 12:41 pm

      I’m glad you found the post helpful, Esperanza. I agree that acceptance is a prerequisite for meaningful change.

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