By Erika Flint, CHT
It’s almost that time of year again: the holiday season. And along with the holiday season often comes stress. As we continue seeing our clients during this time of year, we can also help them deal with the added stress of the holiday season – while providing some help for ourselves as well.
What can we say to our clients who come to see us for support in one area, but also mention the stress of the holiday season? Read below for some quick and practical tips on how our clients can reduce holiday stress.
The stress of the holiday season is understandably different for every person, and so I’ll start by offering an overview of the most common aspects of holiday stress:
The holiday season – full of gifts, parties, and travel – is too expensive for many people.
Too Many Activities
To some, it seems like there are more things to do every year, and it’s not always possible or desirable to participate in all of the activities. But saying “No” isn’t always easy, and some people tend to feel guilty if they do.
The holidays are especially difficult for people who aren’t able to be with their loved ones, whether they’ve passed away or are out of reach.
Holidays bring up memories for most people: some good, and some bad. If there are unresolved issues with past memories, this can often bring up uncomfortable feelings.
Time with Family
This time of year is often spent with family, and some people find time with family members to be stressful or challenging.
The holiday season is full of opportunities to overindulge, which some people might worry about. If people do overindulge, it can lead to a sense of guilt and of being out of control, which can snowball into other uncomfortable feelings.
So how do we help our clients manage the additional stress of this season? One of the most important aspects to remind our clients of – and this will likely be no surprise to anyone doing change work – is that what we believe about stress actually matters.
New research is changing the way scientists think about stress. Scientists now believe that how we think about stress is what matters. If we believe that stress is harmful, then it can be. On the other hand, if we believe that stress is nothing more than a message from our body to DO something, and we take appropriate action, then stress is just a helpful reminder.
Explain to your clients that stress is the body’s natural response to changing states. When your body is calm and relaxed, there is no stress. We know how to get the body into this state through relaxation techniques. But when something interrupts that state – a thought, emotion, or a physical element – the body must respond, and it will then attempt to bring us back into that comfortable and relaxed state once again. Simply put, stress is the body’s response to get us to take action to bring ourselves back to that natural condition. You can think of stress as energy – energy provided by the body to spend on returning us to a relaxed and calm state.
But honestly, that message is likely to be lost on a lot of people, because when we think about stress, we think about sleepless nights, feeling overwhelmed, and being out of control. We think about having too much to do, being reminded of painful memories, and spending time with people whose company we may not enjoy. So reminding our clients that “It’s not the stress, but how we look at it” may not be a very practical tool in reducing their holiday stress.
So here is a list of 15 practical items to put in your Holiday Stress Buster Toolkit. Some of these techniques you probably already know or recognize, and some may be new. Note that this list is not exhaustive and I left a few items out because most of us already know the benefits of these. For example, you won’t see detailed explanations of the following: self-hypnosis, exercise, meditation, or relaxation.
I’ve categorized the techniques based on time frame, because some of these techniques are most beneficial if they are employed now – months before we get to the actual holiday season. And you’ll notice that most of these techniques are not specific to the holiday season; they’re beneficial all year round. But it’s a great time to bring them out and remind our clients – when they’ll have a good chance of actually using them, recognizing their benefits, and incorporating them into their lives.
Pre Holiday Season Preparation
This is the time for planning. The more planning and tasks that can be accomplished before the season is in full swing, the better prepared our clients will feel to embrace the season.
Preparation and Expectation
Preparation is one of the foundations of avoiding holiday stress. The earlier you can get your to-do list made and your items placed on the calendar and checked off, the better you’ll feel about the season. Expert holiday planners do some items year round – like shopping for the perfect gift, keeping an eye out for party planning items on sale, trying out new recipes, and getting organized.
Setting the proper expectations with family members and friends is also critical and is an important part of the foundation to avoiding holiday stress. If you know you’ll be gone for your friend’s famous Christmas Eve party, tell him or her in advance. Share with your kids early on what they can expect of you and what you expect of them, too.
Planning and setting proper expectations will help avoid the harried rush and disappointment that are likely to result if these two critical aspects are overlooked.
Create a Budget
Regardless of what your budget is, having one is very important. Remember that there is a cost to everything – overspending can leave you feeling just as stressed as not spending enough. The only way to feel good about what you spend over the holiday season is to set a budget and stick to it. This is hard for many people that struggle financially, so keep reading because the next two holiday stress busting techniques are free and also put the holiday season into a healthy perspective.
This idea comes from Feng Shui, and I find it to be useful in reducing stress of all types. The idea is to make note of everything in your life that you’re thankful for. When you walk into your home, you write what you’re thankful for that day on a small piece of paper, and add it to the gratitude bowl.
One healthy tradition to add to your list may be that you open your gratitude bowl on New Year’s Eve and recognize all the abundance of the previous year. If you don’t have one now, just take some scrap paper and writing utensils, and set it next to a bowl in your home in a high traffic area. Or you can just write things down on a gratitude list.
The simple act of recognizing and being thankful for all the small things in your life will reduce stress.
Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
One of the qualities of happy people is that they don’t compare themselves with others. This is one of the best pieces of advice you can offer to your clients. Everything can appear great until you see what your neighbor is doing. You can take this a step further and suggest to your clients that they will become aware of the negative self talk that includes comparison, and instead of comparing, learning to be thankful for and accepting of all the wonderful things they already have. Note that this won’t work with all of your clients, but negative self-talk can be very detrimental to our emotional health. If you suspect this is an issue for one of your clients, it’s worth spending time with them on changing that behavior now.
This kicks in around the beginning of November, when our North American clients begin thinking about Thanksgiving.
Don’t Abandon Healthy Habits
I learned this trick over many holiday seasons while trying to eat healthy, but it works for anytime in your life.
When you’re under additional stress, it is unwise to abandon your healthy habits – this is the time of year you need them the most.
Get plenty of rest. Make exercise a part of your day. If you feel you don’t have time during the day to exercise, go to sleep and wake up a littler earlier, or make time at lunch or after work. If you have to cut back, then cut back – a 5 minute walk is better than no walk at all. Rather than deleting it entirely, just dial it down.
The Right Perspective
Remember what the holiday season is for, its original purpose. We often do this with our clients by helping them to find the original good reason for a habit or behavior’s beginning.
So what was the original reason for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Do you remember what those holidays were like for you when you weren’t expected to do all the work? When you were five and could show up for presents and cookies? That sounds nice, but again, how does this help our clients? We may sense our client’s resistance to this advice, so if you suspect your client is really struggling with the holiday season, I recommend regressing them to a happy memory they have around the holiday season to help them connect with the underlying purpose and joy.
Balance Stress with EnJOYment
A great stress-buster is balance. And feelings of being overwhelmed can be balanced with joy. Remember what you love and partake in it – reading, writing, singing, drawing, listening to music, etc.
If your client is having an especially stressful day or moment, ask them to notice how much joy they have had that day? How many times did they laugh? Recognizing joy as an important aspect of our lives and incorporating it into our daily lives as much as possible is important and helpful.
This is an active technique, but one that if you can get your clients to do it, actually works really well. Create an enJOYment list. Suggest to the client that the next time they’re feeling especially creative, they take 10 minutes and write down the things they enjoy doing. This should be a fun 10 minutes, not a task or an exercise.
Some of the things on the list should be super easy to do like listening to music or reading a few pages in a favorite book. Then when they’re tired, exhausted, or stressed, have them pull out the list again and choose something on it. It’s common that many items on the list won’t be appealing to the client in a down (tired) state – but often all it takes is one thing to turn their mood around and reduce stress. Listening to a favorite song, playing a game of solitaire, or just sitting for 5 minutes can make a huge difference.
One of the best tricks for holiday stress busting is being mindful. One way to teach this to our clients is to just suggest to them that under moments of stress they’ll think, “STOP!” Stop for a moment, and breathe in a few nice deep breaths. Focus on all the sights and sounds around you. Put the camera and phone down. Listen to the sound of your breath entering and leaving your body.
If this is a problem for your clients, you can begin by suggesting they will become aware of moments when they’re feeling stress, and can choose to stop, take a breath, and refocus.
Anchoring Joy and Happiness
I teach this NLP anchoring technique to all of my clients but it’s also something I personally use every day. I will typically do this during the first session with a client after direct suggestion. Remind the client that while in hypnosis they can bring up memories, and that you’re going to do this now with only pleasant memories.
Have the client bring up 2-3 pleasant memories. You can guide these pleasant memories by suggesting that they are memories of a party, of being near water, and a pleasant memory with a bike or swing. Have your client raise their finger or nod their head when each memory is brought up by their subconscious mind. When they have that memory, suggest to the client that they allow that memory to soak into them, and as they do that, they rub their thumb and forefinger together – either in their mind, or actually rub them together. This anchoring technique places feelings of happiness and joy into the sensation of these two fingers rubbing together.
After you’ve brought up all 3 events, suggest the client anchor new happy events into this sensation as they go about their day. This does two things: first, it suggests to the subconscious mind that there will be happy memories throughout the day and to watch for them, and second, recognizing them encourages natural gratitude for these times.
Lastly, suggest to your client that at any time in their future when they need a little extra help, are feeling a little down, or just need a pick me up, they can then rub their fingers together and easily and effortlessly bring those feelings and sensations back to them. It’s a great technique because it’s easy to do anywhere.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just suggest to your client, or yourself for that matter – just “simplify” your life! I envisioned myself saying this to a client and almost laughed out loud at myself. I could see eyes rolling and an immediate thought of, “Does this lady live on planet earth?” I don’t suggest recommending to our clients that they simplify their lives. It is likely that this well-intended advice will not be well-received. Instead, I like to reframe this phrase for my clients in more practical terms:
Realize that by you saying “Yes” to one thing you are also saying “No” to something else.
You still technically cannot be in two places at the same time (even though we try to do this by multitasking and our smart phones).
So pause before saying “Yes” and realize that when you do, you are saying “No” to something else.
Also realize that we don’t have to say an outright “No” or an outright “Yes” -remember that you’re in control. If someone asks you to bring your famous 7 layer cake to a party that takes you all day to prepare, you can reply with a compromise. You really can. You can offer to bring your 2 layer cake that only takes an hour to make instead. Or you can thank them for the compliment about the 7 layer cake, and respectfully decline.
I learn from my clients every day. This idea comes from a very insightful client of mine. She takes 5 minutes to transition from her work to home life. She’ll come in the house after a day of work, and just sit down for 5 minutes. This time she takes allows her to let go of her work day, and focus on being present for her family. If she takes the short time to do this – just 5 minutes – she finds that her evening with her family is more enjoyable. She’s able to pack more “life” into her days by intentionally focusing on her family when she gets home.
Holiday Crunch Time
Holiday crunch time takes place when you’re in the moment of feeling the stress of the holiday. This kicks in ON Thanksgiving Day and right before and during Christmas.
Remember to Flow
Once you’ve done all the planning, and it’s time for guests to arrive, or you’re there with your family, just accept what happens. Plans change, and expecting change will mean less stress when things do go off track.
Remember the most flexible part of any system controls the system. Whether you’ve planned everything out or not, when it comes right down to crunch time, you just have to let it go. This is often easier said than done, but one suggestion to your clients could be that once they arrive at a party or once guests arrive at their home, their job is to enjoy themselves, and some of the best memories are of things going off track.
If they find themselves feeling stressed inside, you can work with them and use NLP techniques to imagine that their stress is getting smaller and smaller and smaller – or turning down the volume of their stress so that it’s so quiet, they can barely hear it.
Set Aside Differences
Along the same lines as remembering to flow, this technique deserves mentioning all on its own. For some clients, a big part of their holiday stress is spending time with people whose company they do not enjoy. This includes people who have hurt or angered them in the past. So for the holiday season, it’s best to set aside difference for now, and make the most of time together.
In hypnosis, we have many techniques for dissolving hurtful and uncomfortable feelings, and I’m not going to go into those in this article. Rather, I will explain a useful technique for dealing with those feelings in the moment – when you are confronted with a person who has hurt you in the past. One idea to keep in mind is something like this: “I am in control of myself, and myself only. I cannot control other people or their behavior. If someone says or does something that in the past would have upset or hurt me, I know exactly what to do. It’s just like water off a duck’s back. It just rolls off me, and I move on.” This technique is about remaining in control of our own actions, and accepting that we can’t control other people’s behavior.
Transform Annoyance to Amusement
Another technique for spending time with people whose company we may not enjoy is to transform annoyance to amusement. Do you have a family member that tends to do things that in the past have really annoyed or bothered you?
If so, allow those things to amuse you instead. This technique is best practiced before seeing this particular individual again and here’s how it works:
Imagine the individual and the behavior that annoys, bothers, or drives you crazy. Choose to let this behavior make you smile inside instead. Picture yourself smiling and laughing inside the next time this person behaves in this particular way. Instead of the behavior pressing your buttons, allow it to amuse you.
This takes a bit of practice, but works really well. Once you get accustomed to this technique, you’ll find it easier to employ on demand, so that any new annoying behaviors will automatically begin amusing you. This technique also allows us to appreciate and love all the idiosyncrasies of human behavior (note: we all have them), and appreciating them in others allows us to be more accepting and grow as human beings.
Laughter is still often the best medicine for stress. Watch a favorite funny movie, play an interactive game, or listen to a stand-up comedy act. These techniques are relaxing, enjoyable, and we all know they can be hypnotic.
I hope you’re able to find a use for these techniques with your clients, and likely many of you are already using some if not all of them. I’d love to hear what techniques you like to use that help your clients deal with the added stress of the holiday season.