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The dictionary defines holiday as: “a day taken off or set aside for leisure and enjoyment, when somebody is exempt from work or normal activity.” Unfortunately, for too many of us and our families, the ‘holiday season’ is synonymous with ‘stress’.
To understand how a “day off set aside for enjoyment” has gotten so intertwined with stress, let me share with you some of the responses 12-18 year olds provided to my Student Stress Survey.
When I asked: “What does the word stress mean?” the kids said things like this:
Sound like the holidays around your house?
And when I asked: “How do you feel when you’re stressed?” they mentioned these feelings:
Tense. Tired. Nervous. Angry and sad. Irritable. Moody, Cranky, Defensive. Drained. About to collapse. Gloomy. Melancholy. Trapped. Hopeless. Alone. Under pressure. Like I want to cry. My mind becomes a blur. I clench my fists and punch things. I yell and don’t want to be talked to. I may start to feel nauseous, or warm and faint. I feel slower. I feel like bashing something to little pieces and swearing I show a lot of attitude. I feel like I’m going to blow up. When I get stressed sometimes I don’t think before I do things. “Like I want to strangle someone.” Alone. I feel like ‘ugh’ I want to disappear, tight, combative, drained.
All over the emotional map, but none of it cheery and full of spirit, that’s for sure!
When we let stress define our holidays we set up a formula for unhappiness — just the opposite of what we really want, which is time with our families. Peaceful, fun-filled time together that provides us with a direct experience of what it means to be part of a family while allowing each member to feel loved and appreciated. But that’s impossible when Mom and Dad are stressed-out.
My new book Too Stressed to Think? A Teen Guide to Staying Sane When Life Makes You Crazy (co-authored with Ruth Kirschner) is coming out in early September 2005. It’s all about the fact that when we’re stressed we can’t think clearly. And when we aren’t thinking clearly we are much more likely to make choices that we’ll later regret.
How does that translate into our relationships within the family?
When I asked the teens: “Recall a time when you were stressed and did something (or failed to do something) that you later regretted” they said things like:
I lied. Talked back to my mom. Didn’t ask for help when I needed it. Got into a fight. Tried to make myself throw up. Argued. Judged someone without knowing the whole story. Destroyed. Hit. Showed my dad attitude. Didn’t speak up for myself. Broke. Pushed. Slapped. Hurt. Threw. Yelled. Swore. Screamed. Punched a brick wall and my knuckles started to bleed. Ruined a friendship.
Hard to make good choices when you’re stressed and not thinking clearly!
You’ll enjoy the holidays (and every day) much more if you can learn to recognize your signs of stress BEFORE you lose it and do something you’ll later regret.
When you get better at managing your stress levels, you’re also being a positive role model for your kids.
When your mood starts to change and you first notice you’re stressing you need to:
If you give yourself enough time to calm down and think clearly, you’ll live a healthier life, and you’ll be teaching your kids that intelligent, thoughtful people can consciously choose to manage stress in ways that help everyone feel happier and more comfortable, including yourself.
Give your family the gift they want most this holiday season — YOU (being your most loving and relaxed self).
Happy holidays from my family to yours.
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