Are You Stressed or Blessed at Christmas?
- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 5 Dec
The best Christmas I ever had was also the simplest. Since I was in the hospital that year after giving birth to my son Justin, I had to abandon my planned Christmas activities as fast as the blink of a Christmas light. Not only did I have to give up many enjoyable holiday traditions that had kept me busy before, but I couldn’t even go to church on Christmas Eve. Something surprising happened in the midst of my disappointment: Without the stress of running around, I found that the spirit of Christmas – God’s incarnational presence – was with me anywhere and anytime.
Although the Christmas season is notorious for its stress, you don’t have to be swept away by it. It truly is possible to experience a Christmas that’s more blessed than stressed – and you don’t have to hide away in a hospital to do so. All you have to do is use the creativity God gave you. Here are seven creative ways to manage stress this Christmas season:
1. Figure out the factors that are causing the most stress for you.
What are the reasons you’re stressed this Christmas season? A major research study on holiday stress from the American Psychological Association (2006) found that the top stress factors were: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, staying on a diet, credit card debt, gift exchange pressure, and family gatherings. Reflect on your own life to identify what’s most stressful right now. Then you can focus your prayers on those factors, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you to make specific changes that will reduce your holiday stress. Be intentional about doing whatever you can to prevent unnecessary stress.
2. Focus on the spirit behind the traditions rather than the traditions themselves.
Ask yourself why you’re planning to do each seasonal activity before you put it on your schedule. Is it because you really want to do it, or just because it’s something you’ve done for years and feel obligated to continue? Is there something new you’d like to try instead? Think and pray about which types of activities would spark a fire of deeper faith in you, and focus on those this Christmas season. Prioritize what’s most likely to draw you closer to Jesus. As 2 Corinthians 3:6 says, God “has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” So don’t keep following traditions just for their own sake. Instead, renew your Christmas spirit by doing whatever God leads you to do this season.
3. Adjust your expectations of family gatherings.
Be realistic. As much as you might like to enjoy magical Christmas events, the reality for many families is that holiday gatherings are far from perfect. So banish magical thinking from your mind. Estranged family members may not reconcile and become close again. Someone may start a political argument or crack inappropriate jokes around the dinner table. Old grudges may hang in the air like the rotten smell of spoiled leftovers. Sure, plenty of good things can happen at your family Christmas get-togethers, too. But expect some tension – and when it happens, don’t let it bother you. Change your goal from trying to solve your family’s problems in time for Christmas to simply being gracious with you’re with them.
4. Say “no” to some activities so you can say “yes” to what’s most important.
Don’t overbook your schedule. Instead, plan only what you truly want to do. So what if you don’t go to your Aunt Julie’s Christmas party or your church’s Christmas bell ringing concert? If you don’t really enjoy them, drop them off your schedule without guilt. Then you’ll be free to add new activities that are more meaningful for you – those that truly inspire you. Maybe this is the year you’ll be able to go caroling with friends through your neighborhood or join your church’s team to bring hot meals to homeless people. Devote your time to what you sense God leading you to do, and let the rest go. Include some free time in your schedule each day. That margin for rest will renew your energy between activities – and help you reflect on what you’ve learned from those activities that can draw you closer to God.
5. Set a Christmas budget and stick to it.
Don’t let holiday commercialism pressure you into spending more money than is wise, considering your current income and savings. Aim to limit your spending to an amount you can afford to pay without accruing any debt. But while you’re reducing extraneous purchases, don’t be miserly. Keep in mind that God calls you to generously help others as you can. So when the flood of Christmas appeals from charities washes over you, carefully choose to support a few that represent the causes God has placed on your heart. Then you can let the rest go, knowing that you’ve done your part to contribute responsibly. Resist the temptation of impulsive spending. If you’re prone to buying extra sweaters and gadgets that you don’t need when you’re at the mall, shop online instead. If you tend to buy too many holiday decorations, wait 24 hours after you see that new Christmas light system or inflatable yard figure before deciding whether or not to purchase it.
6. Take care of your body.
During the busyness of the Christmas season, it’s tempting to slack off on healthy routines (like exercising regularly and getting enough sleep) while engaging in unhealthy habits (such as eating too much sugar). However, it’s vital to take care of your physical needs during the holidays so you’ll be able to manage stress well. If you’re staying up late, eating too many Christmas cookies, and sitting sedentary watching TV for hours, you’ll feel a lot more stressed than you would if you were treating your body well. So stick with your normal diet, sleep, and exercise routines as much as you can this Christmas season. When you need to relieve stress, don’t turn to comfort foods or alcohol, because they will destabilize your blood sugar, making you feel worse. Taking a walk or going to bed will be much more effective ways of relieving stress.
7. Take care of your soul.
The Christmas season is a wonderful time to renew your relationship with God. One of the many benefits of doing so is experiencing peace that’s strong enough to transcend any stressful circumstances. Philippians 4:7 describes “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” and only Jesus can give you that peace. The American Psychological Association study revealed that prayer, meditation, and going to church were all popular ways of relieving holiday stress. Other ways included listening to music and reading, which can also nurture your soul – especially when you use them to focus on God (such as through worship music and Bible reading).
Stress is everywhere during the busy Christmas season. But you can manage it well by using the creativity your Creator gave you. So this year, enjoy Christmas. When you’re not stressed, you’ll discover that you’re blessed!
Whitney Hopler, who has written for Crosswalk.com since 2001, also works as Writer-in-Residence at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. She regularly blogs about well-being in body, mind, and spirit. Learn more on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: December 5, 2016