#Holiday Stress: The 3 Major Causes and How to Deal

blog-managing-holiday-stress

– Natasha Sharma gives us our first holiday gift!

Back when I was a psychology grad student at Johns Hopkins, I took a class with a special focus on Anxiety. Somewhere in the textbook for this course there was a rank ordered list of stressful life events that could potentially lead to psychological distress, fittingly called a ‘stress scale.’ As I scanned the list, I saw many of the usual suspects: Divorce, dismissal from work, taking on a major mortgage or foreclosure of a house. Then my eyes flashed across a word I wasn’t expecting: Christmas. Incidentally, it ranked as more stressful a life event than experiencing a minor legal infraction! At first the foolish student in me laughed, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense.

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Stress is the body’s natural reaction to major changes in our environment, and it isn’t always a bad thing. In appropriate amounts and duration, stress can motivate us to identify and adapt to these changing events, a crucial life skill. Chronic and pervasive stress, however, may lead to unhealthy anxiety. The October through January 1 ‘holiday stretch’ usually results in a lot of extra stuff going on for many people. In my experience as a Psychotherapist, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or other cultural events, holiday stress usually falls into 3 main categories: Family, Keeping Appearances, and Time. Here is my take on why we get so stressed out at this time of year and more importantly, what to do about it.

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  1. Ah family. I’m talking about birth and extended family members, like siblings, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws. Some we like. And some we just don’t. And we typically come together with some or all of them over the holidays, often at multiple times. A lot of my clients worry about confronting difficult or annoying family members, the types who ‘shame and blame’, constantly criticize, brag and compare, or take not-so-subtle digs at them. Avoid letting these types get under your skin. Here’s how to deal: Expect these family members to behave that way, before heading to the gathering. When you expect it to happen, you take away all the fear and anxiety over wondering and worrying what they’ll be like, because you already know. Then if by chance they behave well, it will be a pleasant surprise. Either way, you’ll feel calmer. If people do fall out of line or hit below the belt, address it with them immediately, calmly, and firmly. And remember that they alone are responsible for their actions. You are responsible for your reactions.

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  1. Social pressure to ‘be’ or ‘look’ a certain way has always been nagging presence in life. From getting the ‘right’ gifts to having the perfect job, being in a great relationship, having the perfect marriage, house, and kids…this list goes on and on. The popularity of social media has inadvertently created the opportunity to compare ourselves to one another on a 24-7 basis. In addition, we invariably spend some of our holiday time updating and answering questions about our lives to people we may not have seen for some time. Here’s how to deal: Practice the art of gratitude. Be grateful for where you are and what you have. If you’re reading this article, chances are you already have more than many people in the world do, including health, shelter, food, and safety. The abundance of the holidays should be a stark reminder of that, but often they’re not. Mentally forbid yourself from keeping score in your head with who’s doing what, where, and how much they make. Be humble, be you, and be proud of all that goes with it.
  1. If there is ever a time in the year when we have a desperate lack thereof, it’s around the holidays. From office parties to family engagements, shopping and preparing, it’s no wonder we feel stretched to our limits. Feeling like you’re on a deadline you might not meet can cause a ton of stress. Here’s how to deal: Pace yourself and learn how to say ‘no’. You can’t do everything, so consciously choose what you can and can’t commit to around the holidays. Focus your energy on what you enjoy the most. If parties and gatherings are your thing, perhaps you can order some or all of your holiday meal pre-made. If you love cooking and preparing your home for the holidays, you don’t have to accept every invitation to events. Make lists, and avoid cramming too many things into one day. Most importantly, take time out of every day to unwind completely alone. Even if it’s only for 10 minutes. Your body and your mind will thank you!
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New Beginnings

A little piece of us dies every day. From our very cells to pieces of our heart forever changed by the pains and challenges of yesterday.

The other side of that truth is everything is reborn again. Everything. It is in our details. Our perceptions. Our truths. Every day a part of us is brand new.

Each moment brings a new beginning. It was my mother Enid’s final chapter and my son Nixon first, that I found this truth. As the anxiety ridden yesterday is gone, this morning I awoke with very specific words resounding in my soul.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

Enid and David

Enid and her brother David.

Enid had purposefully chosen this poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye and carefully hidden in a place where she knew only the person who needed the message most and the person who could carry and deliver her message would find it.

I found it. I was momentarily stunned, as I knew exactly what I was reading and why. There were no directions with the poem. I simply knew. Through hot and salty tears, a feeling of being cool and refreshed began to ease the pain in my heart just a bit. 

I am a thousand winds that blow.

The epitome of class and timeless beauty.  Enid on her wedding day

The epitome of class and timeless beauty. Enid on her wedding day

These words are boundless and at first glance seem much too large to bring comfort. As I sat outside soaking up the Vancouver sunlight and gazing at my mother’s tiny garden after she had passed, the words played over and over in my soul. I began to whisper them quietly, over and over, to my beautiful new baby boy who was eyeing me carefully as if he was sent to care for me rather than me for him.

I got it. I GOT IT! Each moment brings a new beginning. Love, energy, and intention never die. WE are one and we are all an active part of all things. Whether our outside physical carriage is gone, our chassis … our internal framework is entirely intact and perfectly aligned with infinite energy.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.  I am not there.  I did not die.

Lennox, Enid, Nixon, & Alex

Lennox, Enid, Nixon, and me. 12 days later she would be gone. Look at her smile. Magnificent!

You are alive! Carpe Diem! Rise today and smile a smile you have never smiled. Help one more person. Let one tiny argument go. Let angst have a go at itself today while you lean into the wind. While I miss my mom every day and my journey sometimes brings me to my knees, I have learned to say  “thank you” while I’m down there because as soon a I get up, I know my gait will be refreshed, renewed, and reborn.

Today, I am thankful for the wind. It spreads seeds so they can grow new food, flowers, plants, and life. The wind cools you on the hottest of days and if you listen carefully, you may your hear angels joyfully singing of all you believe you have lost. The song can fill your heart and restore your faith.  Today, I am thankful for each person who reaches out to me with a quest for hope. You restore me every day. You, many times, ARE my wind.  You are my angels.

I will set out for today’s adventure with Nixon with the wind in my heart and the sun on my face. I bet something spectacular is waiting for us to discover. Gotta go! Gotta get there! I know the same gift is waiting for you. Open you heart and close your mouth! All you are wishing for is already here.

Here is Mary Elizabeth Frye’s poem, Enid’s gift to me, and my family. Our gift to you.

"Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep" ~ Mary Elizabeth Frye

“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep” ~ Mary Elizabeth Frye

How To Be Happy And Get The Most Out Of Life!

 How to Be Happy and Get the Most out of Life !

By: Natasha Sharma, M.Sc.

@NatashaSharma17

Natasha Sharma is a psychotherapist, doctoral student, author, speaker, and media spokesperson.

Natasha Sharma is a psychotherapist, doctoral student, author, speaker, and media spokesperson. Follow on Twitter @NatashaSharma17

Problems, as we all know, are a reality of living. Life can be unpredictable and will most certainly be stressful at one point or another. But it is how we respond to changes and solve a problem that have the most impact and influence to the quality of our lives, as opposed to the actual problem itself. In my practice as a Psychotherapist, I have worked with many individuals and families of all ages, ranging from issues as harrowing as psychological trauma in small children to more commonplace issues such as conflict in the workplace, or dating and relationship issues. Over the years, I have come to realize that a problem is a problem, relative to the unique context of a person’s life and individual phenomenology. Which is to say that they exist – or do not exist – based on our own personal circumstances and subjective experiences of life.

No matter what our individual circumstances are, there are things that all of us can do – whether we struggle with mental illness, extremely difficult living conditions, anxiety, depression, or just plain old boredom – to promote our psychological and emotional well-being, and therefore the quality of our lives. I call these the 4 pillars of LIFE: Love, Introspection, Fun, and Empowerment. Let’s take a closer look at each one working backwards:

Empowerment: Through constantly seeking knowledge and education about ourselves and the world around us, we Empower ourselves! That means we increase our capacity to make the best choices to suit our individual lives, and to transform those choices into the actions and outcomes that we desire. We feel stronger and more confident in our ability to control our own life and destiny.

Fun: Life is incomplete and boring without Fun! We express our individual selves every day through our tastes in food, fashion, travel, hobbies, social events, music, movies, and whatever else we are passionate about. Fun is the spice of life, and regular doses of it at every age are essential to our well-being!

Introspection: To increase self-awareness, we must look inward and recognize our unique strengths, our weaknesses, our areas of vulnerability, and our passions. We all have them. Become intimately acquainted with your unique self!

Love: Our well-being is truly enhanced by the love we receive and give to others. But most important, and foremost to good mental health, is the love we must have towards ourselves. This type of love comes through deep self-awareness, self-respect, and unconditional self-acceptance. When we are kind and forgiving of ourselves, we feel more secure and at peace. We gain more confidence, are more assertive, have more energy, are less resentful, and make good decisions that are of benefit to us. Simply put, the most important thing each of us can do to promote our own mental health is to fall in love with ourselves! When we do this, we are happy. And when we are happy, we are better mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, wives, husbands, and friends.

Many of the people I encounter in my world find themselves unable to let go of the past, or anxious about the future. We cannot change the past. But we can change the way we reflect on it and thereby re-write the story of our past. We cannot predict the future. But we can challenge our fears and assess the likelihood of events. Finally, we cannot always control life. But we can always control how we experience life.

No Mud, No Lotus

No Mud, No Lotus

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Moms Motivating Other Mothers

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