Here is a simple five-step process for using an ACT-based approach to rethink your holiday stress.
1. Clarify what you value about the holidays before making any plans. To do this, finish the following sentence stem with as many endings as possible: “The things I value about the holidays are…”
When you are done, rank your holiday values from most to least important.
2. Set reasonable goals for your top three of your values. It is better to break goals down into smaller objectives that answer the question: “Who will do how much of what by when?”
This will make it easier to meet your values-based holiday goals.
Top (core) value: “Family.”
“Visiting my family over the holidays.”
“I will visit my mom and dad, aunt Millie and her family and my uncle Bob between Thanksgiving weekend and the weekend after New Year’s Day.”
3. Accept the pain and suffering that accompanies the joy associated with the holidays. Seeing your family will more than likely dredge up some old painfulthoughts, feelings and mental images. ACT has found that the worst thing you can do when these painful thoughts and feelings arise istrying to control, avoid, or eliminate them. This only makes them worse. The best way to deal with them is to accept them.
Tell yourself: “I am willing to co-exist with these painful thoughts and feelings in the service of spending time with my family (core value).”
Every day take a few moments to calm yourself by becoming more mindful of the present moment through diaphragmatic breathing.
4. Work in some daily physical activity or exercise. The holiday stress response mobilizes energy and creates muscle tension. If you don’t dissipate this through physical activity it has nowhere to go and will cause irritability, insomnia, fatigue and muscle pain.
5. Take a few good breaths several times a day. Every day take a few moments to calm yourself by becoming more mindful of the present moment through diaphragmatic breathing. Here are the instructions for mindful breathing:
Sit comfortably on a chair with a straight back and close your eyes.
Put your hands on your belly and slowly exhale completely through your nose.
As you inhale slowly through your nose, notice the feeling of the air travel in through your nose, down your windpipe, and all the way down to the bottom portion of your lungs closest to where your hands are resting
As you slowly fill your lungs from the bottom up, feel your belly rise and push on your hands.
When your lungs are completely full, pause for a moment and notice how this feels.
Slowly empty your lungs and notice the feelings in your chest as the air exits your body.
Continue to notice the sensations in your nose, windpipe, lungs and belly as you breathe in and out.
Repeat this a few times a day as often as you can during the holidays.
Until the next time remember to Stress Less and Live More.