MANAGING HOLIDAY STRESS

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Here I stand, watching as storm troopers, princesses, superheroes and many other “beings” frantically cruise past me. One would think I’d landed on a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away. In actuality, I was standing amidst a crowd of holiday vacationers at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, during recent leave with our daughter’s family.  One doesn’t have to look much further than a “Disney experience” for lessons on managing holiday stress.

Whether it’s going to Disney or home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the holidays can be a very stressful time for people. The hustle and bustle of catching early morning flights, your “favorite” sibling building a schedule to occupy all your time while you’re at home, or good old family politics, it can turn a holiday vacation on its head and create a lot of stress and tension. Prior to our Disney trip, Chaplain John Boulware shared some great tips for managing holiday stress, which you’ll find extremely useful. A couple of my favorites:

Tip 1: Focus on what matters and go with the flow! Spending time with family over the holidays can sometimes lead to bringing up resentments due to past squabbles, poking at a relative for a lack of contact over the past year, or talking incessantly about the crazy things going on at work. During our trip to Disney, it would have been easy to start down the road of talking about work or chatting about the latest family drama. In the end, I kept telling myself to focus on the moment and enjoy what truly matters. For Carmen and I, “what truly matters” was watching our 3-year old granddaughter smile as she saw her favorite Disney princess, or seeing her laugh during trick or treating and Magic Kingdom’s Halloween Parade. For me personally, it was seeing how pretty our youngest granddaughter looked wearing that special Star Wars outfit at Hollywood Studios—the one Carmen sewed until 0300 the previous night—that was special! Despite the craziness of the parks, focusing on the kids (what mattered) and going with the flow definitely reduced stress and helped us enjoy the trip that much more.

Tip 2: Relax and breathe…and celebrate the occasion! Although the holidays should be a time of joy and relaxation (one that you’ve waited for for months), it can also turn particularly stressful as holiday events start piling up.  Travel, kids, rushing from one family member’s house to another, “must-do” family rituals, and combine all that with sneaking quick peeks at your work email, can lead to a more stressful holiday than simply staying at work. During our Disney trip, despite the schedules of coming and going from park to park, ride to ride, and meal to meal, we had to keep ourselves from being a product of a schedule and enjoy the parades and rides with our kids and granddaughters (all while playing “human frogger” against strollers and scooters furiously moving about!). The key during these moments is to relax, breathe and pace yourself. In the end, it comes down to counting your blessings and celebrating the moment right in front of you—don’t be afraid to put down the electronic devices and be present in the moment (i.e., don’t feel compelled to capture every second for posterity.  It’s ok not to Snapchat, tweet or post everything). Finally, remember to spend time with positive influencers in your life and concentrate on those things that make you happy, such as volunteer work to help others. One of my and Carmen’s favorite holiday traditions is to visit our fire fighters and Defenders at work and serve with our Airmen at the dining facility. Whatever your “calling” is, you’ll be surprised how much relaxation and joy you’ll get from simply helping one another! Remember to relax, breathe and celebrate the occasion.

Suffice it to say, although you’ve looked forward to the holidays for months, it can instantly turn into an incredibly stressful time, if you’re not mindful and let it. When stress from a family member or event starts to weigh on you, take a minute to think about the bigger picture, relax and go with the flow. For me, it was taking a minute to enjoy the great pictures we took the previous day of our granddaughters laughing and smiling on “It’s a Small World” and the carousel. Wherever the holidays take you, enjoy a friend, family member or an Airmen’s smile when you spend time with them—it’ll make the holiday stress quite manageable.