How to be relaxed instead of a wound-up mess during holiday season

We’re getting close to the most stressful time of the year, where people’s fuses are short and everyone’s wound up.  There’s even something called the Holiday Heart Syndrome.

holiday season

This kind of time is when you might find yourself reacting to something you’re usually cool about, regretting what you say the minute it’s out of your mouth. This reaction is automatic and is part of our stress-response system.

When we feel stressed, at the end of our rope, overwhelmed … in other words, when we are stretched to our limit – like now during the holiday season – reacting is our body’s way of dealing as fast as possible to whatever it is that’s stressing us.  The thing is that this is hard-wired and completely automatic – and it doesn’t differentiate between real and perceived threats.  If you think about it, this makes sense: if it were a real physical threat, we wouldn’t have time to do anything but react as fast as possible.  There is no rom for deliberation, considering our options.  By the time we did that, we’d probably be dead or maimed.

Some call this our lizard brain, or inner lizard – because it’s probably the oldest part of our brain system. And one we share will all other creatures with brains. But in our everyday lives, it’s rare to be faced with something truly dangerous to our physical well-being. Our lizard-brain simply interprets it that way. So, the big question is: How can we stop this automated descent into raw aggression and deal with the situation with something else? How can we turn a reaction into a response?

The key to doing this is to make sure our inner lizard is content.  It doesn’t take much. The thing that will get our lizard going is continued stress, especially if we’re already at the point of no more resources. Because at this point, anything can set us off.

It’s so different when we aren’t stressed. You’ve experienced the difference yourself. Remember those times when you felt happy and relaxed; energized and present.  When things went wrong then, how well did you handle them? Were they that big a deal? Probably not!

If you want to avoid reacting this holiday season, and be ready to respond instead, the most critical thing you can do for yourself is to avoid stress.  If you find yourself with a long list of to do’s, you can try what Martha Beck calls the 3 B’s: bag it, barter it, or better it.

  • Bag it: do you really need to do it, or can it fall off your immediate list of things to get done? Sometimes, we have things we want to get done, but don’t absolutely have to get them done.  Be ruthless and delete them.  At least for now.
  • Barter it: can you give this to someone else to get done? Or is it something only you can do? If it’s the latter, are there parts that are essential, and can you bag the rest?  In reality, there isn’t much we must do ourselves, or minimize so that it can actually get done.  Really, the only person who will likely notice the difference is you. And if minimizing also means peace of mind, then it’s worth it!
  • Better it: this means connecting the task to something that makes it feel good for you instead of something that stresses you out. If it’s spending hours getting gifts for everyone coming to your party, how can you make it fun? How can you reward yourself afterwards in a way that relaxes you? Again, are there parts that aren’t really necessary? Are there parts that can be delegated to others – or traded for things you can do at a later date?

The point: there are ways of making the overwhelming doable and even enjoyable.  There are ways of getting out of stress-response and into your own relaxed on-top-of-things self, even during holiday season.


If you’re interested in knowing more about natural character traits, you might be interested in Discover Your Natural Character.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at .


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