Beat Holiday Stress with a Seasonal Toolkit

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Tis the season…for holiday stress.

Yes, the holidays are full of excitement, bright lights, pretty candles, and gifts of all sizes.  And while the actual celebrations tend to be fun in the moment (most of them, anyway), this time of year does tend to coincide with increased stress levels, decreased sleep, and just a little bit of irritability at times.

It doesn’t have to.  I’m not sure if it was always this way or if the pursuit of holiday perfection has increased over time, but it’s time to take a step back from holiday stress and get back in touch with the true meaning of the holiday season.

Randi Ragan, green living expert and founder of GreenBliss EcoSpa, agrees that stress takes away from the holiday season.  “We get so caught up in stress,” commented Ragan, “that we can’t see through the cloudiness.”  In that cloudy state of mind, we forget that the holiday season is about family, gratitude, and togetherness.  The rest is just stuff.

Common signs of stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in appetite (overeating is common)
  • Increased illness
  • Exhaustion
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and back and neck pain

Randi Ragan and I discussed holiday stress at length and came up with a great seasonal toolkit to help your through this stressful time of the year, but the truth is that most of these tools can and should be used throughout the year.  When we take control of our stress levels, we take control of our lives.  And we also set a great example for our children.

Holiday stress toolkit:

Establish personal boundaries:

As Randi so thoughtfully pointed out, “We always make sure to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before we leave the house because that’s what we’re told will give us the best results.  It’s the same for stress.  We have to come up with a few strategies that work for us to combat stumbling blocks along the way.”

It’s important to set personal boundaries so that you don’t get caught up in obligations in an effort to placate other people.  When you’re always doing for others, your needs get left behind.  That can lead to resentment, exhaustion, and increased stress.

  • Decrease your obligations (do you really need to bake something for yet another bake sale?)
  • Reorder your priorities (take control of your to-do list and decide what’s necessary versus what’s not)
  • Learn to say no without excuses (there is no rule that you always have to say yes)

One other little (funny but true) tidbit from Randi:  “Potluck was invented for a reason – to stop everyone from losing their minds.”  Don’t cook the whole meal, mamas.  Assign tasks to your guests.

Be mindful:

Stress often causes us to lose sight of what’s happening right now.  People under stress tend to dwell in the past or project into the future.  Stress lends itself to thinking about regrets or worrying about what might or might not happen.  That kind of thinking distracts us from the present tense.

“We only have control over what’s happening right now,” says Ragan.  “This is your precious life – what are you going to do with it?”  Powerful, and also very honest, words.  We need snap out of the “what ifs” and live in real time if we have any hope of kicking stress to the curb.

  • Tape reminders to your car, your fridge, and your front door with notes that trigger you to stay in the present.  You know what keeps you grounded – those are the words that will bring you back to real time.
  • Schedule online and phone time and power down in between.
  • Have your kids create a “be present” box to hold all phones, tablets, and other items of distraction during family time.
  • Stop trying to document every single moment by camera or iPhone and allow yourself to actually revel in the moments instead.

Learn to breathe:

Deep breathing sounds like such a simple, and perhaps even silly, strategy, and yet many people don’t take the time to actually do it. “Deep breathing is miraculous,” says Ragan, “flooding your brain with oxygen calms you more than anything else.”

  • Practice deep breathing when you’re not under stress (just before bed and upon waking up in the morning are excellent times to work on deep breathing).
  • Inhale for a count of four, hold for three, and exhale for a count of four.
  • Practice yoga to work on mindful breathing.
  • Use visual reminders that simply say, “breathe”.

Keep healthy snacks in your purse:

You know what’s not good for stress levels?  Starvation!  Chances are that you always remember to pack snacks and water for your kids, but you rarely do the same for yourself.  Set up a grab-and-go system of healthy snacks in the fridge (string cheese, cut veggies, grapes) and in the pantry (mixed nuts, dried fruit, sunflower seeds, etc) so that you can throw a couple of snacks in your purse before you leave the house.  Fill that giant, reusable water bottle and stick it in the fridge before you go to bed each night to ensure that you stay hydrated throughout the day.

Decrease consumption:

“We have an obsession with consumption right now,” says Ragan, “but decreasing that consumption will help us carve away stress.”

Many families sort through toys, clothes, books, etc and donate gently used items before the holiday season.  This is a great way to give back and help others, and it teaches kids an important lesson.  When you have more than you need, you help those who have less.

But sometimes this simply makes room to fill with more things.  And while holidays gifts are fun and exciting, sometimes people go overboard (guilty as charged).  Consider scaling back and focusing on gifts with meaning instead.

  • Set limits with kids.
  • Have kids write the list early, and then revise it a couple of times.
  • Give the gift of time.
  • Make someone else happy – helping a neighbor or baking cookies for friends are gifts, too.

Factor in “me time”:

Me time doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.  It might be an hour alone with a good book or a manicure while the kids play with a neighbor.  Or maybe it’s a long, hot bath after the kids are in bed.

Many moms enjoy heading out with other moms for a night.  It’s great to get out with friends and decompress after a long week.

Or maybe you simply need a date night with your spouse.  Find what helps you recharge and bump that to the top of your priority list.  You deserve it.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, check out Ragan’s company, GreenBliss EcoSpa.  They will bring the pampering to you and a group of friends – doesn’t a “mom’s night in” sound amazing?

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For more on the importance of slowing down this holiday season, head over to Everyday Family.

Here’s to a happy and healthy holiday season!  Just remember to stop and breathe….

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The Holiday Sleep Schedule

Tis the season…

 

For too many parties, too much sugar, endless to-do lists, and too many late nights.

 

I love the holidays.  I love the lights.  I love the music.  I love the gingerbread cookies baking in the oven.  And I love family games by the fire.  I really, really love that.

 

But the holiday season and exhausted kids seem to go hand in hand.  Between the shopping, partying, wrapping (and unwrapping), and constant flurry of activity that surrounds the holidays, kids tire easily.  The result?  Less fun than anticipated.

 

Adequate sleep is crucial for kids, no matter the season.  Kids who do not log enough shuteye are at risk for frequent colds and other illnesses, increased stress, decreased ability to concentrate, and poor eating habits.

 

What does that really mean for parents of young children?  It means frequent visits to the MD, temper tantrums, not so great reports from school, and food wars.  Are we having fun yet?

 

When life becomes hectic, it’s vital to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.  Kids need rest and downtime to stay healthy, happy, and playful.

 

And what would a holiday be without healthy, happy, and playful kids?

 

Stick to the schedule:  A consistent bedtime routine helps kids get to be on time and promotes healthy sleep habits.  Keep the schedule consistent, even when vacation begins.  It can take the body a few days to adjust to changes in schedule, and that adjustment period can be exhausting.  It’s best to maintain consistency.

 

Avoid “one night only”:  It always seems like a good idea to stay up later just this once because it’s a holiday and the kids are having fun.  One late night often results in two days of cranky kids.  While some kids will sleep off a late night, many do not.  If you bend the bedtime a little, try to stay within a ½ hour of the regular the time.

 

Factor in recovery time:  If you do allow for change during the holiday season, be prepared.  Adjustments in sleep schedules take time (there’s a reason daylight savings time is torture) and kids will feel lethargic and cranky and change their eating habits as they adjust.  Be sure to factor in plenty of downtime (quiet playtime) and encourage short naps to help them make the transition.  Allow at least three days to ease back into school schedule when the vacation comes to an end.  Kids require time and patience when sleep is interrupted.

 

Avoid overscheduling:  It’s always difficult to say no to a fun party, but overscheduling during the holidays almost always leads to stress and exhaustion.  Choose a couple of parties to attend, and learn to say no.  Setting limits on party attendance is a great lesson for kids to learn.  When you learn to avoid excess stress, you create a calm and enjoyable holiday season for your family.

 

Family time:  School vacations always seem like an opportunity to visit every museum and science center in the area.  It’s great to plan a couple of outings, but try to factor in plenty of quiet family activities at home.  Quality time spent together results in better communication, less stress overall, and happier kids.  Break out the hot cider and schedule family game night!

 

Model healthy sleep habits:  I’ve said it before, but it’s always worth repeating:  Your kids will do as you do, not as you say.  Be sure to stick to your own sleep schedule so that you can stay healthy and keep your own stress to a minimum.  A stressed out parent = stressed out kids.  Be sure to take care of you too.

 

Now get out there and enjoy the sights and sounds of the season!

 

 

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Appreciating the Little Things

“It’s only mid-December, but parents everywhere are experiencing the same the parenting challenge:  Lack of gratitude.  I’m hearing it through email, Twitter, Facebook, and just about everywhere I go.  Moms everywhere are reminding their kids to “put it on the list” or “wait and see what Santa brings”.  All. Day. Long.

The underlying fear, of course, is that we are raising kids who lack gratitude.  We are raising wanters instead of givers.  We are raising takers instead of sharers…”

Stop by Mommy Moment to read more about focusing on gratitude and the magic of the holiday season.

Holiday Stress? (Tips for keeping mommies calm!)

 

It’s crunch time.For some of you, Hanukah is becoming a distant memory and you are focused on the day-to-day task of keeping your little ones entertained during “vacation” (also known as the worst time ever to go to an indoor playground or any other warm play place).For others, you are gearing up for Christmas.You are in the middle of the last desperate mall runs (did I really get presents for everyone?), never-ending grocery lists, and up to your ears in wrapping gifts that will be torn apart within seconds.Hint:skip the fancy bows until they become teens!No matter which category sounds like you, it all adds up to stress.We always want the holidays to look like the perfect holiday card.We want a little snow, but not too much, a nice steaming mug of hot cider, and family gathered by the fire to catch up and maybe sing a few carols.The truth is that it’s never that easy.Or pretty.It takes a lot of work to play Santa (this Santa, for one, is ready to make a run for it) or plan eight nights of celebration.And then the schools let the kids out and many (if not all) classes go onhiatus for a couple of weeks.What’s a mom (or dad) to do?A few weeks ago I was focused on helping the kids with holiday overload.Now it’s time to focus on the parents who have to hold it all together.The fact is that families are complicated.You can’t expect everyone to get along all of the time, and different people have different needs.Sometimes the need to strive for holiday perfection can increase your stress level, which then increases the stress for your kids.Kids pick up on stress.It makes them anxious.They respond by either crying a lot or acting out.Both options then result in more caretaker stress.My husband suffered a terrible case of food poisoning last weekend.He could hardly leave his bed.While Liam was blissfully unaware, Riley’s stress increased with each passing hour that daddy spent in bed.She cried more than usual, and constantly asked where he was and why he couldn’t play.There are only so many times you can answer, “daddy will feel better soon.He just needs his rest” before you’re ready to run away.I’ve been drinking a lot of tea to keep my own stress to a minimum.My Nana raised me to believe that a nice cup of tea can cure just about anything.It’s always my first line of defense when I feel stress creeping in.At the end of the day, parents need to de-stress too so that we can be at our best to help our kids with their everyday needs.Below are some tips for keeping your own stress to a minimum:
1.Know your triggers:We’ve been cooped up for weeks.First on the East coast, when the temperature wouldn’t climb higher than 27, and then back home in LA because the rain just won’t let up.I’m blessed with space and toys, and yet we’re all starting to lose it.We went to the mall for an hour just to run around somewhere else.We’ve also had a bad run of illnesses since late October, which results in sleep deprivation.When I’m tired I don’t eat.When I don’t eat I get cranky.A steady stream of caffeine can only get you so far.Having identified my biggest triggers, I am making an effort to get to bed earlier and snack regularly.I’m no good to my kids if I feel like I’m ready to blow at any given moment.I’m decidedly less stressed already just by tuning into my own needs.Know your triggers.It works.
2.Ask for help:I’m not great when it comes to asking for help.I tend to be the one who provides help instead.Sometimes to my own detriment.Here’s the best tip I can give you:Your husband doesn’t want to do the dishes.He doesn’t want to do the laundry, clean the bathroom, or take out the trash either.Do you?I’m always amused when friends talk about how little their husbands will help with domestic chores unless they are asked.We don’t want to do the chores either…why would they?!This always reminds me of that scene in “The Break-Up” where Jennifer looks at Vince and says, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes” and he replies, “why would anyone WANT to do the dishes”.That doesn’t mean they get a free pass.We are all working hard, whether at a job or parenting or both.We all need to pitch in.Ask them to help you so that you’re not constantly thinking about what you need to do next.
3.Make a list:I love lists.Who doesn’t?Keep a list for gift buying, party planning (if you are one of those brave people throwing a holiday party), gift-wrapping, holiday cards, food preparation, etc.Revise it as you get things done so that you can see the list getting smaller.And, again. Refer back to #2 and ASK FOR HELP (he’s better at wrapping presents than he’s leading you to believe…which brings us to #4).
4.Ditch perfection:Are we really still holding onto this unattainable title?Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.Which means that if you are constantly competing against yourself, you will probably never win.Holiday time is about enjoying time with your family.Don’t worry about throwing the perfect party while wearing the perfect dress. You will never be able to buy all of the right gifts.You can only do your best and try to enjoy the season along the way.Focus on enjoying the little moments.Capture that look of wonder when your four year old first finds the gifts under the tree.Burn a copy of it in the back of your brain and think about that when the caterer mixes up your order or red wine is spilled on the carpet.Perfect is simplicity.Perfect is hot chocolate and laughter by the fire.Or whatever makes you happy….
5.Make time for friends:Studies show that women who maintain long term friendships cope better with stress and illness over time.Make a friend date this holiday season.Enjoy the good memories and have some child free time where you can just enjoy your friendships.But try to stay positive.A new study in Hormones and Behavior (“62 Ways to feel better fast”, Self Magazine, January 2011) shows that when two female friends focus on negative emotions they both have a surge in stress hormones, like cortisol.It’s ok to talk about problems, just try to focus on thinking about coping strategies and ways to make things better.
6.Plan a date night:With so much focus on the kids over the holidays, it’s easy to put your marriage on the back burner.Try to stay focused on each other (after all, your marriage is what started this family) and find time to be together.Whether you hire a babysitter and head out for the night or cook a romantic dinner at home, take some time to really talk, listen, and enjoy the spirit of this magical time of year.
7.Get a massage:I can’t imagine a world that doesn’t include Burke Williams Day Spa.Hint:The Torrance location is really new and beautiful and much less of a scene than some of the others.But most of you don’t live in LA.I love everything from the smell of the products to plush robes right down to the cucumber slices in the water.Any stress I might be harboring dissipates the minute I walk through the front door.Find a place where you can check out for 90 minutes with a relaxing massage and some quiet time.You don’t have to pay the big bucks either.There are many massage schools around where you can get a great massage at a fraction of the price.Can’t find the time?At least sneak in a pedicure.You deserve it!Now is the time for pampering.
8.Stick to your routine:Kids get stressed out and start to have meltdowns when they stray too far from their routines.It’s easy to get off track when school is out and you are in holiday preparation mode (yesterday I was in my pajamas until 11am and almost missed snack and lunch…yikes!).Try to be aware of their normal eating and sleeping routines to avoid meltdowns.Holidays are important, but your kids are more important.Help them have fun by keeping them well slept and well fed.
9.Unplug:Take a break from the email checking, texting, Facebooking, and Tweeting and just get on the floor and play with your kids.Enjoy the world from their perspective for a change, where running with a dump truck is super fun and an animal rescue is the most important task of the day.You’ll thank me later.
On that note, I am unplugging until after Christmas.Time to bake, play, and be Merry!If you’ve already celebrated the holiday season, enjoy some quiet time as a family.If you are waiting for a visit from the big man in the red suit…MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Thanks again for reading along and leaving comments.You inspire me each day!