It is so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of holiday stress. Even when I have the best intentions, I can quickly slide into a crabby, cranky place that spoils the fun for myself and everyone around me. I then make matters worse by heaping on the judgmental self-talk: “What’s wrong with you, Anne? It’s the cheeriest time of year! Get cheery already!” The truth is, though, it’s human nature to let our Grinch sides take charge when the reindeer fur starts to fly. Maintaining a positive outlook during this busy season (and throughout the rest of the year, for that matter!) requires continually pressing our internal reset button. Here are three trusty tools I use—all of them centered around cultivating gratitude—to shift myself out of Scrooge mode and back into Santa’s happy helper.
1. Write a thank-you note. Two Mondays ago I awoke with a grey cloud over my head. I was exhausted from an 11 hours shoot the day before, and I was making up sob stories about how “everyone gets to relax but me”. The truth was, however, I’d spent my weekend immersed in a collaborative effort that resulted in some really beautiful images. So I sat down with my coffee and a stack of stationery, and I penned a note of appreciation to everyone who had sacrificed their Sunday to work with me. By the time I was sticking on the stamps, I was focused not on my lost downtime but on how grateful I am to have a job that allows me both creative freedom and the opportunity to share that freedom with my talented colleagues. Taking a moment to acknowledge the contribution of others produced a peppy, productive energy that quickly replaced my sourpuss attitude.
2. Hug a tree. I got a visit from the anxiety monster after traveling to Reno for Thanksgiving this week. I was unsettled from being out of my routine, and I was anxious about the work that awaited me on my return. In other words, I’d made a choice to spend the holiday with family only to resent the consequences of that choice. When I caught myself drowning my anxiety in a box of stale crackers, I knew a regroup was in order. So I bundled up for a stroll in the frozen Sierra landscape. As I walked I brushed my fingers against dusty sage and prickly pines; I opened my ears to the squabbles of geese and the rush of wind; I even wrapped my arms around the trunk of a hefty elm and felt its strength radiate deep into the earth; and I returned from my outing with a renewed commitment to creating quality time with my family. Grounding my senses in nature enabled me to anchor myself in a feeling of connectedness–and to remind myself of how lucky I am to visit loved ones in such a spectacular part of the country.
3. Get lost in the details. Keeping a gratitude journal is a common recommendation for cultivating a more positive perspective. But when I’m stuck at pity party for one, it’s not enough for me simply to jot down a few items I’m thankful for. As tempting as it is to rush through a gratitude practice just like I rush through everything else in life, doing that would merely feed the pattern that leaves me tearing my hair out in the first place. To interrupt that pattern, I pick up my notebook and get super specific about the what and why of my gratitude. I describe the silly way my dog stretches and wags her tail as she peers up at me in hopes of a treat, or the comforting warmth and scent of my sweetheart’s embrace when he gives me one of his signature bear hugs. I allow myself to slow down and revel in the minutiae of my blessings, and in the process I carve out sufficient time and space to break the cycle of stress.
Granted, having these tools is one thing. Using them is another altogether! But I find the more I reach for them, the easier it gets. And I’m always looking for new ones too! What are your most reliable ways to beat holiday stress when it comes knocking at your door?