3 Habits That Make the Holiday Season Stressful and How to Break Them

The holiday season is quickly approaching, and along with it, stress that can come from those last minute holiday shopping trips at crowded malls, overspending, or overindulging in holiday treats. Sometimes it gets so overwhelming, we even give up on what we want for ourselves altogether. Tis the season for regret.

Life is demanding without the added to-do lists of the holiday season, and bad habits can create tension and stress that rob us of the chance to create memories and traditions. And really, shouldn’t we just be allowed to relax a little bit?

Here are 3 bad habits to break this holiday season, along with strategies to tackle them.

Bad Habit #1: Waiting until the last minute.

You’re busy, and time is more valuable than gold some days. It’s easy to chalk up our last-minuteness to a simple, “I just didn’t have time” or “I guess I just wasn’t motivated.” But you could be wrong.  Most likely, the time you did have quickly passed you by. And as for the idea that motivation is holding you back, I have a feeling you would have preferred being prepared for that gift exchange well in advance, rather than angrily running around the mall with other angry procrastinators, an hour before the party.

For those with hearty spatial temporal windows–that is, those who are really good at considering the future, mentally planning, gauging, and then executing and tracking plans–simple to-do lists might work wonders. But for a lot of us, it is difficult to carry out our day successfully without some help in this area. Visual images of our time can show us where we are not making the most of the time we do have, as well as, highlight where we are downright wasting it.

Try this:  Invest in a really good paper planner, (yes, paper). With the modern push to ‘go electronic’ and eliminate paper, we’ve essentially boiled our schedules down to one big ‘to-do’ list in a calendar format.  The problem with to-do lists is they don’t create strategies for change, and it’s important to factor in the seemingly inconsequential things that are stealing our time every day ( think: scrolling through your Facebook feed, squeezing in that last episode on Netflix, returning one more phone call, checking email again.)  Plan each day in a deliberate way by first listing commitments you can not change and the time it will take to complete them. Then, note any deadlines, and finish with listing activities you want to fit in for pleasure or relaxation.  

Once you’ve done this, transfer everything into your time-incremented agenda, remembering to factor in travel time, any breaks you will need to take, time you usually spend preparing or cleaning up, etc. Visually, your free time will jump out at you. (And will most likely scream, “See how little there is to waste?! Get off Facebook!)  Being able to see your future in front of you  will create that motivation to stay on track because it’s a way to claim your time for yourself.

Repetition is key here. Doing this every day will improve your ability to imagine your future without needing to see it written down in front of you in detail.

Bad Habit #2: Not making a budget

Holidays are jam packed with emotion. Those sentimental feelings of buying special gifts for loved ones, the fuzzy feeling you get looking at those party tables full of pretty desserts, and even the tension in the air at your yearly holiday get-together at Uncle McDifficult’s house can shut down the rational parts of your brain, leaving you to make decisions you ultimately do not want to make. Where’s the wine?

It goes without saying that you can’t stick to a budget that you don’t create. Whether it’s overspending, overeating, or over-drinking, having a plan is key.

Try this: Take some time now before the season is in full swing to take an inventory of your goals, and create a solid written plan.  Because it can be difficult to time-travel outside of the present moment, the feelings of the present can easily override the feelings we are aiming for in the future. So when you’re planning, start with envisioning what it would look like in January if you successfully stuck to your plans and budgets.  Would you have saved money?  Would you have money to pay bills?  Which ones? Would you have lost weight or been able to get up early to enjoy more of your vacation after having not partaken in that glass of wine the night before? Make sure you describe in detail how it feels to have carried your plans out successfully, and write it all down.

Once you’ve envisioned the end product, create the plan with concrete steps you will take in order to carry out tasks and make decisions that will ultimately lead to creating the scenario you just described.  (i.e., when I realize I’m walking toward the dessert table, I plan to head over to grab a sparkling water, or when Uncle M talks about politics I’m going to start singing that song I really like in my head while I nod and smile.)

Bad Habit #3: The “Eh, Whatever” Habit

It’s tempting to just give up and decide the next 6-8 weeks can just be a blur of bad decisions.  After all, our New Year’s resolutions will be waiting around the corner to pick up the pieces, right?  It doesn’t have to be.

When we are faced with more demands, challenged more often, and the stress levels start to feel like they’re at an all-time high, it’s time to decide on a simple strategy.  

Here’s the problem with stress:  When we feel stress, especially for prolonged periods of time, our brain starts to adjust to accommodate–and not in a good way. The parts where deliberate reasoning and decision-making take place will sort of take a nap (and can even shrink with prolonged periods of chronic stress) while the parts of the brain associated with stress and dysregulation start to run the show. The result? Stress and more stress.

Try this:  Mel Robbins, award winning media contributor and sought-after motivational speaker, created a strategy we can all use to quiet the stress and get things done called The 5 Second Rule. It’s simple, and you can use it all day to attack those tasks that you find yourself putting off for “just 10 more minutes.”

It’s simple.  When you need to get yourself moving to get something done, pause and slowly count down from 5, 4, 3, 2….1.  Take action to begin your task within the 5 second window after you get to 1, and you will have a significantly easier time initiating action.

The reason it works? Counting backwards creates focus, dims those parts of the brain that drive stress and emotion, and calls to action the frontal lobes, where reasoning, decision-making and organization happen.  Essentially, by the time you finish counting down, the part of your brain you need is ready and waiting to help you. However, wait too long and you’ll begin to remember that long to-do list, how frustrated you are with your procrastination, your worry that you’ll never get it done, etc.  

Start counting down!

Posted in Adults, Articles, Executive Function.