By Drdeah_Curry

It’s sad but true that the season extending from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is often the most stressful time of year in families and close friendships. Depressions deepen, anxieties rise, and aggressions and frustrations get unleashed, causing serious emotional frustration. It can’t all be blamed on global warming, the election outcome, or seasonal affective disorder.

Some stress at this time of year is predictable. We’re spending more money than is sensible in a down economy on gifts for people we may not even like. We’re fighting shopping crowds and endless traffic, and waiting in interminable lines at the post office. We feel pressured to attend social functions that drain our energy, where we over-eat and over-drink to the level of feeling miserable. And we call this holiday cheer? Bah humbug.

For those who long to celebrate the holidays in the true spirit of a multi-culturally meaningful season, here are some ideas for gracefully creating a stress-free inner climate of peace and good will.

Taking Control of Personal Stressors

1. Know Your Limits and Live Within Them. Whether it’s saying no more often, or setting a ceiling on spending and other indulgences, pay attention to how you use your energy and resist using it out of guilt. Do only what your heart and spirit are really joyful about doing.

2. Take Even Better Care of Yourself Than Usual. In periods of predictable stress, it’s important to maintain daily health routines. Getting the rest, nutrition, exercise, and hydration the body needs strengthens our ability to tolerate small irritatants. If you have to get less sleep, or skip meals or workouts in order to have time for activities that are inherently stressful, you’re not taking good care of yourself.

3. Believe in Your Essential Goodness. Many people are driven to take on more stress than necessary out of an erroneous belief that if they don’t they will be seen as bad, flawed, uncaring, or mean. Allowing guilt, fear or anticipation of others’ disapproval to dictate how we use our energy is an act of giving in to a tyrrany of toxic assumptions and dysfunctional expectations. If you are caught in this trap, start telling yourself that you are a good, kind, and caring person and that doesn’t change if you decline an invitation, or refrain from sending obligatory gifts and cards.

4. Redefine, Reschedule, Resist, and Renew. Stress can be managed well by redefining priorities, rescheduling anything that doesn’t have a critical deadline, resisting the impulse to “fix” others, and saving yourself enough time and resources for personal renewal.

5. Give in a Meaningful Way. The commercialized holiday scene pressures us into thinking we must buy, buy, buy to appropriately give, give, give. But mindlessness only serves meaninglessness, and leaves us feeling empty, dissatisfied, stressed out, or worse. Find a meaningful way to give to others that makes an important difference in their lives to connect yourself to the spirituality of the season — the universally hoped for return of enLightenment, and peace to the world.

Ending Toxic Relationships

A toxic relationship is one in which you are continually emotionally abused, feel unsafe or discouraged in being fully authentic, or are disempowered and left unable to get your psychospiritual needs met. Attacks of criticism and ridicule that come out of the blue are difficult to defend against in effective ways, much less in a loving manner.

Toxic relationships do not have to be endured, no matter who they are with. We don’t have to put up with cruel, sarcastic, disapproving, abusive behavior to keep the peace. I coach those who are in such relationships to give to themselves the gift of severing ties with such people, if not permanently, then especially during the holiday season. Here are a few ways to do that:

1. Decline to attend family gatherings that include abusive, critical, or shaming relatives. You do not owe anyone an explanation for choosing to keep healthy boundaries. Celebrate with friends or alone, instead.

2. Be clear, explicit and firm about your limits. Say “I can come to dinner only on Tuesday, and will need to leave by 9 pm.” Keeping your own boundaries puts more control in your hands, and lowers stress levels.

3. Use the broken record technique to enforce your right to your own decisions. Repeat as necessary, “I’ll be at Tuesday’s dinner, but will be leaving by 9 at the latest…I’ll see you at the dinner, and I’ll be ending my evening by 9…Even though I will be leaving before 9, it will be good to talk to you at Tuesday’s dinner.” Resist others’ attempts to talk you out of what you know is best for you.

4. Start stress-free traditions with friends, co-workers, neighbors or others who are not toxic. Traditions are just culturally laden habits that segments of society or family groups practice together. Decide with a new group of people what is meaningful and celebratory.

5. Take a holiday break; celebrate alone. When your world is crowded with toxic relationships, sometimes the best thing is to withdraw from all of them during the holidays. Spend the time exploring and nurturing your own spirit, dancing to your own drumbeat. Tune in to the natural world, journal, create, take a trip. Follow your own quest for meaning and be really conscious about what and why you are celebrating.

Controlling stress and toxic relationships at any time of year requires forethought, effort, and perhaps a bit of courage. The key is to let others own their own feelings about your need to take care of yourself, and for you to be mindful about how you manage your energy.

Get free tips for a Stress-Less Holiday Season for Singles, on my website If you need coaching to help you get through the holidays, see for details on the coaching process and how it differs from counseling.

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