Halloween is long gone, Thanksgiving has passed in both Canada and the United States, and the holiday season has officially launched. For most people who celebrate holidays this time of year (which, face it, is almost everybody), this can be an extremely stressful time. Some of this stress is unavoidable. Some stress** can even lend a pleasant anticipation leading up to the celebrations and a contented sense of relief when they are over. Much of our less desireable stress, however, can minimized by planning ahead.
Regardless of your belief in, views on, or participation with Ye Olde Man in Red, Santa has one thing absolutely right. Make a list. For real. Not being of the type who easily keeps track of things in my mind, I’m a HUGE fan of lists, and I greatly prefer hand-writing them in most cases. I have to-do lists, done lists, shopping lists, reading lists, lists of habits I’m trying to develop and even a list of all the dinners we eat on the regular. If you’re not a list-maker by nature, I don’t recommend you take up all these different lists (at least not at once). There is one list to reduce stress around the holidays (or any time) that is particularly useful and it is called a mind sweep.
A mind sweep, a term coined by David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, is a method of recording EVERYTHING that’s on your mind. (His mind sweep technique is a part of an entire system to help you get your life ordered, and is not a list, but a new piece of paper for each idea. For our purposes, we’re just getting through the holidays and a list is a good jumping off point.) If you think of anything at all while you’re creating your mind sweep list, add it to the list. Yes, this includes adding toilet paper to your next week’s shopping and it also includes things like call your mother, pay your library fine, and put air in your tires. Seriously, if it crosses your mind, it needs to go on this list. You can go digital or paper, whatever works best for you, but make this list. The mere act of making note of a thing helps relieve your busy mind of the burden of trying to remember all of the things at once.
Once you have your list made it’s time to do the part Santa calls “checking it twice.” (This is where I particularly find a paper list handy because I find it helpful to sort my list using different colors of ink, highlighters, etc, but again, this exercise is so important actually to do that your method doesn’t matter at all as long as it works for you. Don’t let the making and editing of this list overwhelm you to a point where it becomes one more stressor.) Go through your list and see, out of everything that’s on your mind, what is actually under your control. If you haven’t read this post about my not-so-secret happiness hack, now might be a good time to check it out. The ultra-short version is take control of what you can control.
Using whatever method you prefer, make note of the things you actually do have control over. If there are things you can do quickly and get them off your probably very long list, great. Getting the easy wins can enhance your own trust in your ability to do something about your situation, with the added bonus of making your list (and your worries) smaller.
Another tactic is to choose the thing you least want to do from your list of things you can control. Often times the dread we feel over such things not only makes us feel anxious, it actually inhibits our ability to move on other tasks. It LOOMS. It hijacks our thoughts and our reasoning mind. As soon as you reasonably can, Do The Thing. It is almost never as bad as you have built it up to be in your mind, and you will have it done. Whew! What a relief!
Keep your mind sweep list through the holiday season. Add on to it as new items occur to you and make sure you mark off what you have accomplished. Keeping track of what you have done not only keeps you accountable for your time it also sends a message to your subconscious mind that you are making progress. In fact, this is the reason I keep a done list separate from my to-do list. In real life, any given day is unlikely to unfold exactly as expected. Without my list of things I have done, I focus only on what I haven’t done and sink into familiar feelings of failure. Make sure you are giving yourself credit where credit is due!
Yes, the holidays can add stress to our lives. In fact, while writing this post, I suddenly realized there was so much ground I wanted to cover that what I had typed was literally three times longer than usual. I broke it up into three posts: this one, one on financial-based stress, and one on stress caused by social gatherings. (Make sure you sign up for my newsletter to be notified when a new post goes up.) That being said, take a moment to stop, breathe, and come up with at least one reason to be happy at this time of year. No matter what you celebrate or don’t celebrate, peace, love, hope, and joy are pretty great ideas.
Brightest blessings, Sunny
** Did you know that there’s such a thing as good stress? This is called eustress and is defined thusly by Merriam-Webster:
eu·stress | \ˈyü-ˌstres \
: a positive form of stress having a beneficial effect on health, motivation, performance, and emotional well-being
Yep. Some stress actually makes us healthier and happier! Just thought you ought to know. ; )