Getting ready to celebrate your Christmas holiday? Every year we hear about the stress of the season. What’s that all about? Where does the stress come from? Magazine covers and online articles proclaim ways to shave off stress during this time or manage it well. But what if we could uncover the root of why we have it in the first place and then eliminate it all together? Managing it would become a thing of the past.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to a specific demand. Given that definition, then what is the demand and where does it come from?
Demands come at us around the holiday season either internally or externally. We have some control over both – in fact, much more than you realize. Let’s start with the internal demands. Demands are no different than expectations. We have certain expectations of the way things should be. I expect that I should be able to purchase everyone I know a gift yet I work a job that only allows me to purchase three family members and one friend a gift. Therefore, I am under stress because I have ten family members and twenty friends. Wow, there is the beginning of stress! Add to that the numerous other demands that I now give to myself.
Take a moment and think about the demands that you’ve placed upon yourself regarding your Christmas holiday. Are you preparing the holiday meal? What do you expect that to look like? How many people have you invited? Does it need to be served on fine china or will nice disposable dishes do? Do you have to pull everything fresh from the oven and place it on the table or can you give yourself permission to prepare food the day before and warm it up to give yourself time with the family? Can you allow others to bring dishes so you aren’t preparing the entire meal? What about gift-giving? Can your family be comfortable giving and receiving less expensive or fewer gifts? Can your family adopt a new tradition to allow for new family members? Look at what might cause you internal stress and evaluate what demands or expectations you are willing to let go of for yourself and/or others to minimize and even eliminate stress for you and those around you.
Stress continues when I expect to please each external demands coming my way from other people such as the Christmas parties of all my friends, my employer and both my divorced parents who live in different cities and then my siblings all within the same week. That doesn’t include the shopping I need to get done, clean my home, bake some cookies and get to the gym. Look at your schedule over the next few weeks. Find the external demands or expectations that others have of you that you can say no to. Saying no is a difficult thing for some people because it requires setting a healthy boundary for themselves that they’re not used to doing. It’s a gift we give ourselves. But it’s something that some people are unable to do because saying no means that the other person may not be happy with you. This is a sure sign of co-dependency.
Co-dependency means that my well-being is dependent upon you being okay with me. Saying no for my well-being is a healthy thing to be able to do. Allowing the other person/people to be frustrated is allowing them to grow. Saying no is an entirely separate topic but is often the biggest reason people suffer from external stressors.
The holiday season is filled with stressful situations because we have three major celebrations back to back, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. These celebrations involve families and friends in a relatively short amount of time packed together. This requires us to manage many requests coming at us as well as self-manage our own lives at the same time. No wonder we’re all in a tightened bundle of nerves about to explode all over each other. What is enjoyable about any of that? We haven’t even gotten to the meaning of Christmas yet!
In Zechariah, chapter 7, a discussion is being held regarding the rebuilding of the temple. God is being asked whether the Israelites should continue holding their somber mourning fasts each summer in memory of the temples destruction now that they were going to rebuild. It seemed like a realistic question given the circumstances. Listen to God’s response. Zechariah 7:5-6 Even now, in your holy festivals, you don’t even think about me, but only of pleasing yourselves.
What does this have to do with stress we experience at Christmas? If we were to go to our Father in heaven and say to Him, “Daddy, this season is a mess. We’re all rushing everywhere and we’re so busy, cranky and rushed that it doesn’t seem like we’re enjoying the holiday anymore.” He might reply with the same answer today. Our expectations or demands have gotten a tad bit out of line and more about things that no longer add value to our families let alone to worshipping the God whose honor this was all about in the first place.
The Christmas holiday was meant to worship and honor the Savior who was born to give His life in place of ours – to restore our relationship with God. But it’s been lost in the hustle and bustle of lights, presents, noise, and things that in-and-of themselves are not bad, but have distracted us from the beauty of the season. They have robbed us of the joy and wonder of what we originally came to celebrate for and replaced it with hormones that raise our blood pressure and tension.
I propose that to eliminate stress, I mean to really fully eliminate stress, we begin to get to the root of where it has come from in our lives. This means that we have to get real about our own expectations of this season. What is important about how our house looks, who we spend our time with, who we buy gifts for, how much money we spend, what the holiday says about us or what it says to Him? The messages about everything we do over the next few weeks say a lot about our identity, our values and our character. Most of all, it says everything about whether the season is truly about Him. If it IS about Him, He is God…a Father of peace. He is NOT a God of chaos, stress or anxiety. He does not bring about these tensions. If those are what we are feeling, then we are simply not in the mix of His Holy Spirit but in the mix of our own demands or the demands of others – our bodies will therefore respond to those demands and therefore be under stress rather than respond to his Holy Spirit.
Eliminate stress this season by eliminating the demands that were never a part of the original season of Christmas. Simplify the season by removing expectations that you’ve come to believe are important but are not. You don’t have to have the perfect meal, the most gorgeous house, a gift for everyone on your list, attend all events, be the life of the party, be invited to everything…whatever your expectations are, examine them in light of His expectations. Begin to allow them to drop to the sidelines and keep those that He deems important. His yoke is light and the season will be joyous. Family, friends and loved ones that He chooses for you will be welcoming. Let Him design your holiday season and it WILL be stress free.