The Experts Up Close
Valorie Burton is a certified life coach, speaker, and the author of Rich Minds, Rich Rewards; Listen to Your Life; What's Really Holding You Back? and the recently published Why Not You?
David Niven is the author of The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People and seven other books in the Simple Secrets series. Niven's research on success and life satisfaction has been cited in numerous publications including the Washington Post, USA Today and Readers' Digest.
Amanda Gore is a professional speak and author of four books, including You Can Be Happy: The Essential Guide to a Healthy Body, Mind and Soul. She has a background in psychology, group dynamics and stress management.
Q: I love the holidays, but I always seem to get overstressed to the point where I don't enjoy the season as much as I want to. Any advice?
Amanda Gore: With everything that has to be done, it is not unusual to feel like you are ready to explode. There are a few things I can think of:
Remember to breathe. Avoid feeling rushed. It's a fabulous stressor. Planning helps you feel more in control.
Make lots of lists-early. Mark off what you do each day as you slowly work your way through it, and that gives you a sense of accomplishment.
Start shopping for gifts now. Make a list for those as well, so by the end of November you are done.
Think about gifts of the heart rather than expensive ones. Such as handmade foods or jams, letters telling people how much you love them or something you lovingly made with your whole family. These are often appreciated more than something you bought and bring your family together in fun ways. For example, make someone a photo album of favorite moments.
Make time for yourself each day. Ha. Ha. Ha. No, seriously, you can do it. Sneak away just for a few minutes, breathe deep, slow down and reconnect with yourself and God. That brings immediate peace.
Be wary of expectations of others during the holiday season. Try to work on accepting everyone as they are, and maybe some of the stress of families being together will ease.
Focus on gratitude. Every day when you wake up and before you go to sleep at night, list things you are grateful for and focus on them. Dwell on those things rather than how much you have to do, and you will be amazed at the results.
Q: My kids seem so caught up in receiving gifts at Christmas-they seem so easily influenced by advertising. How can I help them become less materialistic and more interested in enjoying the season for its true purpose?
Amanda Gore: Serve, serve and more serving! Take them to a homeless shelter or a food kitchen, and let them see what others are dealing with; have them help out and perhaps make gifts to take along. Remind them that unconditional love, sacrifice and serving others are really what Christmas is about. Have conversations about forgiveness, loving others, accepting others and having compassion. Then take them to a place where they can help others! Ask them to sort through their toys and belongings to find things they can give to other children who don't have what they have. Don't just take them to some depot, but take the children to an orphanage or shelter type place. Perhaps they can help elderly neighbors or less-fortunate folks you know. There are many ways to teach children to be grateful for what they have and not focus on what they want or don't have.
David Niven: Research shows that the positive mood effects of exciting experiences lasts three times longer than the positive mood effects of getting new stuff. What that means for parents is that there is a wonderful opportunity to choose gifts like a trip, concert or sports tickets, or an out of the ordinary experience like a helicopter ride. These kinds of gifts let a parent apply their own creativity to find something that fits their child's personality and interests, and doing that without feeling like your child's desperate desire will fade with the next round of TV commercials. Including family members or a friend in the experience renews the lesson that there is much to be gained by sharing in the holiday season.
Q: My husband gets the holiday blues-how can I help?
Amanda Gore: Find a way to have him focus on gratitude. Work on what is causing the blues-your relatives, his relatives, the eating, the busyness, you being busy- and find a way to reframe the situation into one where he can feel gratitude and focus on those aspects. Gratitude is transformational. Perhaps you can get him down to the soup kitchen as well; when he is serving others, he will find the antidote to the blues. It is the only way any of us truly feel joy.
I wonder if a lot of men feel out of the loop. They don't get into buying presents, cooking or preparing, and they often are not interested in helping you, so they can feel ignored as you race through trying to do everything. Find a way to help him be interested in helping you, and then give him huge amounts of praise. Initially, give him small tasks that really make a difference and then be very grateful. We all need recognition and acknowledgement, but it's really important to men.
Valorie Burton: Be supportive by acknowledging his sadness around the holidays, and be a listening ear without making him feel that he needs to artificially cheer up. Often, families who are reminded of lost loved ones benefit by creating new traditions that honor the past while looking towards the future. For example, after my grandmother- the family matriarch-passed away, the Christmas tradition of meeting at her house and exchanging gifts ended. She had seven children and they all have children, so it was such a wonderful celebration every year. After a few years passed, the family decided it would honor her legacy if everyone began getting together to exchange gifts again. We created a new tradition of meeting for dinner on Christmas Eve. Being around people you love-whether family or friends- is essential to happiness, especially during the holiday season. Plan some time to spend with people he loves, engaged in meaningful activities and conversation. If he is depressed, also consider seeking professional counseling, which can provide solutions specific to your situation.
Q: How do I stay connected to my spouse with the influx of family and friend visits and my long to-do list to prepare for the holidays?
Amanda Gore: This one is tough! By the time you fall into bed at the end of each day, you are so exhausted from all the work there is not one ounce of energy left for him or you! Try spending three to five minutes alone in the bathroom before you go to bed. Breathe deep, relax, stop for a moment. Better still, have a bath and lock the door. Or do something for you to recharge your batteries. Pray for the energy and strength to care for him as well, but first you have to care for yourself enough to plan a little breathing space-literally and metaphorically for yourself. Love yourself, and you have the energy to love him a whole lot better!
Focus on what is good about him rather than all the things he has not done while you have been racing around like a mad woman! With this focus, you will connect better, he will respond more sensitively and everything might improve.
Valorie Burton: First, put your spouse at the top of your to-do list! While to-do lists are helpful, it's essential that they don't lead you to neglect your highest priorities-in this case, your relationship with your spouse. Decide together on some non-negotiable time together-whether it's dinner sitting down at the table together every night or a scheduled date every week during the holidays, make sure there is time together that has boundaries around it. Also, sit down together and look at that to-do list-there may be some things on it that you can do together.
David Niven: When we feel like we're running out of time and there's a lot to do, tensions can mount in any relationship. Surprisingly, the secret to getting through this isn't to sit on your thoughts and quietly stew. Research shows that strategy backfires because we progressively get more frustrated by our spouse's inattention to the thing that's bothering us (the thing that we haven't mentioned). So don't shut down communication even if you think you're being nice or making peace.
Finding time around the holidays is tough for a lot of people, and the way through it to make sure you don't skimp on useful time. Cutting out an hour of sleep to spend a quiet hour with your spouse is like trying to save money by putting one less gallon of gas in your car-it's easy to do, but you won't get very far. If you need an hour, cut it out of television watching. Studies show every hour of TV you cut each day out improves your life satisfaction by about 5 percent-and a lot of that effect comes from having more time with the people you care about.
Q: I'd like to use the holidays as an excuse to connect with neighbors, business associates and co-workers. How can I improve my connections to people during the holiday season?
David Niven: The holidays are a great time to strengthen your social connections to the people around you in your personal and professional life. The first rule of holiday planning is to be flexible. Nobody needs another invitation they'll have to decline or, worse, feel obligated to attend. Flexibility means making it easy for others to attend your event on their own terms. Instead of a dinner party, have an open house that gives people a chance to come by when it fits their schedule. And there is no better way to make someone feel invited that to show kindness to those they care about. This means inviting their kids and making sure they feel as much a part of things as the adults.