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Five tips to manage stress

March 21

So with all of that in mind, here are five tips that will help you get through the holidays and survive throughout the year:

1. Control your breathing.

If you tell your body to slow your breathing, it has no choice but to relax. This is the first step in taking control, no matter the threat.

2. Keep an open mind and a sense of humor, and try to be a little more flexible.

Keeping a cool head can transform your holidays. You already know that a family member is going to talk politics or your schedule will get backed up, so accept it and even make light of it. Not that you should make fun of anyone or have a joke at someone’s expense, but having some confidence and the ability to laugh can help you get through a tough moment and maintain control of how you feel, no matter what anyone else does.

3. Have an honest look at your finances, and make a clear budget.

Financial stress is universal. Whether related to actual money in the bank, a challenging workload or a difficult boss, financial stress can be the scariest threat many of us face. Being honest about what resources you have and confident in managing your and your family’s expectations will remove one of the biggest challenges you’re likely to face. Sit down and honestly think about what you can do with the money you already have. Come up with creative ways to show how you feel – with meaning and with love, but not necessarily with cost.

4. Stop with the unrealistic expectations.

The expectations we put on ourselves and others set us up for disappointment. First recognize that you have no control over someone’s bad mood, even if they shirk responsibility and try to blame you for it. But you can control your own mood. Walk away, let conflict pass and get back to breathing. Second, you are allowed to say no – to your family, to your friends and to yourself. Do only what you can comfortably fit into your schedule. If you think a task will take two hours, give yourself four and recognize it’s the only thing you may do that day. Sometimes I actually walk clients through saying the word no – physically forming the sound. It can take practice, but you need it; you don’t want to be thinking no, and then when the time comes, you buckle and say yes. Saying no does not mean you don’t care about someone. It means your body and mind have met their limits. Be open and honest, and genuinely express your feelings. You’re allowed to be tired.

5. Take notes of what you have.

It’s hard to appreciate what we have when we live in a commercial society, a plentiful country where so much is available for us to spend our money on, but it’s a double-edged sword. We often set an expectation that when we get a particular item we’ll be happy, but that fades almost immediately and we start looking for the next thing to buy to make us happy. We’re constantly changing the criteria for happiness: You might be excited about finding a larger apartment, but you may soon start looking for a house. However, gratitude can reverse that trend. We know from research that if you take time every day to reflect on one or two things you’re happy about – whether possessions or people or the beauty of a sunset – you can start to shift your brain toward peace and away from constantly scanning the horizon for what comes next. That scanning was great when we had to keep an eye out for threats, but in a modern world, it can keep you from realizing how much you truly have. In fact, one study showed that writing down three positive things each day can bring you a sense of satisfaction in as little as 21 days. Less than five minutes a day, and you can begin to focus on what – and who – really matters to you.

As you struggle with stress, you may find you’re losing sleep or rapidly gaining (or losing) weight, or you can’t get yourself out of bed on time. These are signs of clinical depression, and counselors can help give you the tools to help, training you in such powerful techniques as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Managing stress may seem difficult at first, but recognize that it’s what your body was made to do. You have all the tools to slow your breathing, then your heart and ultimately your mind. Instead of robbing the present with fears of the future, you can learn to control your perspective, and with it, the holidays and your life.