161223preview

The holiday season is meant to be a season of gratitude and celebration, not a season of stress or depression. That’s why my gift to you for the New Year is perspective. Here are ten ways to create more joy and less stress during the holidays, and in your life.

My Worst Fear

THUMP! Something fell and fell hard. It was 3:30am. Disoriented, I immediately jumped out of bed looking for the source of the sound but didn’t see anything. I turned to Lori, my wife. Our heavy winter blanket was laying on our bed in a way that made me believe she was still sleeping next to me.

Maybe the noise came from downstairs. I ran down the stairs, into my living room, where Jessica, my 16-year-old daughter typically stays up late studying and doing schoolwork. Consequently, she developed a habit of falling asleep on the couch in our living room. The lights were on but she wasn’t at the kitchen table where she does her schoolwork.

“Jess! Jess!” I called out. I saw her head pop up from the couch. “Dad? What?”

“Are you okay?” I could see she was a bit confused, being woken from a deep sleep.

“Yeah. What’s wrong?” She said in a sleepy voice.

“I heard a loud noise, like something fell,” I told her.

Then, in a quiet, yet agonizing tone, I heard my wife call my name. “Keith, Keith.”

“Lori? Where are you?” I assumed she was still in bed sleeping.

I ran up the stairs. She wasn’t in our bed. “Keith, help.” Two of the scariest words I’ve ever heard, especially in the early hours of the morning.

I ran into our master bathroom where I found my wife lying on the floor. I quickly ran to her side.

“What happened? What can I do? Are you okay?”

“My back, the pain. It was so bad that I must have passed out and fell. I hit my head,” she said.

“Tell me, what I can do for you? Do I need to call an ambulance?”

“No, give me a few minutes,” she told me. My wife has a history of lower back problems where the pain can become excruciating.

“I thought I was next to the bed,” she explained. “The pain in my back was so bad, I fainted and hit my head on the wall.”

My heart started racing. A deep sense of worry consumed me. “What can I do?” Let me carry you back to bed,” being mindful that moving her could cause the pain to get worse.

“No, just give me a second.” I sat with her on the floor, anxiously waiting for her to feel enough relief where she could stand.

“Where did you hit your head?”

“In the front. My forehead.” I looked. No bruises, no swelling. A good sign.

After about ten minutes, she was able to stand. I helped her get back in bed. “What can I get you? What can I do for you?”

“Nothing, I’m feeling a little better now.”

“I’ll be right back. Let me check on Jess. I knew my daughter was worried. How could she not be after witnessing what transpired? I went into her room. “Mom’s fine, sweetie.” I told her what happened. “Come say good night to mom.” I knew if she saw her mom, it would put her mind at ease.

Jess walked into my bedroom. “I’m alright honey, you see? Mommy’s tough,” Lori said jokingly, trying to lighten the situation.

“I love you, mommy. Good night.”

“I love you too, angel. I’m fine, really,” reassuring Jessica. I walked Jess back down to her room so she could get a little more sleep before it was time for her to wake up and get ready for school.

It was now 4:30am. My wife fell back to sleep. But I couldn’t. I lied there awake, staring at the ceiling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep. I was too anxious. Instead of waiting for the sun to rise, I got out of bed and went into my office. I tried to get some work done, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my wife. As you can imagine, the vision of my wife lying helplessly on the floor in pain is something I’ll never forget. It’s etched in my mind.

But I knew this would pass. I knew Lori would recover. She’s a fighter. As history has taught us, a few trips to the chiropractor would help with the pain and her health.

But I couldn’t work. I couldn’t focus. All I could think about was the image of my wife, lying on the bathroom floor. I let my mind go to a dark place. What if it was worse? What could have happened? I started thinking about worst case scenarios. What if she hit her head hard enough to cause a concussion? What if no one was there to help her? And the most terrifying of all thoughts: What if she died? We would be left alone. My children wouldn’t have a mother and I would no longer have a wife. What would we do?

These terrible, horrific, terrifying thoughts played out in my head and tormented my mind. The tears started to roll down my face. I felt guilty, helpless, and scared.

I went back into my bedroom to check on her. I needed to see that my wife was okay.

Two hours later, it was time to wake the kids and get them ready for school. Lori’s alarm went off. I told her to go back to sleep. I told her I would take care of the kids. I told her I’d do all the driving, the errands, the school pick-ups, the after-school activities.

She wouldn’t hear of it. “I’m good,” she assured me. “I actually feel better now than I did yesterday. I must have slept in a position that caused this.”

The morning ensued as if nothing had happened; as if it was just another typical morning. Even while writing this, Lori had already left to drive the kids to school.

I went back into my office and sat at my desk, trying to make sense of my feelings. I understood the terror, the fear and the worry but why did I feel guilty? I sat quietly, as I continued to process my thoughts.

An Unfortunate Event and a Blessing in Disguise?

A terrifying situation, indeed. When something like this happens, nothing else matters. Everything else that we perceive as important or the seasonal priorities that causes the stress we experience over our job, money, holiday parties, shopping, baking, cleaning, entertaining, and all the planning that comes with family gatherings, becomes insignificant.

The holiday season is meant to be a season of gratitude and celebration, not a season of demands, stress, or depression. That’s why my gift to you for the New Year is perspective.

A healthy perspective. That’s what the experience with my wife triggered; a realignment in my thinking. Ask yourself, what is your perspective of the holidays, of the New Year, of life?

The holiday season is supposed to be a relaxing – a time to enjoy friends and family and reflect on the year. Unfortunately, the holidays can also overwhelm and consume us with stress. There are work, family, and friend obligations that all need attention and, in the end, the holidays can feel more like a burden than a chance to regenerate and get ready for the New Year.

The Measurable Cost of Stress

Sadly, 45 percent of Americans would prefer to skip Christmas, according to a survey from Think Finance and reported on nbcnews.com. That should tell you something about our coping mechanisms when it comes to handling holiday stress.

Nearly a quarter of Americans reported feeling “extreme stress” come holiday time, according to a poll by the American Psychological Association. Holiday stress statistics show that up to 69 percent of people are stressed by the feeling of having a lack of time, 69 percent are stressed by perceiving a lack of money, and 51 percent are stressed out about the pressure to give or get gifts.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that on-the-job productivity loss resulting from depression and pain was approximately three times greater than the absence-related productivity loss attributed to these conditions. The Journal also reported that depression sets U.S. employers back about $35 billion a year in reduced performance at work, and pain conditions such as headaches, back problems (both of which can be stress related) and arthritis cost nearly $47 billion.

Ten Ways to Create More Joy and Less Stress

So, what can you do to avoid the emotional toll that the holidays can cause on ourselves and others? With some practical principles, you can minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays and life in general. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.

Here are ten things you can do to create a happy, meaningful and stress-free holiday; as well as a magnificent life.

1. Be Grateful. Turn your binoculars around. Focus on what you do have in your life, rather than what you don’t. Live from a place of abundance and joy rather than from fear and scarcity. Be mindful of what matters most and stay true to living your core values. Don’t lose sight of what’s genuinely important.

2. Be Present. This isn’t our practice life. Stop worrying about what’s next and enjoy what is now. The moment is all we have. That’s what counts. Besides, the holidays are only a small fraction of the time we have each year. Enjoy the daily miracles and the precious moments you have. As a parent whose children are getting out of the teen years, I would give anything to have my kids be kids again. To hold them tight and never let go, take them for walks in the stroller, do the midnight feedings, watch them absorb the world around them, sit and play games, watch cartoons, go to their school plays, answer all of their questions about life, even take care of them when they are sick. If you don’t appreciate these things now, realize that regret lasts forever.

3. Abandon Insignificance. Don’t seek out perfection during the holidays, or in your life. Whether you’re striving for the perfect self, vacation, get-together, gift, relationship, career, or result. As you can see through the experience I shared with my wife, in comparison, none of this really matters.

4. Embrace Acceptance. Stop judging yourself and others. It only leads to disappointment. Don’t hold grudges. It robs you of your personal energy and power. Take the time to forgive and accept yourself for who you are and others for who they are. This also applies to acknowledging your feelings. If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief. It’s healthy to take time to cry or express your feelings. After all, you are human.

5. Appreciate the People in Your Life. Think about your family. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Share what you admire about them. And do so before it’s too late. Think about your friends and the other people in your life. Share an authentic compliment or give someone a caring smile as you pass a stranger in the street. Contact those people in your life who you care about but haven’t connected with in a while. Let them know you’re thinking about them. Wish them health and happiness. It makes everyone feel good.

6. Give Love. Forget about stressing over finding the perfect gift and the money you have to spend. Reduce your financial stress by giving homemade gifts, instead. Start a family gift exchange within a certain budget. If they truly care about you, there’s no physical gift stronger than love. Love is the greatest gift anyone can give. Besides, love is free and comes with an endless supply. So, don’t be stingy with it.

7. Be Selfless. Help others in need. The holidays and the New Year are times for celebration. I believe there’s more to it. It’s a time for expressing gratitude. It’s a time to give of yourself. It’s a time to help others who are less fortunate than you. Focusing on others reduces the feeling of stress and overwhelm you experience. Donate to a charity in someone’s name. Volunteer. Helping others can be very helpful and rewarding for you, too. For example, working at a soup kitchen, organizing a gift drive or even helping someone out; whether at home, in your community or in the office also creates a deeper sense of appreciation for what you have.

8. Cherish Your Health. We take our health for granted and only truly value it when it’s gone. We say things like, “Without our health, nothing else matters” but are you honestly living by those words? Rather than just give this lip service, make it a core belief and be thankful for the gift that it is by practicing self-care. You can be selfless while taking care of yourself. You can improve your mood by practicing self-care during the holidays. Eat a healthy diet, take a walk, get back to nature, meditate, try yoga, take the time for self-reflection, maintain a regular sleep pattern and exercise program. Give yourself the time for a well-deserved break. This moves you away from the stress and overwhelm, helps you relax and reconnects you to the present, to life, to your priorities and to yourself.

9. Learn to Say No. Saying “Yes” and being a “Yesaholic” when it serves you best to say “No” or “Not right now” can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. It can also lead to additional stress and personal sacrifices when you can’t honor all of the commitments you make. When it comes to the holiday, friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.

10. Create a Theme for the New Year. Fill in the blank, “This is the year of…” For example, “This is the year of living with a sense of deep gratitude,” or “This is the year of acceptance,” or “This is the year of self-care, forgiveness, love, putting family first, health, living in the moment,” and so on. Let your theme become part of your personal vision and your guiding light for the year. Doing so maintains your personal balance, keeps you focused on your core values and helps you make the best decisions for you.

These are just a handful of best practices in how you think and what you can do that will add greater joy and significance in your life. I hope you can take the experience I had with my wife to shock your body, heart and mind into alignment.

There is a reason why I use, “With gratitude,” as my signature line before my name in every email I write. Those words resonate deeper today than they ever have before. After all, life isn’t a dress rehearsal. We only get one shot at making our lives worthwhile.

So, this holiday season, what I wish for you is a renewed perspective. May your New Year, and your life, be rich with joy, health, and love. I promise, life gets easier when you refocus on your priorities, what you are thankful for, and what is truly important.

Happy holidays!

With deep gratitude,
Keith