Inkwell Guest: Lynn Johnston

You will love today’s guest. I promise. Lynn Johnston, who also happens to be my awesome critique partner, is here today to talk about her latest kaizen book – Reducing Holiday Stress. And just in time for the holidays, too! Here she talks about nine stretegies to reduce your stress, keep your sanity and enjoy the holidays to their fullest. The book is available for FREE through Smashwords. Yep. Free.

I hope you’ll give yourself a break and check it out. 🙂


9 Strategies for a Happier Holiday Season 

The winter holiday season can be both the most joyful and the most stressful part of the year. You’ve got presents to buy, cookies to bake, a house to decorate, and travel plans to make. Oh yeah, and that New Year’s Eve party isn’t going to throw itself!

Does just thinking about your holiday plans make you feel overwhelmed? Here are some tips for hanging onto your holiday cheer for the rest of the year:

1. Lower your standards. 

It’s natural to want the holidays to be special. But when you’re stretched thinner than usual, it’s easy to lose perspective and get upset over the little things. It’s seldom the glitch that ruins the holiday—it’s your overreaction to the glitch that brings you (and everyone around you) down.

When things go wrong, take a deep breath and remind yourself of the big picture. What’s the point of this holiday activity, and is this problem a big enough deal to derail it? Is it a catastrophe that you forgot the onion dip? I bet you could have a good conversation with your favorite nephew anyway. Did you only manage to get the house half-decorated before your in-laws arrived? Why not invite them to hang a few ornaments on the tree?

2. Simplify.

The winter holidays tend to be a time of excess, and it’s easy to overcommit. It’s a cliché in holiday movies—neighbors competing to outdo each other with the biggest, most elaborate decorations. But you might find that you’re happier when you scale back the holiday chores.

Instead of decorating the whole house, how about just the living room and dining room where you’ll be entertaining? Also, do you need to buy new decorations, or will last year’s decorations work just fine?

Do you have to host a huge holiday party, or could you just have a few friends over? Instead of visiting every family member in a 50-mile radius, could you all meet at a centrally-located restaurant for dinner. 

How about limiting your holiday feast to a few favorite dishes? Not only will you spend less time in the kitchen, you’ll also have fewer leftovers.

3. Buddy up.

You could get together with a friend to throw a holiday bash and split the work of hostessing. Or turn your party into a potluck. Or if the people you want to connect with are all members of the same group, like your church or your karate dojo, how about inviting them to go out for coffee after the group’s holiday party?

4. Don’t try to recreate the past. 

We’ve all probably got at least one holiday memory that stands out—the Christmas dinner where everyone got along, or the Hannukah where your parents surprised you with the toy you’d been wanting for months, or that amazing pecan pie that no one has managed to duplicate because Grandma never wrote it down. The feelings around that memory are so strong that we want to go back and relive those perfect moments. Often these happy memories get associated with holiday traditions.

But life moves on, and you’re a different person now than you were then. Traditions can be fun and comforting, but it’s possible to be so determined to recapture the past that you forget to enjoy the present.

5. Don’t try to force it.

There’s a lot of social pressure to be “up” during the holidays, regardless of what’s going on in our personal lives. And since everyone else is feeling that same pressure to catch the holiday spirit, it’s easy to feel more isolated than usual. But life’s problems don’t go away just because it’s Christmas. Putting on a happy face and bottling up those negative emotions isn’t the answer.

Find an outlet for those emotions instead. Talk to a sympathetic family member or friend, or if that’s not an option, set aside a few minutes to write about how you feel in a journal. Then after you’ve had a chance to get that stress out of your system, take a minute to count your blessings and remind yourself that you do have something to celebrate. 

6. Recognize that other people don’t change just because the calendar says it’s a holiday.

In the same way that life problems don’t magically disappear at this time of year, neither do interpersonal conflicts. Don’t expect family members to suddenly make peace and don’t try to force them to. If you have fantasies about relationships suddenly healing around the Yule tree, you’re probably going to be disappointed. 

But that doesn’t mean you have to let family conflict make you miserable either. Take a little bit of time preparing mentally for the behaviors you know are going to rub you the wrong way. What are you going to say when Aunt Martha asks if you’ve gained weight and when you’re going to get married? Are you going to change the subject? Calmly but firmly tell her that you’re not interested in discussing it? Deflect the comment with a joke?

To help you prepare, here’s Elizabeth Scott’s excellent article on strategies for dealing with difficult people: http://stress.about.com/od/relationships/ht/difficult.htm 

7. Make a plan for how you’re going to take care of yourself physically.

More stress, more junk food, and more viruses being passed around—it’s no wonder we tend to be physically depleted during the winter holidays. Even if you don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder you may find yourself feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. 

Pay attention to nutrition (you’ll find detailed tips to help you in The Kaizen Plan for Reducing Holiday Stress). Stick to your usual exercise routine, try to get extra sleep when you can, and try to spend a little time outside when the sun is out or buy an inexpensive full-spectrum lamp.

8. Prioritize your social calendar, and include some downtime. 

It’s tempting to say yes to everything, and end up feeling so worn out by New Year’s that you need a vacation to recover from your vacation. You’ll enjoy the holidays a lot more if you’re selective about which activities you commit to and schedule some quiet time in between social engagements.

What’s really important to you? Which holiday traditions and events are you genuinely excited about, and which do you feel obligated to attend? You might not be able to get out of the company holiday party, but there are probably events that you could miss without fear of social reprisal. 

Need help saying no gracefully? Here are a few articles that may help:

http://www.wikihow.com/Decline-an-Invitation-to-Dinner-or-Other-Social-Event

http://www.hitchedmag.com/article.php?id=1088 

http://thehalfwaypoint.net/2010/02/fifty-ways-to-say-no/

9. Focus on what the holiday means for you personally. 

I’m not knocking peace on earth and goodwill toward humankind, but that’s very abstract—it’s hard to connect with those words emotionally. What do they mean in terms of our actual behavior?

For me, the winter holidays have multiple meanings. As someone who suffers from seasonal affective disorder, I’m genuinely excited that the winter solstice marks the switch from longer nights to longer days. I enjoy exchanging Christmas cards and phone calls with people who I haven’t heard from all year—it’s a season of reconnecting with family and friends. It’s also a time to make a deeper connection with my husband; we use the vacation to spend some quality time together, whether that means going out on a date, tackling a small home improvement project, or taking a day trip. And finally, it’s a time of re-evaluation and renewal: we have a tradition of making a list of our achievements and happy events from the previous year, then talking over and setting our goals for the upcoming year. These are the things that make the holidays special for me.

Not sure what the winter holidays mean to you personally? Ask yourself, “What are my values, and in what concrete ways would I like to celebrate them?”

However you’re celebrating this winter, I wish you a happy, healthy rest of the year!

What do the holidays mean to you? How do you stay sane through the holiday hustle and bustle?

Download your free copy of The Kaizen Plan for Reducing Holiday Stress: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/105672

Lynn Johnston blogs about how to take control of your life 10 minutes at a time using the kaizen approach: http://www.smallstepstobigchange.com

Each week, readers of her blog receive a small, simple step they can use to improve some area of their lives.

She’s also the author of several books on the kaizen approach, including:

  •  The Kaizen Plan for Organized Authors: Take Control of Your Writing Career 10 Minutes at a Time
  • The Kaizen Plan for Healthy Eating: Take Control of Your Diet 10 Minutes at a Time
  • The Kaizen Plan for Decluttering Your Computer: Take Control of Your Computer 10 Minutes at a Time
  • The Kaizen Plan for Decluttering Your To-Do List: Take Control of Your Day 10 Minutes at a Time

Connect With Lynn:
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By Michelle

I wish you all could be inside my head. The conversation is sparkling.