ACT On Life

Empowering purposeful living

Holiday Stress

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Do the holidays stress you out? Do you find yourself dreading the season rather than enjoying it? We can get so caught up in “doing” that we lose sight of being in the present moment. I like to take a moment throughout the day to “drop anchor,” and notice what I am doing and why I am doing it. This gives me some “wiggle room” to decide whether I am taking action in service of my values or not. It’s easy to do and does not take a lot of time. Here is one way that i like to do that:

1. First, I take a moment to go inside and focus on my breathing as the “anchor,” noticing each in breath and out breath.

2. Then I notice any body sensations that are present, like tension in the shoulders, headache, fatigue, sore feet….just noticing those sensations.

3. Next, I notice the thoughts that are swirling around in my head, as though they are leaves blowing about in the wind, without attaching to any one thought in particular. For example, I might have the thought “How am i going to get everything done?” Or “The traffic is terrible.” I just notice those thoughts for what they are, just thoughts, and remind myself that I don’t have to buy into them.

4. Then I notice any feelings that come up. It may be a feeling of panic when the first thought comes up, or a feeling of irritation with the second thought. So I just notice that and try to make a little room for the feelings without trying to get rid of them.

5. Next I look at the action I am taking and decide whether this is something that is important to me in being who I want to be, or is this just an automatic behavior that does not need to be done? So, for example, I may notice that I am rushing to catch that sale on a toy for a grandchild for Christmas. In this case, the action is in keeping with something that is important to me, so I choose to slow my mind down, become more aware of my surroundings, appreciate what I am doing and who I am doing it for, and that it is my choice to be doing it. I take a stance of willingness to go with the flow of traffic and perhaps pop in a CD and enjoy the music as I make my way to the store.

Sometimes when I look at what I am doing, I find that I am like a gerbil running on its wheel, round and round. I had a list of things to do that included things I really do not need to do. As I think about what is important in the moment, I may decide that some things can wait and others can just be scratched off the list, period.

6. In any case, I can decide to be present in the moment, decide what is important, and take action in support of my values. This generally brings more appreciation for what I encounter in the moment, because now I am freely choosing what I am doing rather than simply running on automatic pilot, perhaps begrudging doing what I am doing.

All of this only takes a few minutes and can be done at any time. The more I practice, the easier it becomes and the more purposeful and meaningful my life becomes.

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Author: Carolyn L. O'Brien, Ph. D.

I am a clinical psychologist in Mobile, AL. I treat individuals and couples, ages 6 and up. I specialize in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for anxiety and depression and provide assessment for ADHD and learning disabilities.

One thought on “Holiday Stress

  1. Hi Carol,
    Thanks for sharing these tips. I’m feeling less stressed already!

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