Happy Holidays!

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, or the new year, this time of year can be filled with joy and sorrow, endings and beginnings, and of course, added stress.

There’s bound to be stress around the holidays. Stressors — like navigating bad weather, confronting differences in relationships, or tending to commitments — can bring out the worst in us.

The good news is you have the tools to boost your resilience when besieged by stress during the holidays, or any time of year. The practices below will show you the power of blending mindfulness and character strengths to face stressors in healthful ways.

The Inspiration

Stress resilience is about choosing a beneficial response instead of a harmful one when faced with stressors. Many of us think of stress as an enemy because we’re afraid of its harmful effects on our bodies and minds. Indeed, chronically high levels of stress can result in debilitating side effects like fatigue, headaches, and others.

Nonetheless, Kelly McGonigal, Stanford lecturer and stress expert, says that the harmful effects of stress aren’t as inevitable as she and other experts once thought they were. In her 2014 TED talk How To Make Stress Your Friend, she discusses how to change the body’s response to stress. She suggests two approaches, offered below. I added my own twist with mindfulness and character strengths.

Please note: I’m not talking about long-term stress due to traumatic experiences. Chronic stress can increase the risk of illness, depression, and even death. If you’re suffering from chronic or debilitating stress, this article isn’t meant to replace other helpful options, like seeking professional help.

Trust Yourself to Handle Life’s Challenges

With practice you can learn to respond to stress in healthier ways.
McGonigal says that when you view stress through this lens, you’re trusting yourself to handle life’s challenges. And remember: you don’t have to face them alone.

Continue reading to learn two practices to boost your stress resilience.

Shift Your Mindset

Studies have shown that if you believe stress is harmful, it probably will be. You might interpret physical changes due to an adrenaline surge – your heart pounding, rapid breathing, increased sweating – as signs of stress or anxiety. Although these are natural responses to stress, this negative interpretation can lead to an unproductive downward spiral of negative thinking and actions.

Instead, what if your natural response was to understand that the body is actually preparing you for the challenge you’re facing, a more accurate and helpful response? If you can change the way you think and feel about stress, the body is likely to follow.

Mindfulness and character strengths can help. For instance, mindfulness helps you become more aware of your thoughts and beliefs as your body responds to stressful events.

To shift your mindset, try engaging a character strength like perspective, a wisdom strength, to see the signs of stress as they’re occurring – the racing heart, the sweating, rapid breathing. Remind yourself that your body is preparing you to rise to the challenge.

You might also consider choosing a signature strength that might be even more helpful, like bravery, perseverance, or humor. If you’d like help unpacking this, please contact me. I love helping people use their strengths to boost stress resilience!

In addition to adrenaline, there’s another hormone that’s part of the stress response: oxytocin. Oxytocin may help regulate fear and anxiety, and it’s also known for its role in social bonding.

In a stressful situation, the release of oxytocin motivates you to seek social support. Below are a few simple actions you can take when under duress:

  • Tell someone how you feel.

  • Surround yourself with people who care about you.

  • If you have an instinct to withdraw, try to resist it.

How can mindfulness and character strengths help? If your instinct is to withdraw, tune in to that. Ask yourself what might happen if you reached out to someone instead? If you can envision yourself connecting with someone, try tapping into any of the three humanity strengths that support strong relationships: love, kindness, or social intelligence.

Call a trusted friend or family member. Give, or ask for, a long hug. Allow yourself a form of kindness you might not normally extend to yourself – time to read a good book or enjoy a meal out with a friend.

Other strengths can help too. Zest can activate the energy you need to stay engaged in a conversation. Honesty can help you feel more authentic rather than self-conscious. If this seems unclear or overwhelming, feel free to reach out to me for support.

The Practice

  1. Choose one of the two approaches from above.

  2. Use the guidelines provided to practice boosting your resilience to stress.

  3. Be sure you put at least one character strength into action to support the practice you chose.

  4. Use mindfulness to tune into how you think, feel, or behave going forward.

The Reflection

When I approach stress differently, mindfully, and grounded in strengths, I feel _____________.

Confident? Prepared? Different in another way?

We’ve been given the gift of being able to care for ourselves and others in healthful ways, especially when under duress. In a season full of bright lights and shiny objects, perhaps this is the best gift of all.

Take good care during these holidays,