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Turn your holiday stress into a teachable moment. Here’s how


By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

The holidays are upon us. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa following in quick succession.

It’s a stressful time of year when times are normal — and the second year of the pandemic is anything but normal, especially when combined with inflation, gas prices, food and toy shortages, and shipping delays.

For help in coping, CNN reached out to stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for Contentment magazine, produced by The American Institute of Stress.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

CNN: Why are holidays typically so stressful, even in normal times, and what can we do to reduce that pressure?

Dr. Cynthia Ackrill: We have a lot of expectations as to what we’re supposed to do or feel, right? We have catalogs that show us we need to have the perfect kind of a nice home, decorated to the hilt for the holidays.

We believe that we should have happy families where everyone gets along. We try to do too much, we spend too much, all with an unrealistic expectation that we can provide everything that brings us joy.

It was a lot of pressure before Covid. It’s even more pressure now. So, this is not a time to overextend ourselves — we are exhausted just from processing the last two years! It’s time for reflection. It’s time for more patience, compassion and kindness. It’s time to let go of the maladaptive behaviors of overeating, overdrinking and overspending that can be so much a part of the holidays.

One doesn’t need five Christmas trees to get the meaning of Christmas. Instead, we need to spend personal time to ramp up the behaviors that fulfill us, add meaning and make us stronger.

And I think we do have a wonderful opportunity this holiday season to focus on what really matters to us and our families. An opportunity to scale down unrealistic expectations and do just those things that give each of us meaning and bring us joy.

Start by having a meeting with your family.

Ask each of them to think back through previous holidays and answer this question: “What activities or choices left you with the most positive or meaningful memories? What were unnecessary things we did, or expectations we had, that just set you and the rest of us to feel more frustrated or disappointed instead?”

Begin a proactive conversation with your family.

What’s a win for you — and you and you for this holiday? What are the things that have meant the most to you? What are the activities we did that make you smile when you think about them?

Now, stir it all together.

Each person in the group may have a different reaction, so then the family can sit and decide how to weave all of those wishes together or make compromises.

We don’t want to give up the good parts of the holidays: the pause to reflect on what matters, conversations with family members we don’t usually see, sending cards to people, or sharing memories to let them know we are thinking of them.

But let’s distill the rest down to a better reward versus cost ratio. How can you get the most out of this season and maintain or replenish mind, body and spirit? What can we do that leaves us all smiling and feeling fulfilled?

Finally, make a schedule, or at least a plan.

Decide, as a family, how to work those wins into a holiday schedule and get rid of — or at least set some boundaries — on anything that just uses us up instead. Of course, there are some energy-draining things that need to happen, so how can we build in more energy-recharging time?

It’s a teachable moment.

What a great lesson it is for kids to watch us do that and be a part of it. What a great lesson to say: “What could we do differently this year? What if giving back to the community would fulfill us more than making our traditional list of everything we want?”

Making changes may not be as easy as it sounds. The brain loves habits; the brain loves traditions and rituals. They are pathways that, once created, can be done sort of mindlessly. It takes less energy to repeat a behavior that you’ve often done than it takes to create a new one.

Which is why in relationships, so many arguments are really like a dance you’ve practiced and know well. You’re not really engaged in a new, fresh perspective each time you argue. To change that dance takes some energy — you need to sit back and reflect and ponder. The payoffs are so worth it.

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  1. LOL.
    So is he gonna stand by this statement and claim your safe if vaxxed and the vax works, or backtrack after the holiday surge and blame the unvaccinated for infecting the vaxxed thus admitting the vax doesn’t work?

    1. For a guy who spends so much of his time here, you’re just seeing the first duplicate story? We’ve had 3-4 of the same national/world stories showing on our home page due to technical issues we’ve wrestled with on the CNN feed for months, as I’ve explained repeatedly. (Oh, because it’s about “evil quack” Fauci, I see… yeah, that’s why. Not.)

      1. More “technical issues” ? For months ?? Cripes B- why don’t you just shut it all down- call Hillary- I’m sure she can fix your little internet server problem… Ahhhhmazing !

        1. What, and deny you your squawkbox, the one you cherish and depend upon to teach the world how right you are and how lousy the world is?
          Perish the thought! No, we have weekly huddles where a host of issues/challenges are discussed to keep improving the platform. We have made many improvements, some more obvious than others, but still have much to do – a long list, prioritized. The tryout of a new comment system is likely in the new year. Your ‘why am I being blocked” (not) stuff to the trash issue? Not so much. I’m sure whatever system we go to, you’ll “enjoy” (using the term very loosely).
          Folks may have noticed the odd issues with time stamps on CNN articles, or some that won’t even show a default image, which sort of breaks the home page layout.
          Stuff like that.

          1. Not sure about a lousy world- but let’s look at a clear fact- That Joey Biden has been at the helm (strategizing with Kovid Kate Brown) for exactly 9 months now- the result ? Approximately an additional 1500 CV19 related deaths over what the previous administration- with President Trump leading the way- had produced… and that was without daily access to any vaccines and an angry mob in the media barking out lies- lemme know if I got any of that wrong.

  2. Anybody still listening to this quack needs their head examined. As if I need Fauci’s permission to celebrate any event with my family- can we just pull the plug on this con man and move on with re-electing Trump- that’ll fix what ails America !

  3. My mostly unvaccinated family group has been happily getting together unmasked a number of months now. We do, however, all have our vitamin D levels up in the 50 range, supplement some zinc and vitamin C, and have Ivermectin on hand “just in case”. Fauci might have helped the country if he used his national platform to tell people they need to pay attention to their vitamin D level and some of the other “prevention” tips that most of the medical community knows about but never mention.

    Oh yes, I did notice in this CNN article that the vaccines have deteriorated from “Extremely safe and highly effective” to merely “safe and effective”. I could buy “fairly safe and somewhat effective”, but “safe and effective” is still overstating their present value.

  4. Here’s the key sentence in the article above- more absolute proof that the vaccines “wear off” (without warning). Those millions of Americans- more than 70% of those vaccinated here in Oregon- suddenly become become vulnerable to catch-carry-infect… and the data suggests that this is where the upticks have occurred… Read This again… From Franken-Fauci’s own mouth !… “We know that there are breakthrough infections and that’s how you get the uptick in cases,” Fauci said.“… Really ??? “that’s how you get the uptick in cases,” !!! I had numerous posts here stating such more than a month ago when the Bell Curve’s started showing up- Everyone needs to forget Fauci- follow the data from the OHA and make up yer own mind.

  5. There is no prevention for COVID king/God fauci would have told you if there was. Don’t you remember when the media told us ivermectin was killing people it’s pretty dangerous with no clue what kind of long term effects it will have. The only prevention for COVID is the vaccine taken every 5-6 months for life. Lol

  6. So did anybody even read the article or did y’all just go after the video with the hated Fauci.

    I’d be curious to know what you would have done in his position, pandemic related.

    Mind you I’m not defending him I’m just curious what would your plan of attack have been?

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