How to Reduce Holiday Stress Using a Skill you Didn’t Know You Had
Did you know that 44% of women will experience a dramatic spike in stress levels over the holidays? The American Psychological Association also determined that, as a coping mechanism, 41% of women will turn to food for comfort and 28% will turn to alcohol as an escape.*
How will that affect those who are already struggling? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that antidepressant use in the U.S. have increased nearly 400% from 1988-1994 through the 2005-2008 reporting periods and were the third most common prescription drug for all ages during the latter reporting period.** About one in ten Americans over the age of 12 take antidepressant medication.
A healthy solution may be much simpler than you think. You have an effective internal coping mechanism already, but unfortunately you’ve been using it against yourself.
First, let’s look at related science.
In recent years, top-tier universities like Harvard, Stanford, U.C. Berkley, and the University of Pennsylvania have been conducting break-through scientific research in the emerging field of Positive Psychology. This is the “scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.”*** What they’ve found is that not only can optimism be trained, but also simple psychological interventions can be applied that will enhance both mental and physical health in lasting ways.
There are ways to condition yourself to become more proficient in developing healthy thought patterns. Shawn Achor, one of the leaders in this new field of research, says, “You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body.” This takes time, consistency, and repetition.
Scott Wilhite, the creator of the Feed Your Happy app, a mobile mindset conditioning tool, takes this one step further. “Happiness isn’t just a skill, it’s a set of skills. And the more savvy you are at mastering these skills, the more happy and resilient you will be.”
So what’s the skill you didn’t know you had?
What’s the one coping technique that goes almost completely unnoticed?
Simple: your ability to tell stories.
This will come as a surprise to most people who consider themselves uncreative or who don’t realize how often they are actually creating fictional stories in their heads.
“Think about it. Stress, anxiety, fear, discouragement, loneliness, low self-esteem—they’re all mindset issues. They’re stories we repeatedly tell ourselves,” says Wilhite who is uniquely qualified in this area because he’s also a commercial filmmaker. “This is not to say they’re imaginary. No, they can be painfully real, but they’re not the full story. The key is to be deliberate about your focus and intentional about the stories you allow to play out in your mind.”
Here’s an example.
You’ve just finished your gift buying list for your family. Suddenly you start second-guessing yourself. What if my kids don’t like what I’ve chosen? Then another thought: What if the shirts are uncool and their friends make fun of them? You look at the list again and imagine your husband looking disappointed as he unwraps what you had carefully packaged. You see him returning the gift to the store. He’s not just rejecting the gift—he’s rejecting you and your love. He doesn’t appreciate all the time you’ve spent on this… or the care you’ve put into thinking these gifts through… or the work you’ve done to stretch the family budget. You scribble ferociously over the list and start over.
What just happened?
You started yourself sliding down a stress-filled slippery slope through your unconscious creative skills. Your storyteller got excited and created a completely fictional story—one that was working against you.
The truth is, the only real event was the fact that you just finished your shopping list. Everything else was kicked off by your amazing creative storytelling abilities—skills you never knew you had.
A quote attributed to the great Mark Twain says, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life… some of which actually happened.”
The fact is, you are often your own worst enemy when you allow the storyteller inside to tell terrible ending stories—stories which rarely ever happen.
When an event triggers a stressful response, Wilhite recommends you follow the four Rs to stress reduction:
Recognize that you’re telling yourself a fictional story (celebrate your creativity)
Remember that terrible endings rarely come exactly how you imagine them
Refocus on what the actual facts are and how you want your story to go
Rewrite the terrible ending with a better story you’ve deliberately chosen
Wilhite further suggests you intentionally swing the storytelling pendulum the other way and add crazy elements like Stormtroopers, or elves, or wizards into the mix. “Your mind may initially reject your new story if you merely try to put a positive spin on it. Make it outlandish so you can jump out of the story and regain your ability to live in the present.”
By learning to recognize and then rewrite the terrible-ending stories in your head you can avoid much of the stress and anxiety that otherwise might be heading your way during the holidays.
Developing your storytelling skills may be the best gift you can give or receive this holiday season.