23 Dec

What Festivus Can Teach Us About Managing Holiday Stress

So, it’s Festivus. At least according to Seinfeld. The original Festivus, happened whenever it was most needed.

Yep, now works.

Festivus, as formalized by Seinfeld, has three main components: the Aluminum Pole, the Airing of Grievances, and the Feats of Strength. And perhaps unsurprisingly for a holiday meant to be an alternative to the madness that so often characterizes this time of year, each of its three main elements represents a way of handling that aforementioned madness (emotional, mental, physical).

Stick with me; this might actually be useful.

First, the Aluminum Pole, the holiday icon stripped of all its trappings. For many of us, it’s the trappings of the holidays (the decorations, the food, the gifts) that make them wonderful…and that are often the source of major stress, tension, and disappointment. But when pressed, each of us can usually name the two or three things that are really important to us. Whether material (an elegant, home-cooked dinner, for instance) or philosophical (seeing people’s faces light up when they open gifts), there are a few simple things that define the holidays for us, emotionally. Focus on those things. Make them your Aluminum Pole. Everything else is tinsel–shiny, insubstantial…and a pain in the ass to get rid of.

The Airing of Grievances is an important mental exercise. With Festivus it’s a public thing (and no doubt why it’s followed by the Feats of Strength, where the head of household is wrestled to the ground), but even in private, it can be really important to focus on what worked–and what didn’t–in any given year, and to give voice, even if on paper (digital or otherwise) to all the things you wish, or want to be, different. Doing that gives you something to reframe, and a list of projects for next year: Which things on your list do you want to make sure aren’t there a year from now? What will you do to make sure that’s the case?

We all need Feats of Strength to help our bodies deal with the physical effects of stress. I like to remind folks in my Weight Watchers meetings, that we’re all still wired pretty much like cavemen. When faced with stress (say, a bear), we’re wired to do one of two things: fight the bear, or run the hell away from it. Problem is, most of us don’t face actual bears on a daily basis. But our bodies still think we do, so all of the hormones and energy that’s collected to fight or flee sits there, stewing. It’s actually pretty hard to use our brains to convince our bodies that Great Aunt Millie, or that guy in accounting, or the #$^&% traffic is NOT a bear. But it’s easy to use our bodies to convince those same bodies that we’re using the energy it built up to face the bears. So Dance. Run. Walk. Go shopping (great exercise, by the way). MOVE.
The Aluminum Pole, the Airing of Grievances, the Feats of Strength. Emotional, mental, and physical responses to what makes the holidays both great and grating.
So, have a Happy Festivus. And use it to have a happy holiday season, too.