The recipe for a happy holiday season

By Gale Mote / Guest Column

It is that time of year – advertising blitzes and email overload, the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping (Black Friday and Cyber Monday), extended family gatherings and unpredictable weather like the recent pre-Thanksgiving snowstorm across Iowa.

While it is a season for reflection, relaxation and gratitude, too often it is trumped by the stress manifested in all of the expectations and obligations, real and perceived.

To help you enjoy the spirit of the season, I would like to share my own recipe for increasing your stress tolerance for the days ahead.

Set realistic and reasonable expectations for yourself. Begin with identifying your top priorities – is it a perfectly polished floor and flawless table setting or meaningful conversation with close friends? Think about what matters most and never let it become second fiddle to what matters least. Lou Holtz had a definition for the letters “win” – What’s Important Now? If you want to have a winning holiday season, set your own limits and stick to them. At our home, people have come to appreciate cat hair on the chair!

Put away the technology – at least for a little while. That includes smartphones, tablets, e-readers and video games. Take time to enjoy the peace of being disconnected and wrap yourself in the joy of what is real, visible and right in front of you. Five minutes watching a beautiful sunrise does wonders for the soul. Taking the time to be attentive and really listening to your grandparents is the most important gift you can give them and it will pay you great dividends long term.

Don’t sacrifice your positive routines such as eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep. In stressful environments, more than ever, our bodies need time and space to reenergize and stay on top of their game. “It’s the holiday” is a convenient excuse for binge eating, drinking and burning the candle at both ends. You will feel more confident, positive and in control if you take care of yourself.

Stop trying to enforce unenforceable rules.  Dr. Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good, defines a rule as any expectation you have for how something should turn out or how someone should think or behave. An unenforceable rule is an expectation you have that you do not have the power to make happen.

For example, controlling what Uncle Ed says at the dinner table, expecting Sid and Mary to finally put their differences aside and get along or the belief that the prime rib will be worthy of even the top chef’s reality TV show. When you try to enforce one of your unenforceable rules, you become angry, bitter and helpless.

Trying to change what cannot be changed or influence those who do not want to be influenced will meet with failure and cause us emotional distress when these are times for great joy and happiness. Focusing on what you can control and establishing enforceable rules will lead to greater peace, control over your emotions and good judgment in your decision making.  A simple way to begin is to recognize is your rule enforceable or not.

I look for what is good, what is right. On the farm in Wisconsin, my Dad said that if I ever felt like I was being crapped on or in a pile of manure, to remember there was a pony around there somewhere.  Look for the good – focus on the positive.  A glass of red wine spilled on new white carpeting is not a tragedy. It’s a great way to test out the power of the new carpet cleaner that professes to take care of any stain, any time. Dinner starting late is an opportunity for more networking and at least, the whole family is able to be together.

Find the humor and celebrate with laughter. In 10-20 years, how will you look back on this action or event? Use the flipside technique – things could be worse. Rather than cry or be distressed, how can you see the lighter side? Some of the funniest stories and life’s lessons happen during our most stressful times. Keep your heart open and the environment fun.

Lastly, take time for yourself. The holidays are times when family and friends are incredibly important. No relationship is as important as the one you have with yourself. Take time to do things you enjoy – just for you, all by yourself. Give yourself space to be you.  It is not selfish – it is energizing and necessary to keep yourself in a positive physical, mental and emotional place.

I have much to be grateful for and celebrate. I plan to do just that and not become stressed out by including these ingredients in my daily routine. Best wishes to you and yours for a healthy, happy and joyous holiday season.

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at