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Life 101: ‘Tis the season to be gentle (with yourself)

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Just on the off chance your holidays are not totally Norman Rockwell-esque, take a look at the following checklist.

Right now I’m feeling: Jolly, Frenzied, Sad, Lonely, Overwhelmed, All of the above.

As a result, I’ve been: Kicking into overdrive, Giving up sleep during December, Beating myself up for not getting everything done, Unleashing my stress on others, Hitting the eggnog more heavily.

Now that you have a reality check, consider a few of these tips, gleaned from my professional experience, as well as the Mayo Clinic and Psych Central mental health network.

Pushing Your Own Buttons

Write out a plan of action to cope with any negative triggers that may come up. Family systems tend to repeat behaviors. Rather than allowing someone to push your buttons, think of ways to defuse the situation. Change the subject; stick with your boundaries. And resist the urge to push the buttons of others.

Changing the Patterns

Sometimes we get so ingrained it’s hard to see any way out. Just the anticipation of coming events throws us into a tailspin. If you truly want to change patterns about holiday meal preparations and cleanup sessions, start now to make alternative suggestions. Rotate the cleanup crews, for example, to ease resentment.

Making Your Own Decisions

Sometimes it’s easier to go through the motions to keep the peace. If this is wearing thin on your sanity, though, consider opting out of certain activities. Just because “it’s always been done this way,” doesn’t mean it has to continue.

It may not be as hard as you think. Here are a few of my favorite phrases to try out:

“That just won’t work for me this year.” You’d be amazed how powerful this one sentence can be. Often, we tend to over-explain.

“Here’s an option I’d like to try this year.”

“Let’s look at a different schedule.”

Practicing Random Acts of Kindness

There’s nothing like helping someone else to take your mind off your own troubles. Do a favor for an elderly neighbor. Call a friend you’ve been neglecting.

At the tollbooth, pay for the car behind you. Or, when going through the fast food drive-thru, ask them to apply a dollar to the order of the car behind you. Pop some change into an expired parking meter.

You might be saying, “But they’ll never know who helped them out.” That’s precisely the point. It’s not about getting credit. It’s about the pure intention of giving.

Several years ago, I was purchasing a fuzzy white teddy bear right before the holidays. At the checkout counter, I overheard a clerk saying she wanted to get that same bear for her daughter, but didn’t feel like she could spend the money. Something deep inside urged me to turn around and go back into the store.

I ended up buying another teddy bear and asked the cashier to take it over to that employee and tell her it was from Santa. I hid behind some store dividers to see her expression, and left with such a warm feeling.

She never knew the gift was from me. And it didn’t matter. I just knew I was doing something to brighten her daughter’s holiday. To this day, I never pick up that fuzzy teddy bear in our spare bedroom without recalling that incident.

And that’s priceless!

Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a syndicated columnist, psychological counselor and founder of a multistate marketing company. Reader comments are welcome at or visit for information on her books.

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