Let’s face it, although the holiday season is generally a time of joy, it can be quite stressful. Stress is a normal part of life and is the body’s reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. The body reacts to these changes with physical, mental, and emotional responses.
Not all holiday-related stress is negative, of course. Preparing for a visit from a relative you enjoy spending time with can produce a certain degree of positive stress. But the holiday season is famous for producing the negative kind of stress, even in individuals who generally live stress-free lives.
This negative stress can be brought on by several factors including
– An overwhelming amount of shopping
– Worrying about spending too much money
– Being around challenging relatives
– Getting your home ready for entertaining/hosting
– Missing a loved one
– Worrying about being on the naughty list
While everyone is different, here are some common signs you may be suffering from too much stress
– Trouble concentrating
– Memory problems
– Changes in appetite
– Trouble sleeping
– Anger (more than usual)
So how do we conquer this negative holiday stress? Here are some suggestions. Why not try a different one for each of the Twelve Days of Christmas!
1. Soak in a relaxing bath
2. Listen to relaxing music
3. Treat yourself to a spa visit
5. Work on a hobby
6. Have sex
9. Yoga/Tai chi
10. Go caroling
12. Watch a holiday movie (Here’s one of my faves)
As per suggestion number 4, here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book, Off Base, for your holiday stress-reducing pleasure.
Glistening water droplets cling to Ethan’s chiseled muscles as he steps out of the bathroom wearing only a towel. I ignore my desire to press my lips against his damp skin. Last night he proved he doesn’t have a problem with us having sex while my mother is in the house, but I certainly do.
Fighting the impulse to yank the towel away and wrap myself around his sculpted body, I lean against the dresser and hold out the small box wrapped in shiny, red foil. I took pleasure not only in choosing the gift for him but in wrapping it as well. The gold curling ribbon tied in the center accented the box with hand-curled ends.
“What’s this?” His puzzled expression confirms my success in surprising him.
“Babe… I thought we said no gifts.”
“Actually, we said exchanging gifts is not required.” I move toward him, looking up into his eyes as I plead my case. “You do so much to make me feel special – picking up my uniforms from the dry cleaner, taking my car for an oil change and that’s in addition to bending over backward to make me feel comfortable in your home. You’ve been amazing and I’m so in love with you, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give you this small token of my appreciation. Please don’t be angry.” I give him the puppy dog eyes, knowing full well there’s no way he’s angry with me.
His full lips turn up into a gentle smile and for a moment, it appears that his previous look of surprise was feigned. Did he know I planned to give him the gift? I had it hidden in my car, in an ordinary bag from the supermarket, secured with a knot.
He rips the paper, opens the box and pulls out the smartwatch. “Oh my God, Layla. Thank you.” His face lights up with excitement as he adjusts the settings – which in and of itself is the perfect gift for me.
I had a tough time trying to find the right gift for him. He seems to have everything. But when his traditional wristwatch broke and he started using his cell phone to check the time, I figured a smartwatch might be what he needed.
“It’s okay if you don’t like it.”
He wraps one wet arm around me, pulling me close and making me wish I’d waited until he’d at least dried off and gotten dressed before presenting his gift. “Are you kidding me? I love it. And you know I’m not angry, Love, but you gotta admit, you’ve put me in an awkward position.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, now I feel like I have to run out and get you a last-minute gift.”
“You’ll do no such thing. I told you I don’t need anything as long as I have you.” I stand on my toes to kiss him and a surge of electricity rushes through me as he slips his tongue between my hungry lips.
My mother’s knock on the bedroom door startles me. “You two decent?”
“Mostly.” Ethan winks at me and smiles.
I slap his arm playfully.
“The timer went off on the oven,” Mom continues. “I took the foil off the mac and cheese and put the dish back into the oven to brown.”
“Thanks, Miss Becky. I’ll be right down.”
I take the watch from Ethan and place it on the dresser. “You have two hungry women to feed. We can finish setting this up later.”
“Aye Aye, Ma’am.” He dries off and quickly pulls on a pair of boxers, jeans and a tee-shirt before heading downstairs.
By the time I finish getting dressed and go down to the living room, my mother has boxes of Christmas decorations open and lined up, ready for the two of us to tackle, although she’s gotten a good head start.
One of my favorite holiday tunes, This Christmas by Donny Hathaway flows throughout the house as Mom and I sing, dance and hang brightly colored ornaments on the tree.
“You look happy.” My mother looks at me in that way she does when she’s proud of my accomplishments.
“Well, they say it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
“Cute, but you’re being evasive. You know good and well what I mean. Aside from your holiday spirit, I take it things are better between you and Ethan?”
“Yes. We worked out our issues and we’re in a good place.” I walk around the tree wrapping it with silver garland.
“I’m so glad.”
“What about you?” Later tonight, I’d be dropping my mother at the house of a man I’ve never met, and she has yet to provide sufficient details about him.
“What about me?”
“Now who’s being evasive? Tell me about your beau. How are things between you two?”
“We’re in what one might call a good place too. We’re taking things slowly, you know.” She took the excess garland from me and put it in the large bin Ethan picked up to store the excess decorations.
“So, when I drop you off at his place later, will you be taking an overnight bag?”
“Well, I’m going straight from here, and I’ve had my bags with me since last night… yeah. Now pass me the lights so we can get this tree lit up.” She smiles and I have more questions, but before I can ask her more about the man she’s been spending time with, Ethan calls her to the kitchen.
“Sorry, sweetie. Duty calls.”
“Aren’t you lucky? Don’t worry. I’ll get details from you eventually.” More than likely, it’ll be Ethan who finally gets her to open up, though. I’m glad they’ve formed a good relationship, but it would be nice if she weren’t so stubborn.
She returns a moment later, smiling suspiciously. “Ethan needs you in the kitchen.” She takes the lights from me.
“Didn’t say,” she shrugs. “He just asked me to send you in.”
Savory aromas waft through the air before I even enter the kitchen. Ethan is singing along with the holiday tunes as his hands move skillfully from one pot to the next. All four burners on the stove are in use, but he appears to have everything under control. I watch silently, wondering if this is indicative of how competently he operates the controls in a cockpit. I imagine him flipping switches, turning dials, reading gauges, ensuring everything on his plane is as it should be. Skillful, confident and in control. A memory flashes of our lovemaking last night and I realize those qualities describe every area of his life — a total turn-on.
“Hellooo? Earth to Lay… Can you do me a huge favor?”
“A small favor? Absolutely. A medium favor – maybe. A huge favor, though… I don’t know.”
“You wanna eat?” He teases back.
“Okay, Babe, what do you need?”
“Sugar. Can you run out and get some for me?” He moves from the counter to the stove, adding onions to a pot of boiling something.
“You have sugar, I used some this morning.”
“It’s not enough for the pie. I had a little mishap and spilled most of it.”
“I could go out and get it if you keep an eye on the food. Just drain the potatoes when they’re soft. Stir the gravy so it doesn’t boil over. The stuffing’s in the oven, so when the timer goes off, remove the foil and-”
“Alright. Fine. I’ll go.”
He kisses my cheek. “Thanks, Love.”
“Can I at least take your car so I can listen to music? I’m not in the mood to fight with my crappy radio.”
“Oh… um. Sure.”
As I look through one of the drawers for Ethan’s keys, I call to my mother. “Ma, you wanna ride to the store with–?”
She enters the kitchen before I even finish the question. “I’m actually a little tired. I’m gonna lie down for a bit before dinner.”
“Okay. I kiss her cheek, choosing to ignore the brief, suspicious look she exchanges with Ethan. Those two are definitely up to something, but I’ll let them have their fun. “Hon, where are your keys?”
“I’m… not sure. Sorry.”
“I could stop and look for them if you watch the food.”
“Forget it. You take care of the food. I’ll go get your sugar… sans holiday music.”
“I appreciate it.”
“You can appreciate it later tonight after my mother leaves.” My heart flutters when he winks and flashes those gorgeous dimples, in essence, agreeing to give me whatever I want tonight. Of course, the subject is moot. Ethan gives me what I want, whether or not I do him a favor.
When I get to my car, I immediately notice a big red bow on my dash. Just above the radio is a small note card. Merry Christmas, Lay. I love you.
The spot where my old crappy radio used to be now has a shiny black receiver. Purple and blue lines glow along the perimeter, and the date and time are displayed in large purple and blue LED. When I turn on the power, the screen reads, Hello, Layla. There’s blue tooth connectivity, which I immediately pair to my cell phone. All my contacts display on the screen, and when I touch Ethan’s name, the sound of his phone rings through my speakers.
He picks up on the first ring, and before he says anything, I gush, “I love you.”
“I love you, too, but did you get the sugar?”
His laughter follows mine.
“Thank you, Ethan. This is the best present ever!”
“So, you like it?”
“I love it! But when did you do this? How?”
“I have my ways.”
“Do you really need me to get sugar?”
“Nah. Just needed to get you out there.
“I think I’ll go for a drive around the block. See how this baby sounds.”
“Take your time. Dinner won’t be ready for about half an hour.”
“Okay. I’ll see you in a little while. And Ethan?”
“You’re the best thing that’s happened to me.”
“The feeling is mutual, Love.”
What causes you stress during the holiday season? What’s your favorite way to reduce stress? Leave a comment below and let me know.