Never Suffer From Holiday Stress Again

Here we are at the end of the year. Recently, I put 15.09 gallons in a 16-gallon gas tank. The dashboard gauge had been warning me for days that my fuel was low, but I continued to go one more day.


What prompted me to finally stop was when the needle was well beyond the last orange mark and headed to the “E.” In fact, if I had delayed a few more miles, my next stop would have been on the side of road, calling AAA. That gave me pause to think. Why is it, at this time of year, we push our personal tanks so close to that “E” needle?


Somehow, we get into an end of the year syndrome. We have extra activities that draw us into this margin-less living and we shift into that “do all” mindset. For some, we tend to leave that word “no” in storage putting it away in a box, or on a shelf, or in the back corner of a closet. We also start having those self-sabotaging conversations with ourselves, as we begin to feel guilty if we don’t do it all.


It’s as if, at times, we have parked our common sense in the nearest long-term parking lot for the remainder of the year. What might you add to why you push your personal fuel tank to “E” at this time of the year?


When we choose to run our gas tank for our automobile on empty, we know the outcome: we get stranded. In fact, only one time in my life, since I have been driving, have I run out of gas. Thankfully, it was when I was in college and I was about 500 yards from the entrance to the college. I called a friend to bring a gas container with enough gas so I could get to the gas station and fill it up. I’ve pushed it to the limit many times, but that’s the only time that I actually ran out. I believe sometimes we actually run out in our personal fuel tanks.


What Happens When Our Personal Fuel Tanks Get to Empty?


We’re frazzled. We feel out of control. We have little energy and may experience activity paralysis. In fact, we’re so overwhelmed we sometimes feel as if we have been beaten up.

Think about how you feel when you get overcommitted, especially at this time of the year. For some, it might be, “Yes, I am a bit stressed. Why do you ask?” For others, a short supply of patience with an abundance of irritability is experienced.  At this time of the year, our personal fuel tanks are getting toward that E more frequently.


How Can We Minimize and Even Avoid That E, That Empty, in Our Personal Fuel Tanks at This Time of the Year?


What is white space, and how can we create white space? I use that terminology like Richard Swenson uses margins:


·       “Margin is the space between ourselves and our limits.”

·       “Margin grants us freedom and permits rest.”

·       “Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion.”


Think of white space as a margin in your life. It gives structure and a framework. For example, think about a framed work of art or a photograph. What does that frame do? It defines the work of art, provides a method of display and creates focus. If you have something framed in your line of sight that you can focus, do so. As you look at that framed item, notice how your eyes are drawn to what’s in the frame reducing any distractions. In essence, the frame frees you up to focus on the work of art, the photograph or whatever is framed.


Now think about your life. Draw or visualize a frame. What do you want “framed” in your life? What do you want on display? What do you want people to focus on? Note your answers in the frame with images or words.


Continue to think about the margin, the white space and what frames do for us. Margin creates boundaries and releases us to live our lives responsibly. Guess what? When you have a work of art framed or you have a photo framed, there’s not anything else that can go in the context of those boundaries, because it’s filled with that work of art or that photo.


Consider one more example; think about a printed book or a magazine. What happens if there is no white space or margin? Without margin, words would run off the page. There would be no clarity. There would be no design and it would be confusing. That’s what happens in our lives when we don’t have margins, when we don’t create this white space.


John Townsend frames it this way, “Boundaries are anything that helps differentiate you from someone else.” In other words, where you begin and end. At this time of the year, we often start bleeding off of the page, because we have no boundaries, no white space.


How Can We Avoid The "Big E?"


How can we avoid the “big E”, of allowing our personal fuel tanks at this time of the year? Here are five suggested steps.


Step one is shift to a white space mindset. Instead of the “do all” approach, it’s the “what can I do well” approach. That will bring clarity, simplicity, ease and fulfillment to your life at this time of the year.  


Step two is create a frame and choose what goes in it.  This identifies what I call non-negotiables and may change from day to day or week to week.  It might be helpful to create a frame for each day. Put in the frame what you want to focus on, what you want to draw attention to, what will help you to eliminate the distractions. Work on that. If it’s not in the frame, then it doesn’t get your time or attention.

Step three to avoid the “big E” is to identify your limits, in other words, your boundaries. I learned several years ago at this time of the year that it was foolish for me to try to do everything that came across my path. I could not be fully present at each activity. As I have learned to identify my limits, I ask what can I do? What can I not do? Practicing this has made the end of the year much more satisfying, fulfilling, and enjoyable.


How many of us like to live a life of chaos day in and day out whether it’s this time of the year or any time of the year?


Most of the Time, We're the Ones Creating Our Chaos.


When you identify your limits and create white space, that is a way you’re saying “no” to something so that you can create space to say yes “to.” You may want to re-read our post,


’No’ Is a Complete Sentence.


Step four to avoiding the ‘big E’” is get adequate rest. This is another area we let our common sense go. We get adequate rest consistently through the year and then in November that end of the year syndrome appears and rest begins to disappear.


Step five to avoid the “big E” is spend quality time investing in healthy relationships, be it family, friends or a support community. These are relationships that are healthy where you invest in positively, and they invest in you as well.  I’m a firm believer in play. Play is a great way to avoid the “big E.” I have my annual checkup in December because my doctor schedules checkups in the patient’s birthday month.


I started a fun thing about four years ago. When I go in for my physical, I show up with some kind of fun holiday accessory or headgear on. It has become a “thing” now, “We can’t wait to see what Jane’s going to show up in this year.” It’s a playful and fun way to keep things in the frame, with boundaries, creating that white space so that you can enjoy life even at this time of the year.


What Will Be in Your Frame from Now until the End of the Year?


Until then, you have a great rest of the year and create that white space for yourself!


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Chaplain Associate at DeKalb Medical Center


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--Tony Rissley

Principal Owner at Expo Auctions


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