One study found that Christmas Day—regardless of your climate—is the number one day of the year for heart attacks. The most likely culprit? Stress.
Maybe we should change the song. Everybody on the chorus! “It’s the most stressful time of the year…”
So with that in mind, here are 4 mental hacks to de-stress Christmas.
#1 Lower (or get rid of) your expectations
Frustration is a function of unmet expectation. In other words, trace back your most recent frustration and you’ll find at the root some (usually) unspoken, unmet expectation.
You expected someone would buy you a great gift. They didn’t. You were frustrated. You expected Aunt Sallie wouldn’t raise her eyebrow like she does when she’s getting ready to let someone have it and make a scene. She did. You were frustrated. Aunt Sallie, I’m only asking for one Christmas without a blow-up! Ahhh!! #Frustrated.
Frustration works that way every time.
So this may seem ridiculous, even impossible at first. Why not have
Why not have low expectations? Or even no expectations?
Why? It’s your unspoken expectations that create your frustration and disappointment. If you hadn’t expected a gift, you’d have never been frustrated. Aunt Sallie is Aunt Sallie. Your expectation of her behavior is what caused your frustration. #thefrustrationisonyou
So for this hack, reverse engineer Michelle Obama; when your expectations demand that you go high, go low.
- Choose low expectations about how the presents you buy will be received. “You’re right, that tie is a ridiculous gift.“
- Choose low expectations about how many presents you’ll get and who will get them for you. “What do I really need, anyway?”
- Choose low expectations about your get-togethers and how they’ll go. Aunt Sallie isn’t going to change because you want her to change. “Love you Aunt Sallie!” #loveyourfamilyanyway
Here’s what having low expectations does not mean.
It does not mean planning on being disappointed, it simply means letting go of needing a certain outcome in order to feel good. The disappointment comes when the outcome you needed didn’t happen! #AuntSallie
When you lower your expectations, you receive a gift. The Present. You are immediately able to be present in the current moment and receive it as a gift. Your expectations about how things “ought to go” keep you from receiving the gifts God brings.
#2 Resist the urge to splurge
Our economy is built on you buying things.
In fact, there is a Marketing Machine behind every single purchase you make. Marketing teams in conference rooms know more about you and your buying habits than you’ll ever know (and it might frighten you if you did).
For example, have you ever thought about the time, energy, strategy and money spent to get a flyer into your hands urging you to buy eggs on sale “THIS FRIDAY ONLY!!” for $.99?
A Machine people. A MACHINE.
Still don’t believe me?
You are exposed to 5,000+ ads and brands each day. Of those 5,000+ ads/brand exposures, your eyeballs directly see 362 of them. Crunch the numbers and you uncover that being awake for 16 hours in a day means you are seeing two ads every minute.
The Marketing Machine knows exactly how to manipulate you to see and buy its products. This is not a conspiracy theory, it’s a simple fact about how our economy works.
Job Number One of the Marketing Machine is to make you dissatisfied with what you have. “It’s old/outdated/broken/no fun anymore/out of style/_______.” Those are magic words to the Marketing Machine, a sign it is doing its job of hacking your mind.
And Job Number Two of the Marketing Machine is to convince you only buying something new will satisfy your now disturbed soul.
Take both bites and the Machine wins.
So do something entirely revolutionary. Hack the Machine and see it for what it is and resist.
Learn Paul’s lesson: “I have learned to be content no matter what I have.” Philippians 4:11
PS For an eye-opening read about how the Marketing Machine came to be and what it does to your soul, spend time with Rodney Clapp’s machine-hacking article “Why The Devil Takes Visa”.
#3 Intentionally make Christmas about people, not things
Part of the life-mission of a follower of Jesus is to learn to love people. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it usually takes a lifetime to get it right.
Now in order to authentically love people, you have to be with them and listen to them. To mix metaphors a bit, it’s similar to driving a car. To drive it, you have to be in it and at the wheel. It doesn’t matter if you say you drive a car, if you aren’t in it, at the wheel, you aren’t doing it. It’s the same with loving people. Time and open ears are the necessary ingredients to grow love.
If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, this still holds true. Your network of relationships is your real net worth. If your relationships are good, I’d bet your life is good. I say it like this to our Church often: So go your relationships, so goes your life. Learning to love people and use things instead of using people and loving things is a revolutionary shift that brings meaning into your life. Love is like that. It’s a carrier for the virus of meaning.
But you have to be with people in order to love them. Like you can’t drive that car without being behind the wheel, you can’t love a person without spending time with them.
So whatever you do during the Christmas season, hack your get-togethers by making them entirely about connecting with people—not giving things. #evenifAuntSallieisthere
#4 Plan to give
The consuming life lives by these kinds of subtle self-talk:
- “I really need X. My life will be better if I have X.”
- “I’ll like myself more/be a better person/be more of a man/have better hair/be better looking/be younger/etc if I have X.”
- “People will like me more if I have X.”
This is the psychology of marketing, by the way. It’s the propagandizing language invented by the Marketing Machine.
And you buy it. And I buy it.
I have actually purchased a product because it promised me thicker hair. Don’t judge.
And I remember my actual thought when I did it: I’ll feel better about myself and people will think I’m better looking. I bought the Marketing Machine promise.
And it was a lie. Not only did I not have thicker hair, I didn’t feel better about myself and my kids still mocked my disappearing wisps.
To resist this, we must do the opposite. We have to train our brains and our bodies to let God’s purpose flow through us. It’s the ultimate hack. If we don’t, the Marketing Machine will train our brains and bodies to let it’s purpose flow through us.
What is God’s purpose? To give. “For God so loved the world he gave…” John’s gospel tells us. If you love, you give. If you don’t love, you don’t give. Giving is a test of love. In fact, loving and giving are two sides of the same coin.
If you are a parent or if you simply love someone, you know nothing you ever receive beats the times you are able to give. The joy of giving far outweighs the excitement of getting, every single time.
Here’s the hack. Why keep the joy of giving to yourself? Let everyone in your circle, your family, your squad, experience the joy of giving. Christmas isn’t your birthday anyway.
Try these on for size:
- Serve a meal together at a homeless shelter or work a local food pantry.
- Give up giving gifts and spend the money on someone who actually needs something (that’s what our Christmas Offering is all about, by the way).
- Sponsor a child through World Vision instead of buying more stuff you don’t need. For the cost of an Xbox, you feed, clothe, educate and give hope to a kid for 1 year.
- Give to your local Church. They are heart-deep in helping people restart their lives. (If you’re in Northwest Indiana, here’s ours)
- Give to the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries disaster relief fund.
Give. It’s a spiritual hack that rewires your brain and body to let God’s purpose flow.
Here’s my challenge. Start a new Christmas tradition. Make cookies. Cut down a tree. Build a fire. Those things are all great. But make the most important one a tradition of giving in a tangible way rather than getting. You can even include Aunt Sallie.