In my practice as a psychotherapist I did a lot of work with stress management. When my clients were in stress overload, I would recommended that they Dump, Delegate, Postpone and Pamper. “Just remember, DDPP,” I would tell them.
One client jokingly said, “That sounds like a pesticide.” And thus DDPP was dubbed the ‘stressicide formula.’
As we move into this hectic and very stressful time of year, it is all too likely that we will end up in stress overload.
And once we’re there, everything becomes overwhelming. The thing about stress is that we have this threshold. We can be doing fine, reveling even in how much we’re getting accomplished in our fast-paced lives. And then suddenly, we’ve passed our threshold for coping with stress and suddenly we’re a basket case. We’re not dealing with ANYTHING very effectively anymore.
The stress threshold is like that. It’s an on-off switch. We’re good, we’re good, we’re great even as we multi-task and get revved up to accomplish even more, and then whammo, we’ve used up all our coping ability and we’re burned out big time!
That’s when we need to apply DDPP.
DUMP: Is it really necessary or can we just stop doing it, temporarily at least. In the course of everyday life, when I’m stressed out, the first thing that goes is making the bed. I like a neat house and a bedroom with a made bed. But this is not essential stuff. I can let it go when other things are demanding my coping resources.
At Christmas time, DUMP becomes even more important. My to-do-list gets pared down to what is truly essential to do to make the holiday what I want it to be.
Two years ago, when my oldest grandson was right smack in the middle of the terrible twos, we dumped the formal turkey dinner and had a cold buffet instead. I cooked a couple turkey breasts in advance, sliced them and took them to my son and daughter-in-law’s house. We served them with a variety of cold salads and breads. And you know what, we actually had a better time than we’d had the year before while trying to put together a formal Christmas dinner and deal with an 18-month-old who tends to be hyperactive.
It’s become a new family tradition. I doubt we will ever go back to the sit-down meal, at least not until my grandchildren are a bit older.
DELEGATE: Is there someone else who also legitimately shares responsibility for the task you are stressed about? Or is there someone you can trade off with to deal with the current stressors, and you’ll pay them back later?
We all go through periods of stress overload. So trade off with those with whom you share your life. You help me now, I help you later.
In the mid 1990’s I was getting burned out as a therapist, so I started teaching part-time and cutting back on my psychotherapy practice. My husband and I negotiated a new deal. During the last three crunchy weeks of the semester, when I had a gazillion papers to grade, final exams to write, etc., he would do pretty much all the household chores. Then during my winter and summer breaks, I would do pretty much all of them.
POSTPONE: I’m not advocating procrastination here. But if it’s anything that can legitimately be put off until after the first of the year, postpone it! A lot of things that are not Christmas related can often be postponed. I’ve learned not to schedule routine doctor, dentist or vet appointments after November 15th. If my body, teeth and dog have made it through the first 10.5 months of the year, by golly, they can hang in there for 1.5 more.
My husband started teaching a few years ago. Now we both have the end of semester crunch right before the holidays. One of his Christmas tasks has always been writing the Christmas cards. The year after he started teaching he decided to adopt the European tradition of sending New Year’s cards instead.
Now he can relax over the task and enjoy writing notes to old friends, catching them up on the happenings of the last year.
And last but definitely not least…
Unfortunately when we’re stressed out, the first thing that goes is taking care of ourselves. But that’s when our bodies and minds need pampering the most. We need to pay more attention, not less, to getting enough sleep and trying to eat a healthy diet. Because when we’re in stress overload we are putting more wear and tear on our bodies than they can really handle.
A few minutes of relaxation, about three times a day, can do wonders. Stop, sit, put your feet up, close your eyes, take a deep breath. And do something relaxing, if only for ten to twenty minutes. Read, take a bubble bath, or just sit there and meditate (and maybe daydream about January 2nd!)
You can also use guided imagery to go to somewhere relaxing in your head. Imagine yourself strolling down sandy beaches on a warm day. It doesn’t even have to be someplace you’ve actually been. Make it up. I have this lovely rose garden inside my head that has never existed, and never will exist in my brown-thumb real world where I can’t even keep a potted cactus alive.
The time spent relaxing will be well invested, and not just from a health standpoint. You’ll find that you are more focused and productive when you go back to doing the multitude of things you need to get done.
And when each hectic day is over, treat yourself to a relaxing wind-down before bed so that you sleep well.
Christmas is supposed to be a joyful time. Somewhere along the way in our society, it has turned into a major pressure cooker. But if we can apply a little stressicide, some DDPP, to our holiday preparations, we may just be able to recapture the joy and peace of the season!
Please feel free to leave a comment, but if you’re too busy, I’ll understand. Do take a moment, however, to check out our MEGA December Contest that runs thru 12/23.
(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
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