How to Deal with Holiday Stress (and rough periods in general)

Do you ever get into a period where there’s just too much going on, and you’re starting to feel truly overwhelmed — like, say, during the Holidays? :-)

I just had a rough couple of weeks that reminded me how hard this time of year can be for people.

So that’s what I talk about in this week’s post. It’s a few tips, from my perspective, on how to deal with periods like this as well as possible.




    • Not so funny story of my “rough couple of weeks.” :-)
    • Good discussion of the importance of a daily rhythm. 
    • Three suggestions for how to make the best of a rough period.
    • Listen/read to get the full message.


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  • To be honest, I’ve been reading a LOT of news. Which is an excellent sign of how rough it’s been. Not kidding.

    Struggled a bit with Seth Godin’s book. I love him, but his long-form writing is starting to read too much like a string of short posts. Just can’t stay with it for some reason.

    Did sneak in one book. Past Tense, by Lee Child. The latest Jack Reacher book. I have to say, it was a really good one. Literally could not put it down. Lasted about a day and a half.

    But then it was back to the news. Yuck.

    Now I’m considering Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross. We’ll see.

    [ transcript ]
    Hey, it’s David Levin. Author of Raise Your Inner Game, co-author QBQ, the Question Behind the Question, Founder of Raise Your Inner Game Academy.

    Do you ever get into a period where there’s just too much going on, and you’re starting to feel truly overwhelmed, like sort of low-grade panic — like, say, during the Holidays?

    So, I had a stretch the last couple weeks, I’m just coming off of it now, that really knocked me off my rhythm. It started back on November 7th when I drove 4 hours up to northern Minnesota to have a sleep study done. I’ve been having some fatigue issues for a while now and my wife, who’s a sleep doc, finally said, You know I’m listening to you sleep, and I think you should really get a sleep study. So I went up for that, and it was fascinating, but also exhausting. I don’t think they should even be allowed to call that a sleep study. I think lack of sleep study would be more appropriate.

    So the next day, I’m absolutely toasted, I can hardly put a sentence together, and I have to fly out for a marketing conference. It’s going to be 4 days of noise, and talking, and disrupted sleep, diet, everything. So I go, and it’s great, but I don’t really get a chance to recover from that study. Really, the fatigue just gets worse. Then I get home but 4 days later I have to leave again fly out to LA to visit my Dad. 10 hour travel days. Three more days on the road there, again, interrupted sleep, food, exercise. Still not catching up. Coming home from that, I go straight to Minneapolis for a couple days for a big family Thanksgiving. Tons of people. More disrupted sleep, food, exercise. By the time I get home Thursday night at about 10:30, there’s just not much left.
    And now the serious Christmas prep begins.

    So, I know that’s nothing compared to what some people deal with, but for me, that was a rough couple of weeks, and the stress sort of compounds on itself because now, coming back I have a big list of things to get done, which is sort of overwhelming and stressful on its own, but my diminished capacity just adds to the stress of it. Not only do I have more things to do than I feel I can get to, but I’m not sure I’m able to handle them all in the first place.

    So anyway, the point, believe it or not, is not to complain about my life, because even with all that, it’s still incredibly great. Super thankful pretty much all the time. But it reminded me how hard this time of year can be for people.

    So I thought I would just share a few tips, from my perspective, on how to deal with it as well as possible. It’s going to be stressful. Whenever our rhythms get disrupted, it’s always stressful. And by the way, by rhythms I just mean that your days tend to have a consistent pattern to them. When you get up. Maybe a morning routine. Journaling. Sitting. Your work hours. Your evening activities, dinner, bedtime, etc. That’s your daily rhythm. And when you get into a period where you can’t do those things, you’re getting knocked off your rhythm.
    Now a lot of people don’t have a consistent rhythm in their days to start with, and one of the best things you can do to feel better about your life is to start to build in more consistent rhythms. But even then, there will be times when they get disrupted, and the Holidays is a classic example, and it can be super stressful. But there are still some things you can do that really help.

    So, number one is to find maybe just one or two elements from your regular rhythm that you CAN do even in the disrupted situation. For example, you’re on the road, in a hotel, you’re not sleeping your normal hours, not able to eat the way you normally do, but maybe you can still do some pushups in the morning or you can do your morning journal, or maybe do some focused sitting or get out for a walk in the evening.
    Now, this will depend on what’s in your normal rhythm already, of course, but the idea is to at least keep hold of one or two NORMAL items that will remind you and connect you with your normal state. It’s sort of like a lifeline back to normal.

    The second suggestion is related, but as you think about which elements of your normal routine to hold on to, give priority to the ones that are the most powerful for you. For me that is the sitting and especially getting some kind of a run in, if possible. Those are the things that most reliably make a difference in how I feel throughout the rest of the day. So if I can find any way to do those during a disrupted period, that is a very effective thing to do.

    So with traveling, again, the sitting can be tough if I’m with my family, we’re all there in the same room, that’s a little weird, or if it’s a conference and I’m staying up late, sleep gets priority over sitting. So sitting is a little harder to keep up with. But I CAN frequently find some way to sneak in a run.

    So I will make sure to bring my running clothes, even if I think it’s a long shot. I will do everything I can to find ways to exercise and it really helps. Again, it’s not full normal, but it’s a big piece of it, and it helps a lot.

    Next up, of course, the Inner Game skills, Lifts and No Quiet will be super helpful in situations like this. Maybe even MORE helpful since so much else is out of whack. So again, just in the moment, whatever’s going on, just notice your thoughts, emotions, and impulses as they come up and engage with them intentionally. Nope, not going there. Not doing that. That will snap you right back to Level Four, which is so helpful, both in the moment and again in reminding you what normal looks like and feels like. And by the way, if those terms aren’t familiar, they’re from Raise Your Inner Game. So, get the book. You’ll love it.

    And then the last one, and this is the biggest one probably, is to just give yourself a break. Go easy on yourself about it. You don’t want to have your guilt for having been knocked off track in the first place make the situation even worse. I mean it’s stressful enough already when you get thrown off your rhythms like this. It makes no sense to ADD to the stress by beating yourself up for it. But we definitely do it. Right?

    You know you go into a situation like this and you intend to stay on track. You’ve got a plan, you think it might work. You’re optimistic. And of course most of the time it doesn’t. And what happens? Your big brain starts giving you a hard time about it. Man, you’re so weak. So lazy. Blah blah blah. Right? Gravity kicks in, trying to pull you down even farther.

    But the reality is, there’s just not much you can do sometimes. These trips were a perfect example. There was just no way I could take these trips, and do what needed to be done there, right, spend the time, meet people, all that, and also keep anywhere near my normal rhythms. It’s just not possible. and the holidays can be just the same. It’s just not possible.
    So rather then beat yourself up about it, the best thing is to just say okay. It’s fine. It’s okay to be off track now and then, if you need to. You can just roll with it, and get back on track when things get back to normal.

    You know, my friend, Kim John Payne from Simplicity Parenting, says that the beautiful thing about rhythms is that they give you the freedom to break out of them now and then. You can go into a period like the Holidays and be fine because the rhythms are there when you get back to help you get grounded again.

    This is sort of an odd association perhaps but another way to think of this is that it’s like trees. Trees bend in the wind. Right? The wind blows, they sway and bend back and forth. And because of that, they’re actually incredibly strong. If they didn’t have that flexibility, if they were brittle, they’d be weaker, they would break. But the flexibility is what ultimately gives them their strength.

    So I think that’s another helpful way to think about these times when we get thrown off our rhythm. It’s okay to bend a bit with the situation. Yes, you want to stay on track as best as possible. Of course. But when you can’t, for whatever reason, the ability to flex and relax and roll with it actually makes you stronger and more resilient. You don’t have to be so frail and fragile and worried about getting thrown off your rhythm. You can just do what needs to be done and know that you can always bring yourself back when things get back to normal.

    So I hope that’s helpful. Those are the things I do to make the best of disrupted per like this. I hold on to one or two things from my normal routine as sort of a lifeline back to normal. If I can, I hold on to the ones that are the most powerful for me. Again, for me, that’s running. And sitting. And finally, I try not to beat myself up for getting knocked off my rhythms in the first place. Sometimes it just can’t be helped.

    All right. If you’d like to get these posts automatically, subscribe to our podcast, The David Levin Show. You can join our newsletter list at to hear when these are released and hear about new trainings.

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    Otherwise, thank you. keep up the good work. I will talk to you next time.

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