Beating Holiday Stress

by PJ McClure on November 15, 2012

“Why do I even go to these things?”

“Yeah,” I asked, “why do you go?”

My client Karen was griping about going to her family Christmas gathering and wasn’t expecting a conflict. The stunned silence was almost comical. “Um. What do you mean, ‘why’?”

“If it is so miserable, why do you continue to go?”

“Because it’s family and I have to go.”

“First of all, no you don’t. You choose to go. Secondly, why do go? What do you hope to get out of it?”

The answer to that question is where our lesson really begins.

I grew up loving the holidays that brought our family together. The more the merrier and I never suspected that anyone else felt any different. When I began coaching executives and entrepreneurs, I found out how fortunate I was and how anxious people become around these events.

I admit that I was feeling a little irritable when Karen began talking about the event, but I’m really glad that I posed the question. It opened up a whole new perspective for both of us.

I realized through our interaction, and all those to follow, that holiday stress is only a smaller version of how people approach life. Haphazardly and without purpose. When we have a purpose going into an endeavor, our chances of receiving a sense of fulfillment from the endeavor increase dramatically. Without a purpose, we give up all power to influence the outcome.

In Karen’s case, her first thoughtful answer was, “I go because having our family together is important to my mom and like to do my part to make her happy.”

In that case, your purpose for going is to; focus your energy on your mom and doing what you can to make her happy. Imagine how much easier it would be to enjoy yourself if that was the only thing you needed accomplish? You control the outcome because it is all within your being.


  • You’re doing your part. (not fretting over your lazy uncle)
  • You’re focusing on your mom. (not your sister’s monstrous children)
  • You’re purpose is centered in love. You are letting your soul breathe.

All the other junk falls away when purpose guides your actions. The attitudes of others are their responsibility, not yours. Your entire time there is spent fulfilling what you intend to get out of it. As a result, you enhance everyone else’s experience by default.

Something to pay attention to in this example is how you gauge success. Your purpose is to do your part to make your mom happy. Not to make your mom happy. Her emotional state is not your responsibility and to make it your goal is a set up for failure. Be satisfied to do your part and allow the rest to happen as it will. Be clear about your purpose.

Karen’s clearly defined purpose for attending her family function did more than make it tolerable.

“More than one of my siblings commented that this was the best time they remembered since we were kids. I didn’t say a word, except to agree. There is no doubt that my attitude had an impact on everyone else though. After the first couple of things happened that would normally send me over the edge, I just let them go and stuck to my purpose. Everyone else seemed to follow suit.”

How can something as simple as purpose make that big of a difference? The same way something as simple as a compass can guide sailors across an ocean. It provides an internal guide that stays true no matter what is happening on the outside.

If a storm covers the stars and brings 50-foot waves up to block your view, grab the wheel and steer by the compass. When the storm subsides, and it always does, you’re still on course and farther along. In the meantime, all of those that set out without a compass crash against rocks or are scrambling in a panic to figure out where they are.

Our sense of purpose is one of the amazing, unappreciated gifts God gave us to use every day. When we are in and fulfilling our purpose, the old ways of stress lose their grip. Billy Graham said, “Our sense of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment in life increases, no matter what the circumstances, if we are in the center of God’s will.”

Take time to find your purpose in this most joyous season and it will put you in the center of God’s will. Why are you going? What do you hope to accomplish? When it is all said and done, what will matter?

Find your purpose and you’ll be the example of joy that everyone else wants to follow.

Alissa Spera November 15, 2012 at 6:47 am

I feel like my family gatherings can often be a train wreck waiting to happen. I did not go for a number of years and at some point realized I was missing out on familial camaraderie. Even when the train wrecks continued to happen at my family gathering, I didn’t allow myself to be sucked into the drama and every one felt listened to. It was such a small step, but I feel closer to all of my cousins as a result. I’m going into this holiday season with a bigger purpose this year!

Beverly Lewis November 15, 2012 at 6:05 am

I am one of the fortunate ones to have a healthy family that enjoys being together and have also realized that is not the rule these days. I love your points here and the emphasis on focus on your purpose. My favorite is your statement that when your purpose is centered in love, you are letting your soul breathe.

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