Happy Days (Holidays) are Here Again!
Great Tips for Making the Best of the Holidays!
The holidays are here again! Are you still in the state of gratitude from Thanksgiving? Or are you feeling more overwhelmed than grateful as you try to create the perfect holiday season? Are you making unrealistic demands on yourself or on others? Are some unhealthy habits kicking in? Maybe it’s due to stress.
Stress is a fact of life, and for some, the daily norm. Although occasional stress can help improve your focus and performance, the accumulation of the stress of the holidays can cause anxiety, depression and health issues. It can also lead to not treating yourself very well.
Now is a good time to make the choice to take care of yourself and give inner peace a little extra attention.
Here are some of my favorite ways to reduce stress during the holiday season:
Choose wisely. Don’t abandon your healthy habits just because “it’s the holiday season”… Continue to choose the most nourishing media/people/noise you have in your environment. And the food you put into your body. Listen to your own inner wisdom and say “no” to things/people/events that seem like they could be stressful. Give yourself time to take care of yourself whether it’s by meditating, watching an uplifting movie, getting out in nature, journaling, attending a yoga class, listening to inspiring music, getting a massage, hanging out with good friends, being in silence, taking a bath, or reading a wonderful book.
Plan ahead, and then enjoy the moment. Make a plan to visit, volunteer, shop, attend parties, and take care of yourself. Then, as you follow the plan, practice present moment awareness, keeping your awareness on what is actually happening so you can fully experience and enjoy what you planned, rather than worrying about the future or wanting to change something that happened in the past. It’s always a good time to practice being here now. Be realistic, remain flexible, and don’t worry if everything goes according to the plan.
With your attention on the here and now, accept the moment as it is. Your life is experienced in THIS moment. No other. When you notice you are focused on the future or the past, you can refocus your attention to the moment at hand. With your attention in the present moment, you can fully experience the peace, merriment, and love that abounds from friends and family as the gifts, connections, and wishes for a wonderful holiday season arrive.
With your attention in the present moment, you can enjoy your meals enjoy the company of others. With your attention in the present moment, you experience things as they are rather than an idea of what they are. For example, if your family dynamic or relationships have changed, instead of resisting the change or wishing things were different, practice embracing what really is and how you celebrate the holidays now. Perhaps a new tradition will be born.
Acknowledge and feel your feelings. Understandably, people want only to feel “good” feelings like happiness, joy, bliss, etc. However feelings of loneliness or depression can often arise in the holiday season as memories of the past or of lost loved ones come to mind. Instead of forcing yourself to be happy or masking your feelings, allow yourself to feel your feelings as they arise. Feelings occur in the present moment. Emotions are not permanent, and if you give them the attention they need as they arise, they’ll come and go of their own accord. No one can do this for you. Be easy on yourself and seek support from a professional if you feel you need it. Being aware of your emotions and allowing yourself to feel them reduces stress and is essential to your mind/body health.
Accentuate the positive. What you focus your attention on is enlivened – whatever you are focused on will often be what you find. Instead of focusing your attention on what isn’t working or what causes you stress in your life, focus on what is working and what you do enjoy in your life. If you are focused on what is not going quite right, or what you should’ve done, or what others should be doing but aren’t – you’ll find exactly what you are looking for. Instead, when you realize your attention is focused on something less than nourishing, make a quick shift and attend to what you enjoy about the holiday season – whether it’s the twinkling lights, seeing new and old friends, volunteering, the holiday music, receiving a holiday card, or being with your family. Greeting cards can help you to remember to do this too, as you receive the message from your friends or family hoping you’ll have a wonderful holiday season.
Find your inner peace. Some people find peace through prayer, some through meditation. I do both. Both prayer and meditation are proven to create better health and well being. Most people know how to pray, but meditation can be confusing for those who haven’t been taught properly. I can tell you meditation is easy to learn and do, and is often thought of as the perfect antidote for stress. Meditation trains your awareness to be in the present moment, helps you to be more aware of what you are putting your attention on, can reduce anxiety and depression, and allows a new perspective and more spaciousness in your day.
Get more rest. Sleep is the number one way your body recovers from stress. And, stress builds when you’re tired. Even though there are plenty of things to keep you up late, you can make it a habit to get to bed early on the nights when you don’t have holiday parties to attend. The ancient Ayurvedic recommendation for deeper, more restful sleep is to get to bed between 10 – 10:30 pm -that’s when your sleep is best supported by nature. Early to bed and early to rise! Meditation even for a few minutes during your day also gives you very deep rest, and will improve your sleeping patterns! Meditation also instantly reduces stress.
Get out and enjoy nature’s gifts. We’re so busy we often don’t give ourselves the time to look up at the sky, experience the warmth of the sun on our skin, or deeply breathe the crisp air. Getting outside of buildings and cars and taking some time in nature is an essential source of stress relief. Let yourself be nourished by the silence, the perfection, and the stillness of nature. Studies show that being in nature can help lessen the effects of stress on the nervous system, reduce attention deficits, decrease aggression, and enhance one’s spiritual well-being.
Give yourself a deep breath. Stop the stress response by taking some slow, long, deep breaths through your nose. When you’re busy reacting to stress, you tend to be unaware of your body and its needs. You can also be distracted from the choices available to you. Not only does breathing deeply bring your focus to the present moment, it also sends a signal to your mind and body that it’s time to relax. And as you relax, you become more aware of your body. With awareness, you unclench your jaw, relax your face, breathe into your belly, and drop your shoulders away from your ears. Give yourself a breath and a break anywhere and anytime. Breathe in slowly, deeply, and let it out, slowly, fully. Don’t hold your breath, let it flow for a minute or two.
Don’t worry. It doesn’t really matter in the long run if you found the perfect gift or you got any or all of your cards out on time. What matters is being present to your life and the people you care about. Gifts come in a variety of forms: a smile, doing an errand for someone who needs help, making a meal for someone living alone, or donating to a great cause in someone else’s name. You can even write a poem or copy your favorite and read it to them! The most important gift to yourself and others is your presence. And, if you do shop for gifts, be conscious how you spend your currency. Stay within your budget, and purchase gifts that are in alignment with your values. Please, don’t wreak havoc on the environment by buying junk or buying something with too much packaging.
Count your blessings. Research shows that daily gratitude practices result in more enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and even energy. Grateful people experience less depression and stress, are more likely to help others, exercise more regularly(!), and make more progress toward personal goals. People who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. It’s simple to incorporate gratitude, whether you make a mental list of what you are grateful for before bed or when you wake up, or you cultivate gratitude and appreciate your life before each meal. Find out more about gratitude here.
Sarah McLean, McLean Meditation Institute© 2016 All Rights Reserved. Find out more about the author here.
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