The holidays are a time when we can reap the benefits of our dedication to our mindfulness practice because living mindfully is an on-going practice that ultimately makes life easier. Think of your favorite athlete, musician or anyone who is great at doing anything, really. Do you think they’ve said, “I’m the best now I don’t need to practice anymore!” No of course not. They stay ready for the next performance. If we’ve remained faithful to our practice the holidays is a time when it can really shine.
Given the infinite number of ways we can find ourselves stressed out and pushed to the limit during the holidays, here are some of the common challenges I often face and my favorite strategies for living peacefully with stress during the pressure cooker of merriment that the holidays can sometimes become.
Challenge no. 1: Demands on Time
In December, our schedules often fill up quickly with work, shopping and end-of-year pushes, plus those holiday parties, engagements and functions. These back-to-back commitments can start to feel overwhelming as we try to juggle them. They often leave us feeling like chickens with our heads cut off. We become living proof that too much of a good thing is not a good thing.
Antidote: Treat yourself! You do not need to say yes to everything. Giving and giving without stopping is not an altruistic notion; it’s abuse. It is important to be mindful of when we might need refueling and to allow that to happen. Self-care can mean many things, from something as simple as a night to ourselves that includes a bath and a good meal—cooked by someone else— to asking others for help and delegating tasks!
Challenge no. 2: Loneliness During the Holidays
Some people live far from family; others dread going to holiday celebrations without a partner; still others wish for the family of their dreams. For those who feel a sense of loneliness, the holidays come with additional stressors. Feel what you feel. It’s ok to feel be sad or feel the blues. Recognize the absence and look for new ways to fill the void.
Antidote: Donate your time to help those less fortunate. The holidays are a particularly poignant time to practice the art of compassion, to think of others needs before our own. There is great opportunity to give to, and establish meaningful connections with, those who don’t have as many resources as we do. Giving doesn’t have to be monetary or a physical gift. Giving comes in many forms, including smiles, time, and emotional support.
Challenge no. 3: Expectations of Perfection
This time of year is ripe with the expectations we put upon ourselves and others to get it just “right.” Things have to look, taste, feel, and be a certain way. We start to get into this mind space where things have to be perfect, which of course, isn’t going to happen. In reality it’s not what happens, but how we deal with what happens that determines our happiness.
Antidote: Reflect on the meaning of the holidays. It is hard to stop and smell the roses at any time of year, and it is especially easy to get caught up in the commercial version of what the holiday season means. But taking the time to reflect on what matters, whether it be our religion or tradition, or even the healing power of love, helps us to keep our perspective as the year draws to a close. Now that’s mindfulness.
Challenge no. 4: Holiday Overindulgence
We often seem to let all notions of health and wellness fall by the wayside during this time of year. Pace yourself by being mindful about what you eat, choosing smaller portions of your favorites. A treat like eggnog and a cookie for breakfast won’t kill you, but you can’t eat and drink your way through the season unscathed! The objective is not only to stay healthy, but also to avoid feeling guiltily and defeated later.
Antidote: Give yourself permission to sample and savor the holidays. Take time to enjoy all the flavors of the holiday season. But remember that a thriving life depends on moderation, and this concept particularly applies when we are inundated with mass amounts of food and drink. By partaking mindfully, we can thoroughly enjoy the holidays now without beating ourselves up afterward.
Challenge no. 5: Stress and Family Anxiety
Family stress shows up in many ways. Remember those scenarios I mentioned? While there might actually be very real difficulties surrounding the interpersonal dynamics of our family, we sometimes get caught up in fuelling the fire, rather than abating it with our expectations. While there might actually be very real difficulties surrounding the interpersonal dynamics of our family, don’t project which can fuel the fire, rather than end it. Stay in the present moment.
Antidote: Turn to gratitude. Take the time to step back and take note of all that you have. Gratitude goes a long way when it comes to overall wellness. During this time of year, a sense of gratitude can easily fall by the wayside as indulgence and the idea of “more” and “merrier” are front and center. So, while in the midst of the tumult of the holiday season, try to re-center by consciously being grateful for the multiple aspects of this season.
When it comes to stress, it’s important to listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Turn toward what is causing you stress, ask yourself why it’s stressful and what you can do to better manage your stress. If we can manage to look at the situation with an open mind and a little curiosity, usually we can find a way to ease the pressure. Not only will this help you to deal with holiday stress, but it can also help you better manage stress throughout the year. Peace is what our practice looks like when we are off the mat.
Enjoy the holidays and have a wonderful New Year!