The holidays are here.
Whether this season’s activities fill you with dread or excitement, there’s no doubt that this can be a loaded time of year for many.
It seems that the holidays tend to exacerbate both the best and worst in us. These days propose a powerful juxtaposition: stress and celebration. In some ways, this is no different than any ordinary day, but magnified. The joy seems brighter, the depression thicker. Connection feels sharper, and, in the absence of it, isolation feels even more hollow and damning.
What comes to mind when you think of the holidays? Is it nostalgia for roasting chestnuts, draping your tree or house in cheerful lights and colors, Bing Crosby crooning through the speakers about how he’ll be home for Christmas? Do you feel warm and secure, do you feel a sense of hope walking with you through these darker days, as the sunlight dwindles, approaching the shortest day of the year? Do you attend mass, set up your nativity scene, or stop to drop change in the pot of the Goodwill Santa ringing his bells for charity?
Not everyone has happy memories of family gatherings, presents under trees, and Christmas carols sung amongst Norman Rockwell-esque villages. Some of us remember poverty and arguments, drunken or absent parents or relatives, and, as adults, not being able to give our children the gifts that they want or need.
Even if memories are happy, the loss of a loved one can feel particularly poignant at this time of year. The bitter and sweet mingle, and we serve it up and call it seasonal stuffing, as gratitude, grief, and greed vie for position in our psyches.
Five tips to keep your sanity and stay connected through the holidays:
1. Boycott Black Friday.
Please. Just don’t do it. Instead of dragging yourself out at the crack of dawn to stand in lines and get pushed around by throngs of people, stay in bed. Cook a nice breakfast for yourself or your family. Hang in the house, make something crafty, play cards or a board game. Or get up and go to yoga or anything—I dunno—more zen.
For years, I have shaken my head over the fact that many of us will gather to express gratitude on one day and less than 24 hours later will gather in hordes to feed the rock-bottom-bargain-price mindset. This writer cannot but help to notice: this behavior is an indication of the deep split in our social psyche.
I have been informed, rather aggressively, by someone (on my Facebook page) that this is the only way some people can not only shop for Christmas gifts but also afford to clothe their family for the year.
I will state clearly here: my disgust at this practice is not directed at the families who participate but at the manufacturers who intentionally perpetuate the cycle of extortion. These proprietors unload last season’s goods at rock-bottom prices, so they can sell people on the new season’s goods (that are made from the same cheap, non-sustainable materials as the former seasons).
There are companies who are headlining alternatives to this practice, like REI, who closes their doors on Black Friday and pioneer #OptOustide, where people are flocking outdoors to clean up their communities—instead of shopping.
2. Don’t overspend.
People tend to go into debt this time of year, and that only adds to the other stress factors already present, that are inherent to this season. This not only stresses our wallets now, but sets us up for ugly credit card bills in the months to come.
The perfect gift might actually be time spent with someone you care about. It might be something thoughtfully, maybe messily, handmade. Second-hand shopping—up-cycling, re-gifting, or thrifting—is also a great way to save money and keep things out of landfills.
Save on stress now and later by keeping yourself out of debt. Create a budget and stick to it—and don’t feel guilty about it. If there is an apparent deficit in a relationship, time and care is more likely to fill that space in a healthy way—and that goes for overspending on ourselves as much as it does for spending on gifts for others.
3. Practice mindfulness and emotional awareness.
I recently engaged in The Mindful Life Challenge, as part of my Elephant Academy course. It’s three simple things that are not always convenient to do, but practicing them invited me to slow down and be more present with myself, and my life. Even if you can’t commit to all three, pick one and see how you feel:
- Take off shoes before entering the house.
- Don’t use plastic straws or to-go cups.
- Don’t be on your phone and doing other things at the same time.
The point of these challenges is to bring more awareness into how we are consuming and using resources, showing respect to ourselves and life, and slowing down—making space in the busyness.
Lord knows, the holidays can get so busy. Resist drowning in busyness by intentionally making space.
Before pulling out a credit card and paying for that big ticket item, ask, “Is this truly going to enhance the quality of mine and others’ lives?”
There is a lot of filling that goes on this time of year—filling pies, filling shopping carts, filling our bellies—but what are we really trying to fill? If it’s an emotional need, a new whatever is not going to be fulfilling beyond that original rush of dopamine. What follows that is the credit card bill, and sometimes shopper’s remorse, or even dragging the item out of our house within a month or two to a landfill or off to Goodwill.
Leave room to breathe and be curious and open, by not needing to fill every space. Every relationship—including the one with ourselves—needs space to thrive. Leave space between moments, let people finish speaking before offering a response, let the song finish on the radio before getting out of the car. Put your phone down if watching a movie, or, especially, if driving! Nothing is more important than staying safe—not only during the holidays, but every day.
4. Eat for your body and spirit. Stop cursing your food (and yourself).
It is practically impossible to completely cut out emotional eating, and neither should we want to. Certain foods resonate with vibrations and memories for us. To deny ourselves the pleasure of this experience is also, in part, denying a piece of our humanity.
Rather than checking out while eating, check in! Before biting into that tasty treat, take a breath. Before ordering that second drink, have a glass of water. Engage all the senses, relax, breathe, take time, savor it. When we choose quality over quantity, we will naturally consume less and feel more satisfied.
Mind what you’re saying to yourself about what you’re eating, too. If you say to yourself, as you eat that treat, “This is so bad for me, and I will feel so bad and so guilty for doing this later,” then, you will. Your body will read the message that you are putting something toxic into your system and will oblige with creating a less than comfortable feeling, or holding onto toxic weight. It is actually trying to insulate you against your own thoughts.
There is no such thing as a “bad food.” We all know that highly processed foods are not highly digestible, and some foods may disagree with us more than others, but this is not the food’s fault. Maintain an attitude of benevolence with your food and your body. Bless your food, and it will bless and nourish you.
5. Come back to your center to diffuse drama.
What does it mean to be centered?
Take a breath. Let it out. Drop your shoulders. Soften your belly. Let your face relax.
Do this a few times and notice how you feel. Being centered is not a static point in our awareness, but a dynamic one. When we are in our center, we are naturally more resilient and less likely to be triggered. We are also less susceptible to others’ influence over our decisions and emotional well-being.
Inevitably, the holidays will involve navigating situations with people who have conflicting values, who are maybe intoxicated, or who are just Grinches. When we can come back to our own presence in those situations, we can de-escalate drama and can even change past trauma loops, as we embody a compassion that encompasses us and others.
We can always step back, step outside, remind ourselves that this is not the entirety of our life. It will not hurt us to be kind. And it’s okay to walk away, to catch our breath, to re-center.
The real gift of the holiday season is our own loving presence, and that costs nothing, but it is constantly replenishing to both ourselves and our loved ones.
Do yourself a favor: don’t buy into the hyper-mode of holiday busyness or buy a bunch of things you don’t need. Do take time for yourself to tend to the internal pull of this season.
Take an evening to read or journal, and take account of all in your life you have to be grateful for. Do wrap your hands around a nice, comforting mug of something warm and steamy—tea, coffee, cocoa—whatever you like.
Do gather against the dark, with friends, and lovers, and family.
Do feed yourself, well—body and soul.
And do get out into the chill and smile at strangers and spread real holiday cheer.