Ready or not, the holidays are here! If you are like me, every year you make some kind of resolution to slow down! Enjoy the season! Don’t get stressed! It sounds good, and I can picture it so clearly, and yet, every season results are mixed, at best.
This year, may I suggest an approach to more fully enjoying the holidays that may be a little different? That may help you enjoy the rest of the year more fully as well? That doesn’t cost a dime? Let’s talk mindfulness. Stay with me! I am not suggesting you carve time out of the holiday season to add yoga, meditation or any other wonderful yet time-consuming practice to your life. I would like to suggest two very portable, simple things to try if you, like me, would like less stress and more real satisfaction from the big days ahead.
List your priorities:
First, let’s start with what it’s all about, anyway. Try this quick exercise. Imagine you have All the money you need, and then some. I mean, piles of dough! Take a minute and imagine the Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or New Year celebration that you would create. What would you do for your family and loved ones? For your community? For the world? For yourself? Picture the things that would bring you the greatest joy and deepest satisfaction. What does the picture you paint in your mind tell you about what matters to you? Love of family? Kindness to our neighbors? The serious need to relax? There are no right or wrong answers here, just YOUR answers. Now jot down maybe three words, tops, that sum up your priorities.
Now imagine you are pretty much dead broke. You have very little cash left over from the demands of daily life to spare for the holidays. Look at the values you jotted down. Get creative. How would you live them out without the tons of money we were just imagining? What might that look like? Take a little time to imagine creatively expressing these important priorities without spending much money at all. Imagine having a deeply meaningful holiday that you remember with a smile for years to come.
I would suggest you keep those few words somewhere you can easily see them, especially at the points where you are most likely to get most stressed this holiday season (Shopping? Card writing? Decorating?) Consider making it your phone wallpaper, even! When you start to feel overwhelmed by the details, use that little list to ground you in what really matters to you.
Take Better Breaths:
Second, serious stress management pro tip here: I know we hear all the time “breath!” but, seriously, it’s a thing. I could write an entire article about the connection between the brain, breath and a well-balanced nervous system but for now, just trust me. As often as you can think of it, take two to three better breaths. What do I mean by better breaths? Just this – draw in a comfortably deep inhale, maybe for a count of four, then exhale a little longer, say a count of six. Pause, and repeat. The numbers don’t matter as much as just extending your exhale a little. Try it and see. Notice your shoulders drop a little, and all those little muscles in your face you weren’t even noticing soften. Especially let the muscles around your eyes get a little softer, as if you were gazing at a cute little puppy. Awww! Take these two or three breaths as often as you can remember to – maybe every time your phone pings you with some terribly urgent update.
If you make these two things a habit–keeping in mind whatever it is that really, truly matters to you and taking a couple better breaths on and off throughout the day–I really believe you will find this holiday season feels a little more like the holidays you dream of having. If so, hold onto these habits as the year goes forward, because they really are a gift to yourself that will keep on giving.
Dr. Allison Allen
Chief Behavioral Health Officer