By Kent A. Corso.
If there is one thing we can all count on, it is the holidays arriving each year. Just like birthdays, whether we are old or young, excited about them or not, they will arrive at the same time every 365 days. For some, the holidays bring immense joy and anticipation. For others the holidays elicit stress, dread, anxiety or pain.
But, the holidays are a special time of the year. They are special because we all behave differently or are at least compelled to act differently during this season. If something can be so strong that it compels us to either partake in the festivities or avoid them, doesn’t this suggest a level of power they have? Besides, we are not just referring to the winter holidays (Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, etc.). Thanksgiving is also close to these holidays, and this is a celebration about all the gifts we have – how fortunate we are despite the challenges we face and the obstacles life puts in front of us.
The holidays are a powerful time. THIS is why it is a good opportunity to check-in with ourselves. If it is going to prompt us to tune in or tune out, we might as well use the opportunity as a chance to tune into ourselves. Let’s use this holiday blog post as an opportunity to help us remember the importance of self-care.
Do you resist the holidays? The moment you see the holiday candy out in stores or decorations in shopping malls, you begin thinking of all the ways to avoid participating or feeling anything? Are you the type of person who remembers negative events that may have happened around the holidays? If so, are the holiday decorations, sales, advertisements, and other reminders just like tiny jabs of pain, reminding you of something hurtful from the past?
Maybe you are an octopus parent – I am not referring to the woman who birthed eight children. I mean the type of parent who seems to have eight arms. This parent is so busy doing everything to keep everyone on the up-and-up, and keep everything afloat in life, that he or she may not take time to care for himself/herself. For you, the holidays become another one of those things you try to juggle – even when it involves doing holiday things for others: buying gifts, visiting others, hosting a gathering, sending out holiday cards, reaching out to someone who grapples with the holidays.
You are usually an octopus, but during the holidays, you seem to grow an extra arm! Wait a minute, what is a nine-armed octopus called? – a nonapus?
Okay, nevermind. I am getting us on a tangent. Let’s get back on track.
So, maybe you are not the octopus type of person at all. Instead, you keep to yourself and reach out to others when it is doable for you. Or maybe none of this describes you. The point is that neither type of person is right or wrong. Neither is good or bad – necessarily. One thing is for sure, holiday stress can affect us all, and in any number of ways. Here are some tips to keep you squared away during the holidays, which seem to demand something of us, whatever that might involve.
Maintain a routine
This enables you to sustain some level of comfort and predictability, knowing that you can count on certain, familiar things which keep you on track with everything you’ve got in life.
Do one thing – just one thing for yourself everyday.
Some find that this works best if it is the first thing in the morning, as it guarantees nothing can jeopardize it. It will be almost certain to happen. Take 15 minutes to yourself to read, pray, think, listen to music, savor a piece of food or music – anything that feeds your soul. Then get on with your day.
Focus outward, not inward.
Often we become consumed with our own thoughts and feelings. These are personal experiences we have and sometimes they use up quite a bit of our energy and demand our attention. Yet, there are things all around us that can stimulate our senses – things to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. While we are busy, head down, plowing through the snowbanks of life, we can develop a habit of not looking up. L-O-O-K UP! Experience sensations around you, even if it is just for 10 seconds each day that you carve out the moments to focus out.
Stutter-eating is when you take several small bites or nibbles over a long period of time rather than scarfing down a huge portion of something in two or three gulps or bites. Why bother with stutter-eating? Well, whether we indulge because we are upset or because we love the special foods the holidays bring, exerting a little self-control and discipline over this urge goes a long way in helping you feel like YOU are in charge. Additionally, eating food more slowly means you will probably feel full sooner and may be less likely to gain holiday weight.
Whether you are introverted or extroverted, as the saying goes: “no man (or woman) is an island.” The more connected we are within meaningful relationships, the healthier we tend to be. Does this mean we need to make new friends with a dozen or so people during the holidays? Not at all. In fact, just maintaining one of your most meaningful relationships during the busy holiday season can do the trick. Since the holidays may demand so much of you, make an extra effort to not lose contact with someone who you care about and who cares about you. Even better, increase the contact with that person so that it is more than it would usually be.
Think like Teflon.
So we know that nothing sticks to Teflon. Although that makes me wonder how they get the Teflon to stick to the pan…but let’s not get distracted again. Dwelling is dangerous. All of us can point to an event or aspect of everyday life that is painful or negative. Dealing with these parts of life can be harder during the holidays, especially if the holidays remind you of them. Sometimes we work through these thoughts and come out with something new – we feel better or gain a new understanding of the negative thing. However, sometimes we think about these negative events or parts of our lives over and over and when we are done thinking about it we feel the same or worse than we did when we started. It is like the thoughts just stick with us and continue to be bothersome. This type of thinking, while common, is destructive to our happiness.
Teflon thinking is when we stop those patterns and here’s how to do it. Start by paying close attention to your thoughts for an entire day – observe what you are thinking about during every moment if you can. It is a lot harder than you might think. Then, when you notice that you are repeating negative (unhelpful) things deliberately shift your attention to something outward that can hold your attention (see number 3 above on focusing out). You can also shift your attention to other thoughts (e.g., a positive activity, event, or experience you are looking forward to) or feelings.
Some of us simply tolerate the holidays while others dive in like a child playing in the swimming pool. Some of us seem to work so hard during the holidays just to keep up with family demands with holiday demands, or work. It can all wear us down. Sometimes we get worn down by the reminders of past events in life or current struggles we are having in life.
If any of this sounds familiar, consider this: Don’t bother fighting it!
If the holidays weren’t something to grapple with, no one would read or write blog posts about self-care during the holidays.
What I am saying is there is nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed during the holidays and to dodge the holidays is just unrealistic. Rather from shielding yourself from this holiday season, or fighting against it, go with the flow – acknowledge what is coming at you so that you can figure out how to cushion the blow and maintain your own composure.
This will keep you in charge of life, rather than letting life be in charge of you. By incorporating the tips above into your daily life, you may feel more control and calm about life during the holidays. It may not change anything about the holidays themselves but it will change how you respond to them. In the end, that might be the most important and realistic goal – learning to respond to stressors so that they don’t rattle you. This way, you maintain your own habits, routines, and activities despite all the demands the holidays place upon you. Fortifying that foundation strengthens who you are and keeps you solid through and through.