Do you aim to move through the holiday season with the cheeriness of Cindy Lou Who but find yourself acting more like The Grinch? Holiday expectations placed on us by the media, our families, and most importantly, by ourselves can feel daunting and difficult to meet. This year, there’s the added stress of the pandemic and associated worries about the health and safety of friends and loved ones. As members of Club Human, our minds tend to spin all sorts of anxiety-provoking stories at this time of year. You know the drill. Some of the greatest hits I hear from clients include:
- “There’s not enough time to get it all done!”
- “If I have to be around my family for another minute, I’m going to scream!”
- “I can’t afford to buy all these gifts!”
- “I should be feeling happier right now. What’s wrong with me?”
Recognize any of these? (wink wink)
If you do, then you’re far from alone! That’s the first step in untangling ourselves from our unhelpful mental stories – recognizing that thoughts like these are normal and common during the holiday season. Rather than playing tug-of-war with them, see if you can practice dropping the rope and turning toward what truly matters to you. Here are 5 tips to help you open your heart to the holidays, lower your stress level, and connect with your core holiday values:
- Do 5 minutes of heart-centered breathing
Find a quiet spot where you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes, and softly place your hand over your heart. With a very slight grin on your face, imagine smiling down to your heart. Slow the pace of your breath, and while focusing on the breath, imagine breathing healing energy into and out of your heart center. This simple practice is a beautiful and gentle way to begin activating the energies of the heart and can help you feel more peaceful, less rushed, and more deeply connected with yourself. You may even find it easier to connect with others.
- Check your posture
Each of us is a mind-body creature. How we treat the mind affects the body, and how we treat the body affects the mind. We can use this mind-body connection to our advantage to regulate our mood. Research shows that if you sit in a slumped posture, you’re more likely to feel depressed, and you’re more likely to think negative thoughts. If you sit in an upright posture, you’re more likely to experience a positive mood and to think positive thoughts. As you’re going through your day, notice how you’re sitting or standing. Invite yourself to adopt an open, upright, confident posture like the Wonder Woman stance made famous by social psychologist Amy Cuddy in her TED talk.
- Seek out and savor the sweet spots
When we get stressed and anxious, we tend to focus on what we think is going wrong or could go wrong, and that’s a vicious cycle. Train your brain to seek out what I like to call the “sweet spots” in your day. These don’t have to be big, major things. They can be as simple as noticing that the traffic light on your way to work that’s usually red was green today. Or your taste buds sang at the first bite of a warm holiday cookie, fresh from the oven. Or you heard your child laugh while watching their favorite holiday TV special. You can even set a mindfulness bell to sound on your mobile phone periodically throughout the day (e.g., MindBell for Android or Mindfulness Bell for iPhone) and use it as a prompt to identify one small thing you can appreciate or be grateful for in that very moment. Then once you notice a “sweet spot”, let it sink in. Savor it for even 30 seconds before moving on with your day.
- Offer yourself loving-kindness
Loving-kindness meditation practices involve intentionally activating positive feelings states (such as love, kindness, compassion, and gratitude) and sending them toward yourself and others. These practices can have tremendous benefits for overall well-being by doing things like increasing your empathy for others and reducing self-criticism. Try this loving-kindness meditation from the Mayo Clinic to beat holiday stress.
- Remember the inner child
You know that little child version of yourself that lives inside of you, the one who sometimes feels afraid of the world and of failing? The one who gets sad from time to time and just needs a hug, perhaps especially during the holiday season? Yeah, I’ve got one of those, too. Spoiler alert… we all do! When you find yourself struggling to navigate challenging personalities over the holidays (Can’t you PLEASE talk about something other than politics, Uncle Ned!?), try to remember that, while they may rarely show it on the outside, these individuals have scared inner children, too. Can you “see” them as a parent might see a child? Can you recognize that the innocence and vulnerability they had as a young child is still a part of who they are now? Does this help you to approach them with a bit more equanimity and compassion?
We may not have much control over the external stressors that seem to come at us from all directions this time of year, but we can decide how we are going to show up. How would the “you” that you most want to be show up this season – toward yourself and toward the ones you love? I hope the tips in this article make it a little easier to choose to be that person and to be the living, breathing embodiment of your core values.
Wishing you wellness always!
By Stephanie Best, PhD – Licensed Clinical Psychologist