Minding Stress During The Holidays
by Buffy Owens
The holidays are among us! And it's that time of year that’s known for its busy nature that can lead to quite the load of stress. After all, you likely have invitations to gatherings collecting on your counter, a long list of people you need to send holiday cards to, and you're looking ahead at the meals to prepare and moments to spend with your loved ones. Not to mention the shorter days, colder nights, and extra prep required to meet the weather as you head out the door. All of this, on top of your normal everyday life. It can be overwhelming, to say the least.
But the truth is, we are constantly responding to the ebb and flow of life and to the stress that life brings — both positive and negative. Positive stress motivates and drives us. While negatively perceived stress affects our physical and mental health and can rob us of a life full of happiness.
My Seven Secret Safeguards For Minding Stress
COMMIT TO BEING PRESENT.
It can be difficult, I understand. It’s almost a reflex to pick up our phones and scroll through Facebook or our email when we have a free moment – do you do the same? One way I like to dodge this is to leave my electronics in another room. Don’t even allow yourself the temptation to pick up your phone and disengage from communicating with your gathered love ones.
When I’m feeling particularly scatter-brained, what really helps ground me is focusing on my senses. What do I smell? What do I hear? What do I feel? Stopping and thinking through what’s going on around you at that very moment really brings you into the present moment unlike anything else. It’s a wonderful tool to use to dial in and be present – and is a great tool to use year-round, not just during the holidays!
ATTEND TO ONE THING AT A TIME.
Instead of multi-tasking, give yourself the joy of focused attention. For instance, when you're cooking, make it a pleasurable ritual. Turn on some beautiful music and let yourself fully experience the sensory pleasures of preparing and eating your special holiday meals.
PLAN TO DO LESS.
Rather than packing your days with long "to do" lists and endless commitments, why not pick the three most important things you can do for the day? The satisfaction of accomplishment feels good! And choosing to participate only in those holiday activities that are meaningful to you, will allow you to fully connect with loved ones.
LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS.
A lot of the stress we put on ourselves this season lies in the notion that we expect things to be perfect. That’d be lovely, of course – but putting your entire extended family in one house is bound to have something go awry. Therefore, dropping the expectations of perfection will allow you to be prepared for when something may spring up. There is a joy to be found in each situation, so even when things don’t go exactly as planned – spend your energy finding gratitude in your circumstances and enjoying as much of your time as you possibly can. 'Tis the season!
RETURN TO YOUR BREATH.
Our breath is a window into how we are negotiating with the moment. In stressful situations, we have an unconscious tendency to hold our breath or breathe shallow, which only increases anxiety in our mind and body. Give yourself permission to notice your breath from time-to-time. Then take a deep breath and feel your whole body expand with nourishment and relax with a sigh of relief.
When we are stressed we tend to fall into habitual movement and thought patterns that lead to a variety of physical discomforts (i.e. muscle tension). So set aside a bit of time each day to simply explore ANY type of movement that feels good for you! Stretch and yawn in the morning. Head out for a brisk walk after lunch. Put on some music and dance. Or do a little mindful movement like Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, or Yoga.
DON'T FORGET TO REST.
When you find yourself pushing too hard or overdoing any activity, rest. While it's easy to fall into an erratic schedule with parties, travel, preparation, and other seasonal events - you will always feel better if you cultivate moments of rest. This could mean catching a 20-minute nap or taking mini-mindful pauses throughout your day. Then again, this might mean taking steps to maintain a healthy sleep routine.
That's it. Seven simple steps to navigate the excess stress this holiday season. I might point out that these steps are often strategies that we utilize in Awareness Through Movement. So needless to say, one of my favorite ways to get more movement in during this busy time of year is to ensure I get enough time on the floor exploring movement the Feldenkrais way (i.e. Awareness Through Movement). Taking just 20-30 minutes a day helps me to embody all of the practices above.
But do tell, what are your "go-to" practices for maintaining your sanity during this time of year.