Um, if you haven’t noticed, the countdown to Christmas is most certainly on. I’ve just finished a weekend filled with decorating, hosting a cookie exchange and searching for the best holiday lights in St. Louis. Add in a cup of spiked cocoa and you have a recipe for my favorite parts of the season. It’s the wonderful time of the year for a reason: a time to reflect, be with family and loved ones and celebrate another trip around the sun.
But, I know the holidays can also be a really messy time. The pressure of gifts, parties and dealing with others can certainly get the best of us. After having similar conversations with my clients over the past week, I thought it would be a good idea to share some ways to be as mindful as possible. Tips to slow down, stay present and find joy. The tallest order, no doubt. Here are my favorite ways to savor the season. xo
Keep your ME time.
You do practice me-time, don’t you? No judgements if you don’t, but I strongly believe that this is the most important duty of all. Especially as women, it’s all too easy to push our needs aside, caring for others and putting their wants above our own. As kind and selfless as this sounds, it’s not the best path in the long run. We all burn out, no matter how long our super-woman (or man) cape is. Giving in to you, to reflect and recharge your batteries is important all year long, but especially right now.
The best part about me time is that there are no rules! Whatever gives you wings, do it. Whether that’s curling on the couch with an awesome book, trashy TV, taking a walk or working on your meditation practice. The most important part is doing it.
Everything is a mirror.
The holiday season often means spending more time with those who you usually don’t; whether that’s long-distance friends, family or that random neighbor from down the way. Hey! In the holiday time, everyone is welcome. And, while this is usually a good thing, it can also bring about unwelcome tensions. I just finished a call with a client who was stressed about the idea of eating with her extended family; anticipating the usual diet comments, weight loss critiques and judgemental glares she normally gets while filling up her plate. I think we’ve all been there at some point.
In these situations, I usually recommend two perspectives: looking inward & everything is a mirror.When a comment or a look agitates us, go there. Ask yourself why it bothers you so much; is it the person asking, the tone, the truth that it brings up or something else. If something rubs us the wrong way, it’s a perfect opportunity to figure out why. Why did that comment sting so badly? Uncovering this can help us figure out how to respond best. If we realize that the comment (or other thing) wasn’t intended to be hurtful, but we interpreted it that way, we can start the healing work.
The opposite is also true. Remember in grade school when we learned the universal truth? If someone is saying mean and hurtful things they are often doing it to feel better about themselves. Aha! Well, adults are just bigger kids. Sometimes wiser, but not necessarily so. If Aunt Mary-Jo is talking loudly about other’s bodies or food choices, my bet is that Aunt-Jo is feeling pretty down about her own body confidence. Those who shout loudest often feel the most insecure or sensitive about that thing. Realizing that hurtful comments are more about the person saying them than about us, can help to shift the focus.
In these situations, I try as hard as I can to find compassion for the Aunt Mary-Jo. Even when I want to lash out with my own perspective, I know it’s usually not personal. And, if that doesn’t work, I leave the room. Not-engaging is sometimes better than trying to work through it.
Manage Your Expectations.
Imagine that it’s January 3rd; looking back on the previous month, what do you want most out of the holiday season? I sometimes like using words instead of specific priorities. So, I might say I want to feel joy and gratitude as much as possible.
As things come up, I then try to consider these goal feelings: will attending that event bring me joy? Will doing that thing cultivate gratitude? It helps to narrow the many obligations and feel like I’m managing exactly what I want to get out of the season. In are multiple gatherings with friends, out is the obligation to send out a hundred cards.
Gifts are just things.
This has been the hardest lesson for me to accept. I was raised in a house where we showed love so many ways, including piles and piles of gifts. My incredibly giving Mama never wanted us to feel without, so we loaded up on things that we didn’t need and often, couldn’t afford. Guess what! I’m confident that with even with none of the presents under the tree, the love would still be there.
BL and I stopped giving gifts to each other a few years ago and honestly, it’s one of my favorite things we do. (Also, being my partner is really a gift each and every day, clearly. ) Besides our anniversary, we celebrate the holidays and birthdays with events: a nice dinner at home or out, perhaps a trip somewhere, but always quality time. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I cherish this so much. Money issues and gift giving are top stressors during the holiday season, which should come as no surprise.
Mindfulness means giving gifts mostly because you want to, not because you have to. It’s OK if you don’t exchange gifts with your entire extended family; if needed, have an open and honest discussion about what gift-giving should look like. For my extended family, we usually compromise on meeting up. Since plane tickets and long car-rides are often involved, spending time with each other is a pretty nice gift. And, if you do decide to exchange gifts, how about making them a gift that gives back? Those are my absolute favorite.