Last month, I published a post entitled "Preparing for the Stress of the Holidays". Now, with Thanksgiving under our belts (in more ways than one!) and Christmas around the corner, it's time to "double down" on our self care so that the stress of this special yet challenging time of year doesn't get the better of us.
In the aforementioned post, I mentioned that we need help with the physical aspects of stress management at the holidays (ie: changing the way in which we practice gift-giving), however, I also mentioned how our emotional well-being is equally important.
Breathing For Survival
There are many techniques for keeping our emotions in check at difficult times, and one sure-fire way to help stay calm is to practice conscious breathing. This may seem like a physical exercise, but its effects are both physiological and emotional.
Although there are hundreds of ways to do this, the simplest form of conscious breathing is to close your eyes if you can, focus on the breath, and just increase your awareness of the breath as it moves in and out.
If you're in the middle of a holiday gathering and feel yourself getting worked up and anxious, excuse yourself to the bathroom or a bedroom, sit or lie down, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. You can even put your hand on your belly to help you bring your awareness down into your body. Just one minute of this exercise can really change how you feel, calming your big emotions down to bite-size.
If you don't have time or space to take a break in a quiet room, simply use your mind to focus on your breath, perhaps even while you do a mindless task like washing the dishes. Tuning into the breath can be like tuning into the rise and fall of the waves of the ocean, and it can have an almost instant calming effect.
Talking to yourself in a positive manner can also help to ease holiday distress. Our thoughts can really run away with us, and even if you're feeling emotionally "triggered" by something that someone said, use your mind to calm yourself with positive messages. You can tell yourself five things you like about yourself, or you can even review five things you like about the person who just made you angry!
Meanwhile, we can often find ourselves repeating thoughts that do us no particular good (This is sometimes referred to as "perseveration"). For instance, you might be very stressed while preparing Christmas dinner, and you might say to yourself, "I am so stressed" over and over again in your mind as you run around the kitchen. What if, instead, you silently said to yourself, "I'm doing a great job. I'm really doing my best today" over and over again? Wouldn't you feel differently? I bet you would. Those messages we feed ourselves are powerful.
Just Enjoy and Be Present
No matter how stressful the holidays are, it's also important to enjoy the fun aspects of this festive time of year, reminding ourselves of what it's really all about.
Look for the positive, connect authentically with others, do your best to be present, and allow yourself to have a good time. The stress won't get you anywhere, but the togetherness of family and the cheer of the holidays can be a great balm for the spirit.
Let yourself have fun, delegate some work and responsibilities to others, and remember that, in the end, it's really all about love, joy and togetherness.