How to Focus on What Matters During the Holidays (and Keep Yourself Feeling Merry).
The holiday season is marketed as being the “most wonderful time” of the year. For many of us, this is not always the case. Our to-do lists get longer: we have gifts to buy, trips to book, decorations to hang, cards to send, and on it goes. Many of us deal with stressful family dynamics that also like to come along for the sleigh ride.
All this busy-ness during the holidays can divert us from getting to the heart of what really matters. Everyone may have a slightly different idea about what they value most, but all of us typically want some sense of inner peace, satisfaction, happiness, and connection with those we love. Read on for Part 1 of my four-part Holiday Stress Survival Guide; it contains helpful tips to stop “stuff”ing yourself with all the things the holidays bring – gifts, lists, endless tasks, and yes, food – and ease through the season with a strong connection to whatever is deeply important to you.
UNREALISTIC HOLIDAY EXPECTATIONS
Holiday movies often set the stage for unrealistic standards. With a funny or heartwarming story centered around family, they sell us the message of a season with fantastic holiday décor, impeccably wrapped gifts, chef-quality meals that magically appear, and relationship snafus ending in a hearty laugh and a hug. This all happens with full hair and makeup, flawlessly styled outfits, and no lint or wrinkles in sight. The media (and retail shops) create pressure to make the holidays shine with the perfect gifts.
Social media can also create pressure. Have you ever been at an event that was chaotic and not-so-fun, only to discover a friend post a picture of that same event looking charming and lovely? You wonder what happened to the screaming, running children, dog pee in the middle of the room, turkey that fell on the floor and all the grumbling guests.
The point here is that pictures and videos, whether they are professionally laid out ads who employ a full-time staff to capture one perfect-looking moment or a friend’s Facebook post, are typically not representative of how the in-person moment honestly feels. People are putting their best foot forward, and we don’t see the behind-the-scenes struggles. Have you heard that old saying, “Don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides?” You will almost always come up short.
So, what do we do?
Take control and set your own expectations!
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR OWN VALUES
As always, take a deep breath (or three), and center yourself. Acknowledge that you have access to your wisdom and call on it to come forth and take over for a moment. Now, define a couple of values that you would like to take through the holiday season and jot them down or save them somewhere. Some ideas are below. Pick a few or come up with your own. Make sure to select value-words that resonate with you right now. Do not choose any words that come with the idea that you “should” value them. Only pick the values that sing to you in this moment.
ACCEPTANCE — ADVENTURE — BEAUTY — CARING — COMFORT — COMPASSION — CONTRIBUTION — COOPERATION — CREATIVITY — ECOLOGY — FAITHFULNESS — FLEXIBILITY — FORGIVENESS — FUN — GENEROSITY — GENUINENESS — GROWTH — HEALTH — HUMOR — INTIMACY — LOVING — MINDFULNESS — MODERATION — OPENNESS — PASSION — PLEASURE — PURPOSE — ROMANCE — SELF-ACCEPTANCE — SELF-COMPASSION — SIMPLICITY — SPIRITUALITY — TOLERANCE — TRADITION
STEP 2: PRIORITIZE
If you chose a bunch of values, take a moment to pick just one or two that stand out most to you. Check in with yourself and make sure it feels right – that if this value carries you through the holiday season, you will feel pride in your actions and as though you are living in your integrity.
STEP 3: MAKE IT EASY
Nobody needs extra work during the busy holiday stress season. Instead of setting hard-to-reach goals about behaving in particular ways according to your values, let up a bit and create something gentler that will permeate and be effective.
I suggest putting the couple words you chose in the places that you will see them often. Some ideas: post-its on your computer screen, your bathroom mirror, in the car; notes with reminder bells on your calendar; a love note to yourself with these words placed in your packed lunch or on your nightstand to read just before bed and upon waking. You get the idea – put these meaningful values places that you will see them often. When you see them, you can just walk on by, and let them sneak in through your periphery. Sometimes, when you have the minute to spare, you can use the words as a reminder to take a breath (or three) and focus on your desire to bring these qualities into your life.
STEP 4: DON’T FORGET SELF-COMPASSION!
Want to turn it up a notch and ensure these values powerfully appear in your life? Offer them to yourself! Try a short, little practice daily, and you may be amazed at what starts to happen. Find a ritual that you engage in every day: brushing your teeth, making coffee or tea, putting on your shoes. Tie this ritual to the value-words you have chosen and offer these values to yourself. For example, if you selected the values of “comfort” and “health,” while brushing your teeth (or whatever activity you choose) say to yourself, “May I receive comfort. May I receive health.” Repeat the statements over and over again. Do it again the next day and the next. It does not matter whether you feel their impact or reject them totally. Keep saying the statements over and over. Let the statements do the work and seep in on their own time.
Happy Holidays! Please remember, life is too short just to survive. Use these practices to help you THRIVE!
Read the whole series
If you do partake in any of the holiday stress relieving practices suggested, please feel free to share your experiences and send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. While Dr. Bando will not answer personally, your comments and feedback help inform future posts.