The winter holidays are right around the corner. Whether Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or New Year’s hold meaning for you or not, if you live in North America, you will inevitably absorb the energy of these holidays.
What does that energy feel like for you? Does the sight of gourds, menorahs, and gingerbread houses make you feel joyful? Or fill you with dread?
Whatever your spiritual practice, you may need some extra tools at the ready to make the Halloween-to-New-Year’s stretch more enjoyable. In particular, you may want to put extra effort into protecting your energy from two stressors that happen often during the holidays: extra social obligations, and spending time with people who trigger anxiety in you.
The good news is that by taking preventative action now, you can significantly reduce your feelings of overwhelm and actually look forward to holidays.
Here are four practices you can begin today to help inoculate you from holiday stress.
Ask Yourself How You Want to Feel
Without knowing how we want to feel (both during the holidays and year-round), it’s very difficult to create the conditions that support us feeling that way. Give yourself permission to dream of what a stress-free holiday would look and feel like. Think of a year you really enjoyed the holidays. What was special about that year?
Offer yourself some space and time to let these questions resonate with you, perhaps in a meditative atmosphere with a journal and pen at hand, and write down whatever comes to mind.
It’s very hard to get what you want if you don’t know what that is, so don’t be afraid to get specific. Then, take gentle action to make holiday plans that align with your vision.
Perform an Obligation Inventory
First, take stock of everything you feel like you have to do in every realm of your life: work, home, school, family, friends, financial, spiritual, etc. (Your categories will be unique to you and the holidays you observe.)
Then, go through and name everything that you really have to do, like paying your rent and tending to your family’s basic needs. Be extremely discerning: Only mark things that would result in a life-upending crisis if skipped. (Hurt feelings don’t count!)
Next, mark everything that you actually want to do during the holidays. Does a task or event fill you up or move you closer to a dream you’ve been working on? Those can stay.
Now, look at everything else and ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen if I didn’t do this thing that I don’t really want to do?”
Chances are, it’s not that bad. Maybe someone will be annoyed with you, but other people’s preferences are not more important than your own mental health. If skipping an event frees up your time and energy during a stressful and busy holiday season, take it off the list!
Now, sit back and marvel at your much-freer schedule and the weight lifted from your shoulders. That’s what I call a gift! Bonus: this practice can be done quarterly to create change year-round.
Skip the Booze
Alcohol may ease tension in the short term, but when you drink more than usual, it can actually spike your anxiety levels. Overindulging can also dehydrate you, weaken your immune system, interfere with your sleep, and fuel conflicts that might have gone un-sparked if alcohol weren’t a factor.
Removing booze from the holiday equation is one way to avoid those consequences—plus, you’ll never wake up with a hangover or worry about what you might have overshared at your office holiday party.
One way to make it easier to stick to a no-alcohol holiday is to buy or prepare fun and festive beverage alternatives. Two of my favorites are hot cider mulled with clove-spiked satsuma oranges and hot cocoa with homemade peppermint marshmallows.
Start (or Strengthen) a Meditation Practice
Timing is everything! It takes just one minute to feel the calming benefits of meditation but three to six weeks for the practice to actually start changing your brain.
That means if you start meditating today (or add more minutes to the timer), by the time the holidays are in full swing, you’ll have been practicing long enough to experience one of the most powerful benefits of meditation: anxiety reduction.
Imagine not feeling a tightness in your belly or waking up in the middle of the night with your mind racing, knowing you won’t be able to get back to sleep. If you begin meditating today, you still have time to prepare yourself to take on holiday stress with greater equanimity and ease.
During the season of giving, it can feel counterintuitive to put your mental and spiritual health first. However, rest assured that doing so is the best thing for you and for everyone who loves you. Feeling overextended or resentful is a threat to your spirit and your joy. Don’t think of these practices as selfish—think of them as self-preservation.
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