Yep, it's that time of year again, when we aspire to stay calm, sane and steady -- and maybe even have a little fun -- in the face of demands piling on at holiday time. This is my list of how to minimize the inevitable stress of the holidays.
- Take Care of Your Body
Try to do all the things you know are good for your physical well-being: get regular exercise; take it easy on the caffeine, sugar and alcohol; get enough sleep; eat healthy food; get a massage; do your yoga -- you know this stuff. This is the baseline of stress reduction.
Take time to check in with your body and see how it's feeling. Just paying attention is key. Once you notice, you can make small corrections to relieve discomfort before it takes over. Breathe into tight places; stretch and move when your back or neck feels stiff; look out the window when your eyes are straining at the computer screen; massage your neck and press the acupoints when a headache is lurking. But you have to notice what's amiss first. And besides, just noticing will ground you in your body -- that alone is a very good thing.
Develop a regular practice to relax you. If possible, start and end the day with guided imagery, yoga, meditation, relaxation, deep breathing, petting the cat in a rocking chair or just listening to soothing music. Even five minutes, twice a day, will give you some protective cushioning against the day's stresses. And if you can't manage this daily, do it whenever you can. There's no such thing as blowing the whole thing.
When you find yourself starting to lose it, or you're butting up against your own rigidity or circular thinking, take a quick break. Step away. Go outside for a walk, do some guided imagery, snuggle your favorite squeezer, play some music, call a loving friend or do a couple of yoga stretches. Five minutes of conscious AWOL can clear your mind and give you back your perspective, flexibility and common sense.
Humor, by its nature, provides instant distance, balance and perspective, if even for a moment. As long as it's gentle, it allows us to step back and take everything, including ourselves, less seriously. So practice the art of finding the ludicrous, paradoxical and nonsensical in daily events. And don't forget, laughing itself is priceless. A good belly laugh, like good sex, changes biochemistry and clears out emotional gunk.
It's a wonderful thing to know what you can and cannot do. Wrestle your perfectionism to the ground and don't let idealized expectations press you into doing more than you can realistically manage. Can't get those cards out by Christmas? Do New Year's or Valentine's cards. (Isn't the whole point to stay in touch with people you care about? Is there a time limit on that?) Remember to say no. Set limits. Work smart. Take imperfect shortcuts. This is especially important around holiday time, when trying too hard to do too much creates the exact opposite of the holiday feeling you're striving for, and you morph into the cranky, resentful, martyred, overworked nightmare you swore you'd never be.
A corollary is to try not to over-commit. If you do, make a list and prioritize. (Just getting these things out of your head and onto a piece of paper will reduce some stress.) If the list is out of control, look it over (with a friend if necessary) and assess what has to go -- and then cancel, with apologies. Then tackle things you can finish, one at a time, if at all possible, and enjoy the satisfaction that comes with getting a chunk done. Procrastination can be a terrible stressor -- we're always aware of what we should be doing while we're not doing it, and it's a real joy-killer and energy-sapper. Do a piece and check that sucker off!
If you find yourself scheduling yourself with back to back meetings, consider the possibility that you're an adrenaline junkie, running from appointment to appointment to feed your addiction. Leave time between things, to catch your breath, reflect on what's next, acquaint yourself with a calmer class of neurohormones that return you to equilibrium. Once you get out of the habit of racing, you won't be so eager to go back to it, I promise.
A lot of stress is generated -- for ourselves and others -- by our need to be right, show we're right, prove we're right. And really, so what if we're right? Better to cleanse our psychic pallet and de-gunk our day by letting go of an issue and moving on. Mind you, this is not the same as being a chump. It's about taking care of ourselves, and therein lies right relationship, clear focus and, yes, even (dare I say it?) happiness.
Sometimes talking things out with someone you trust will allow you to safely acknowledge your feelings, let off some steam, get you away from obsessive thinking and rediscover your mislaid perspective. Sometimes friends even have helpful advice to give. Sometimes they actually stop us from doing really dumb things. At times, they'll even do errands and some cooking for us.
By mindfully going about your day, putting your awareness into what you're doing at the moment, you'll be using even mundane, everyday activities as the focus of meditation, and, simple as it sounds, you can regain peace and balance there. And yes, even peeling potatoes can be a route to spiritual attunement and inner centering, once we place our full attention on those suckers.
This sounds trite and hokey but it works. Notice beauty around you and take a moment to breathe it in; watch the snow fall; take in the fragrance of your surroundings; sink your full awareness into the taste of something wonderful ... same with taking in a smile, a gracious act, a loving gesture, a good face, your own kindness. Practicing gratitude for these lovely bits and pieces of daily life is a potent way to heal into the moment. And it feels really good, it's self-reinforcing and contagious, too.
Okay, I've got more but this is enough. Take care, be well and good luck -- and happy holidays!