Finances tight? Overwhelmed by all the people you have to make happy? These days can escalate stress in all of us. They are especially difficult for people in military service or other dangerous occupations, and for their families.
A while back I did a workshop at our local Veterans Hospital. I remember Alicia especially. Her husband was a wounded Vietnam vet and her son was in Afghanistan. She said, "My whole family is stressed. Money is scarce, my husband is in the hospital and can't work, my daughter-in-law is frantic because she is afraid her husband might not make it back in one piece."
When I told Alicia she could shift her brain from the "stress channel" to the "calm channel" in only 60 seconds, she was skeptical but decided to give it a shot.
Here's what Alicia did. It can work for you, too.
Step 1: Give your body a break
Right now, stand up and stretch. Shake out all your to-do items, all your sadness and worries. Reach up to the ceiling and shout "Peace!" Bend down to the floor and say "Joy!" Come back up and reach your arms way out to one side and yell "Health!" Now, really stretch those arms to the other side and shout so they hear you on the other side of the world, "Celebrate!" 60 seconds is up. Now you are ready for the second step.
Step 2: Give your mind a break
Get pen and paper. Write down your answer to this question. Don't edit. Just write.
What is your fondest memory about the holidays when you were a kid? How old were you? Exactly where were you? Who else was there? What made it special for you? Take just 60 seconds to put down the smells, colors, the feelings, your memories.
Step 3: Change your brain
Move from the "I-have-to" stress channel to the "I-can-feel-good" channel. Right now, brainstorm for 60 seconds and write down your responses to this question:
For $5 or less, what can you give to: 1) someone you know, 2) someone you don't know, 3) yourself?
Alicia finished the activities. Her face was clearly brighter and her whole body exuded energy. She told the group about her fondest memory:
I was making cookies with my grandmother in her tiny kitchen. I can still remember how good they smelled... I had forgotten how much those simple little things mean. When I think about how many folks in Afghanistan, and even in my own neighborhood, don't have a safe house to live in or even an oven to make cookies in, I remember the big picture. All the rest is just stuff.
Then Alicia told us what she decided to do on her $5 "feel-good" channel:
I'm going to bake cookies with my granddaughter Rosa. We'll send some to her Dad and we'll bring some to the vets at the hospital. When we get back home, we'll take turns giving each other a manicure, I think with bright red polish. That will be fun!
In three minutes, Alicia got rid of the jangle. She told her brain,
Let's get off this stress channel and go to something that is more useful. Let's go to the gratitude channel. Let's be happy we are together and that we can make cookies for the people we love.
What can you do for $5 or less to make someone else, and you, happy?
Wherever you are, whomever you are with, warm wishes for the holidays.