‘Tis the season for bright lights, holiday cards, parties, excessive shopping and overindulgence. Delightful Christmas specials flood the networks while traditional Hallmark Christmas movies paint the picture of the perfect family.
As the holiday’s approach, many are eager to gather with family and friends to share in the seasonal giving, eat all the yummy holiday treats, and drink holiday cheer. While this may be an enjoyable experience for many, for others this can be challenging. Many family members naturally grow apart and have little in common. Some have family conflict that goes back years and can be easily triggered. It is not uncommon to face conflict when we get together with families.
Holiday's may represent an entirely different set of emotions with the pain and agony from the loss of a loved one, separation or divorce. For others, the season brings up intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, pain, depression, stress or anxiety for various reasons. The difficulty of helping someone suffering with chronic illness, substance abuse, aging parents, problematic family members may change the pulse of the holiday causing the magic of the season to fade.
Others may be dealing with the pressure of having to visit multiple homes for the holidays or the social/financial pressures of meeting everyone's unrealistic needs. After all, how many meals can you eat in one day?
The bottom line? The holidays can be a trying time. But there are self care practices that we can do to help reduce the conflict. After all, we can't help others if we aren't strong within. And in the end, we want this time to feel harmonious.
Check out the (8) YOU Boosters below. The most important present you can give is to take care of you to ensure you are available to others.
1. Love yourself first. Self-care is the number one ingredient in preventing stress and avoiding burnout. Get plenty of rest. Treat yourself to a massage, manicure or pedicure. Eat regular healthy, balanced meals and take it easy on the holiday treats. Many people gain up to 10 lbs. between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. To avoid this, get plenty of exercise, sleep and stay hydrated. Limit the holiday cocktails to two drinks and sip on water in between. Take care of YOU so that you stay positive and energized.
2. Reach out and surround yourself with those that love and understand you unconditionally. Find a friend or loved one to confide in during the holidays that will listen or help you find confidential resources if needed. Festivities may be the farthest thing from your mind and spending time alone is perfectly okay and a healthy option. But be sure to have but a close friend available, if needed. Acknowledge and accept that your feelings are valid. Having a trusted friend, family or loved one can be a source of comfort if you are truly able to be yourself and if they understand and accept your situation. Surrounding yourself with those that understand is much better for you emotionally than to put yourself in a situation with people that do not have the skills or are not capable. You may end up expending all of your energy acting as though everything is fine or getting into uncomfortable situations leaving you depleted. Though their intentions may be good you will end up feeling much worse.
3. Mindfulness and the pause. You may attend family functions where your family dynamic results in stressful situations that put you on the defensive or trigger an anger response. We spend much of our lives reacting to others’ triggers or events around us making an uncomfortable situation worse. We often have a gut response based on fear and insecurities that is not the most rational or appropriate way to act.
Learn to respond not to react. Try the “Mindfulness and the Pause” technique.
Responding, is taking the situation in before reacting and deciding the best course of action. Mindfulness means watching ourselves when something happens that might normally upset us or trigger some kind of emotional reaction paying close attention to how our minds react. Pausing rather than reacting immediately is taking a moment to breathe deeply, being mindful of our urge to react and letting it go away. Sometimes this takes a few seconds, other times it requires removing ourselves politely from the situation to cool down before responding. Be mindful, pause, then consider a thoughtful, compassionate response.
4. Relax. Rejuvenate. Unwind. If you prefer to spend the holidays by yourself and avoid the tiring questions and uncomfortable holiday situations, plan a special weekend just for you. Be adventurous; check into a resort. Pamper yourself with a spa day. If you prefer to stay at home, create a home spa. Light candles, watch movies, read, write, meditate. Give yourself a pampering hot tub spa with lavender Epsom salts and give yourself a Mani Pedi. Renew and awaken your body, mind and spirit. Give the gift of love to you - maybe for the first time in your entire life!
5. Surround yourself with sunlight. Certain people may feel anxious or depressed around the winter holidays due to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes referred to as seasonal depression. Seasonal affective disorder seems to be the result of inadequate exposure to bright light during the winter months. Lifestyle changes that can help decrease the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include increasing time spent outdoors and more physical exercise. If you are unable to get into the physical sunshine, consider investing in SAD light therapy. Just 30 minutes a day is all it takes. It makes a big difference for me as my schedule doesn’t allow me to get much daylight during the winter months. SAD light therapy is an amazing mood booster!
6. Start a Gratitude Journal – I realize this may not be an easy thing to do when you are feeling down, but this exercise helps to experience the feeling of joy and abundance. When you are feeling down or bad about what you don’t have or what isn’t going right in your life, write down 3-5 things that you are grateful. Start small. “I am grateful for my beautiful children, cozy warm bed, reliable transportation, hot shower, peaceful mornings, running water, etc.” When you’re down, science says gratitude makes us feel better. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, editor-in-chief of "The Journal of Positive Psychology," and author of three books, including, "Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier," has authored studies examining the various physical and psychological benefits of its practice. Gratitude can also help you sleep better at night, according to a recent study. Write in your gratitude journal daily and begin to say them out loud to make them even more effective. You will feel the positive effects if practiced regularly!
7. Practice daily positive affirmations; be mindful of our words. The iconic Louise Hay, one of the founders of the self-help movement and one of my first teachers back in the 90’s with her book, "You Can Heal Your Life," shares the message: Life Is Really Very Simple. What We Give Out, We Get Back. Her message states that what we think and the words we speak become the truth for us. It is creating our future. With that philosophy in mind, all of our self-talk, our internal dialogue, is a continuous stream of affirmations - either positive or negative.
We are using affirmations every moment whether we know it or not and creating our life experiences with every word and thought. We need to choose our words wisely as every criticism is an affirmation of something that is not wanted in our lives. Thinking positive, loving thoughts and then feeling skeptical or even angry is a contradiction to the affirmation. The doubt and anger will likely win out as we tend to focus on the dominant negative emotion as it is most familiar. Therefore, we need to consciously practice positive self-talk and affirmations to create until it is our new normal.
8. Be in the moment. You are where you are for a reason and it’s okay. Your situation will pass and you will discern the lesson at the right time in divine timing. Know that everyone experiences some kind of stress. It is always easier to view other’s situation as better when looking at it from the outside in, but it is often a distorted perception that leads to feelings of inadequacy. Avoid the temptation of comparison. Know that you are on your healing journey for a reason and you will discern the lesson at the right time in divine timing.
Remember, the Christmas paradigm is often centered around the idea of loved one’s spending time together, huddled around the Christmas tree, laughing, hugging and conflict-free, oftentimes a façade created by media. For many, the stereotypical happy family gathering is a model that is far from reality. This can be a major trigger for feeling down and lonely.
If you would rather just stay at home alone or with a few close friends, it’s okay and it is your choice! However, setting boundaries may be necessary and helpful about what you will or will not talk about. Often times friendships end due to the uncomfortable state of affairs after the dynamic of a relationship changes. If you set the parameters early on, you can alleviate some of the uncomfortable moments.
Lastly, know that you may be faced with some stubborn responses or awkward silences from your family when you let them know you are choosing to celebrate differently this year. Setting boundaries will help them to learn to accept and be okay with your “new normal.” Remember, your happiness is most important to your health.
Tis’ the season. Take care of YOU this holiday season and give the gift of self-love to you - every Brand New Day!
Blessings for a healthy and peaceful holiday season!
Pamela Schubloom CHC, AFMC, CPC
Certified Holistic Health Coach, Institute of Integrative Nutrition
Functional Medicine Health Coach, SAFM
Certified Professional Life Coach, Wainright Global, Inc.