For many, the day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season.
Christians celebrate Christmas on December 25 as the celebration of the day when Jesus Christ of Nazareth was born. Jews celebrate Hanukkah or the "Festival of the Lights," an 8-day observation between November 30 and December 26. The holiday of Kwanza is a week long celebration of the African heritage starting December 26. Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, the enlightenment of the Buddha on December 8. Krismas is a secular holiday that celebrates most of the elements of Christmas, with the exception of the story of Jesus' birth. This came about in 2004.
Most cultures recognize the Winter Solstice worldwide with an interpretation of the event varying from culture to culture. Depending on the shift of the earth's axis, it is either December 21 or 22 of each year. The commonality is a recognition of rebirth, involving holidays, festivals, gatherings, rituals or other celebrations around that time.
For many, the season is a time of joy and celebration. A time of giving and sharing time with family and friends. Honoring traditions by reveling in the beauty of the holiday lights, decorating trees, watching holiday movies, and sharing in good food, laughter and the making of memories.
In contrast, others find it overly stressful and are turned off by the excessive shopping and overindulgence. Many have lost their Christmas spirit. The season brings up intense feelings of sadness, loneliness, physical and/or emotional pain, depression, anxiety.
If this season represents a sense of loss due to divorce, separation or passing of a loved one; if you or a family member is suffering from illness, emotional or physical, substance abuse or dealing with a problematic family member, the holidays can present a whole different set of obstacles.
Pressure to visit multiple homes, unrealistic expectations, financial pressures, and excessive commitments can also cause stress and anxiety turning the once holiday sparkle into the holiday blues.
If you need a holiday boost, there are some self care tips you can do to lift your spirit and take care of YOU this holiday season. Putting you first is often difficult to do but is a must for survival and ensures your tank is filled so that you have more to give others. Read on for tips and tricks. Practice one per day to get through them easily and effortlessly!
1. Love yourself first. Self-care is the number one ingredient in preventing stress and avoiding burnout. Meditate daily – even if only for five minutes. Simply sit quietly and take a few deep breaths in silence. You can do this anywhere! Sitting quietly daily will bring you to a state of calm, reduce stress, negativity and help increase awareness which is important if you tend to give too much of yourself.
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 Day. 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 people that love and understand you unconditionally. Find a friend or loved one to confide in that will listen or help you find confidential resources if needed. Festivities may be the farthest thing from your mind. Spending time alone is perfectly okay and is a healthy option, but be sure to have a close friend available, if needed. Acknowledge and accept that your feelings are okay and 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 people who understand is much better for you emotionally than to put yourself in a situation with those 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 so as not to hurt them or getting into uncomfortable situations leaving your energy 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 that can make an uncomfortable situation worse. This can lead to a gut response reaction based on fear and insecurities which is typically not the most rational or appropriate way to act.
Learn to respond not to react with 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.
This is another reason meditation is so important. It is mindfulness training to prepare for stressful situations and teaching us calm, non-reactive responses.
4. Relax. Rejuvenate. Unwind. If you prefer to spend the holidays by yourself and avoid the tiring questions and uncomfortable holiday situations, it’s okay! 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! Most of all, enjoy!
5. Surround yourself with sunlight and ensure vitamin D levels are sufficient. 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!
Sufficient Vitamin D - How much vitamin D your body makes depends on your age, your genetics, how much skin is uncovered, and your skin tone. Depending on where you live (latitude), you may only get enough radiation from the sun for vitamin D production between May and October (e.g. New England in the US). These populations definitely need supplement support from October through April. Genetic variants can render even those living year-round in sunny Arizona and Florida with rock-bottom levels. Low levels of Vitamin D can result in increased calcium loss from bones, osteoporosis, increased migraines, increased muscle pain, increased joint and back pain, greater risk of depression, increased allergies, increased inflammation, poor wound healing, increased diabetes, increased autoimmune disease (lupus, scleroderma, thyroiditis). Testing is the only way to know your needs for sure. Work with a practitioner to determine if you have adequate levels of Vitamin D.
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 tremendously to begin feeling the experience joy and abundance. What you believe you perceive. The law of attraction – what you focus on brings more into your life. If you think positive thoughts, you will render positivity. If you concentrate on negativity, you will breed more negativity.
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, feeling of the warm sun, a hot shower, peaceful mornings, running water, the beauty of a sunset, 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. Therefore, 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. Give the gift of self-love to you every Brand New Day!
Sending you much love for a very blessed, healthy and peaceful holiday season!
Functional Medicine Practitioner
Certified Holistic Health Coach
Professional Life Coach
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