Posted on 13/12/2019
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year- it’s also the most expensive, busiest and most expectation-leaden time of the year. Even the things that should be enjoyable have to potential to cause us worry or stress. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to make the holidays run more smoothly, in between all the Irish whiskeys and fighting over The Purple One.
This sounds basic, right? However, our body’s stress response causes us to unconsciously hold our breath. Our flight or fight response doesn’t need there to be a looming sabre-tooth tiger in order to become activated. Crowded rooms, work deadlines, social obligations, traffic and ungodly queues in every shop are enough to cause us to sweat, for our hearts to beat faster and our breathing to become shallow.
The first job is noticing that you are under pressure. We can literally go hours, days even, under ferocious stress and not even realise how tightly we are wound. The sooner you notice that you are under even a little bit of pressure, the sooner you can act to calm and soothe yourself. Things that may indicate you are under some level of stress include;
Noticing these things is the first step to coming back to your centre and that place of inner calm amongst the storm. This is, essentially, the basis of all mindfulness. When you notice one of these things coming up, try not to become more annoyed; instead, acknowledge the fact that even noticing is a win. Now you have the opportunity to slow everything down and reset.
You don’t need a special place or time to do this. The beauty of breath-awareness is that you can practise anytime, anywhere. When you are in traffic, when your in-laws are becoming too much, when you are in a queue that’s five miles long, when you’re overwhelmed in work, when your kids are so psyched for Santy that they aren’t sleeping, whatever it is, you don’t even need to excuse yourself from the situation, you can begin to breathe, mindfully. Focus on the breath is the most efficient and effective way of bringing us back to our centre and it is a skill we can call upon at any moment and one we can use again and again.
Read it again! NO ONE CARES IF YOU DON’T GO TO THE PARTY. Christmas is an opportunity to reconnect with people, to let loose, socialise, have a few drinks and enjoy ourselves. However, if you are not actually enjoying it, then the point is lost. If the party is more of a source of stress than excitement, don’t go! You don’t even have to explain yourself; nobody cares. Everyone is leading their own life, of which they are the main character. Them having a few drinks and a couple of laughs for a few hours is probably not effected by you at all. We all have obligations, however, you need to be able to prioritise. You cannot be all things to all people. Come January, no one is going to be thinking about who showed up to the office work party, unless it’s to think about that one person who drank too much and tried to dance with the Christmas tree. There is enough pressure on you in life, only do the things that make you happy. If that isn’t sitting in a crowded room making small talk for three hours, stay at home! Put on some sweat pants, open a bottle of wine, put on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and do you. (Side note; Gene Wilder is the only Willy Wonka.)
Have the slice of cake! Just don’t eat all of the cake. Have the chocolate; don’t finish the box. Have the Bailey’s; don’t drink the whole bottle. Now is not the time to deprive yourself. Over the holiday season we are surrounded by food and drink and it’s easy to over-indulge. Equally, we are so aware of trying not to over-indulge that we deprive ourselves instead. Depriving yourself of something only leads to one thing- bingeing on something else later. How many of us have said no to one mince pie only to turn around and eat the entire top tray of the box of Christmas biscuits later that evening? Have your mince pie and enjoy it. A bit of mindful eating goes a long way.
Indulgence has such strong connotations with shame and guilt, but you can choose not to buy into that! You work hard, you deserve to indulge yourself once in a while. It’s all about balance- eat the thing, drink the thing. The next morning, get up, get on your mat, practise gratitude, move your body, celebrate this life that you are so privileged to have. Indulge, but when you do, do it mindfully, with purpose and gratitude.
You can allow yourself not to feel everything you think you are ‘supposed’ to feel. You can allow yourself to be sad. You can allow yourself to be a little bit Grinchy. Christmas is a beautiful time, but it can also be a really, really tough time. Real life doesn’t stop in the face of the sleigh bells and mistletoe. People don’t stop being sick just because it’s Christmas. Bills don’t get miraculously taken care of just because it’s Christmas. Even if you just plain don’t like Christmas, that’s ok too. For many people, the trauma and heartbreak of grief or loss can be amplified over the holidays. For people who are struggling, the abundance of joy and happiness can further compound their sadness and loneliness. Getting through this time can be the toughest part of someone’s year. If that’s you, be kind to yourself. Do whatever you need to do to get by. Get on your mat. Move your body, practise some self-care. Even if it’s only for ten minutes, allow yourself to exist with yourself away from the noise of everything else. If you know someone is struggling, reach out. Be aware that they might need a little break from being jolly and festive. If you aren’t pumped for Christmas, remember that you are not alone and that IT’S OK.
At the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. It doesn’t matter how pretty or how useful it is, it is still just stuff. The stuff is almost never what we remember and it won’t be what you’re going to remember moving forwards. Show up for people. Tell people you love them. Hug and kiss and laugh and cry. Spend your time, not your money. Offer your attention and your care as your gift. Realistically, you better get your better-half something- the fact is, it probably doesn’t matter what it is. We all love the joy that comes with unwrapping gifts, but that’s exactly where the joy lies, in the unwrapping. We love the surprise, the anticipation, the revelation, and it barely matters what it actually is. It’s great to have something to unwrap. Every year, my family and I go through the rigmarole of asking what people want for Christmas and we all almost always have the same answer; “Just something to unwrap.” The joy comes from doing it together.
Ultimately, anything in life is what you make of it. Look after yourself, stay safe and do what works for you.