The Seven Commandments of Holiday Wellness

The holidays. What feelings come to mind when you read those words? Happiness, excitement, sadness, dread? While it can be exciting to think about reconnecting with loved ones around the dinner table, it can also feel extremely overwhelming when our inboxes start overflowing with holiday party invitations, Black Friday Sale reminders, and of course ads for this season’s hottest toys. For those that are experiencing grief, family estrangement, or perhaps recent romantic relationship changes, the holidays can feel downright depressing. We cannot change the past or erase the uncomfortable feelings that are getting triggered within us during the holidays. However, we can begin to implement strategies that will lessen the effects of these emotions so we do not feel completely overwhelmed by them. I present to you The Eight Commandments of Holiday Wellness:

1. Thou shalt not overcommit. What does your calendar currently look like for the next six weeks? Many people love to host celebrations during the holidays as it can be the perfect opportunity to reconnect and spend time with family and friends. However, depending on how many of these celebrations you are planning on attending, it can quickly turn from enjoyment to exhaustion. If you have children, this list of events is probably even more extensive. As much as we want to provide them with the opportunity to experience the wide variety of holiday offerings, we need to ask ourselves at what cost are we committing to these things?

While our intentions are typically good in these commitments, how many times have we found ourselves bringing our kiddos somewhere only to feel stressed out and agitated? At the end of the day, there are plenty of ways to create beautiful holiday memories for ourselves and our children that do not involve attending every event that is offered within the community. Challenge yourself in two ways: First, identify ways that you can create those memories within the comfort of your own home. Second, make a list of all the celebrations you may have received invitations for this year and divide this list into two parts: “wouldn’t miss it” or “have to pass this year”.

2. Thou shalt practice daily mindfulness. How do you start your day in the morning? If you’re like many people during the holidays, your mind has already started thinking about the many things you need to get done over the next six weeks before you’ve even opened your eyes. It’s no wonder if we are starting a day off like this that we feel stressed out and overwhelmed. Ideally, we would already have a daily mindfulness practice implemented before stressful times. Stressful times that we tend to need it the most but also tend to not utilize it. It’s never too late!

While many people feel like this is just another item that gets added to their to-do list, it does not have to be a big production. It can be as simple as devoting five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the evening to checking in with yourself and giving your mind a break. As with most things these days, there are even apps to assist with that! However, if that’s not your style, that’s okay as well. The beautiful things about mindfulness is that there are an endless number of ways in which you can practice this skill. Maybe it’s journaling every morning when you wake up. Maybe it’s practicing yoga. Maybe it’s sitting outside in nature. Or maybe it’s creating art of some sort. Challenge yourself to construct a Daily Mindfulness Plan and begin to implement it daily.

3. Thou shalt spend time in nature. You may be reading this and saying, “does she not realize it’s winter and freezing outside?!?” Trust me, I too have many moments where I would much rather stay in the comfort of my home by the fire than walk outside. However, regardless of the weather or season, our bodies and mind crave being outside. Studies have shown that more and more Americans are developing Vitamin D deficiencies because we are not spending enough time in the sun. Others have speculated if this is also why more and more people seem to be suffering from depression.

The wonderful thing about nature is that it always has something to offer us. Whether it is fresh air, beautiful foliage, or wildlife, we can always count on it to provide us with something of substance. There is also something to be said about what we can learn from the changing seasons when we observe them. Challenge yourself to spend at least twenty minutes outside daily.

4. Thou shalt move thy body. A good self-care plan includes strategies that cater to all aspects of ourselves. So many people have a love-hate relationship with “exercising” and it often is because they use it to punish themselves. What if we shifted our mindset from punishing ourselves to simply moving our bodies in a way that feels good to us?

We see articles online or in magazines that are very result focused rather than process focused. Very similar to why diets don’t work, rigorous exercise plans “fail” because they are often unrealistic and do not consider our individual likes and dislikes. Challenge yourself to practice physical activity that is solely based on what your body is craving and not based on what you feel will bring you the best “results.”

5. Thou shalt not self-medicate. Drink, eat, repeat. Does this sound similar to what you experience during the holidays?  The daily struggle that many face to maintain balance and a healthy lifestyle seems to be even more problematic during the holidays. Is this to say that we can’t enjoy ourselves and overindulge a little during the holiday season? Of course not, all things in moderation. However, if you are someone that tends to utilize food or alcohol to cope with your feelings, this pattern can become especially problematic during the holidays when those things tend to be so much more readily available.

Challenge yourself to break this pattern. How do you do that? The first step is awareness. Shedding light on something we struggle with can be difficult but is necessary for change to occur. The second step is recognizing your triggers. What situations, stimuli, or individuals typically bring about uncomfortable feelings during the holidays for you? Lastly, what healthy coping strategies can you begin to implement when you are feeling triggered?

6. Thou shalt not engage with difficult family members. How many different holiday movies have been created that feature family dysfunction as the central theme? How many of those can you relate to? If your answer is “most of them,” you are not alone. I hear many clients wonder if other families are “as screwed up as mine.” The short answer is yes! I have yet to meet someone that came from “the perfect family”.  One would think after so many years of arguments and uncomfortability around certain family members we would “know better than to engage.” Habits are simply not that easy to break. Especially when it comes to certain dynamics that have been established in families.

Challenge yourself to reflect back on previous holidays and start identifying the sources of any unnecessary conflict or stress that has occurred. Maybe it’s certain topics that everyone can’t seem to agree upon or discuss in a respectful manner (hello politics!) Or maybe it’s a particular individual that knows how to push your buttons.  Whatever the trigger may be, formulate some alternative options to how you normally deal with those topics or people. While we have a lot less control over life than we like to admit, the more prepared we can feel walking into certain situations, the less anxious we typically feel about a situation.

7. Thou shalt honor thy grief. Regardless of the amount of time that has passed, grief persists. While we may no longer feel the overwhelming sense of grief that we felt at the onset of a loss, holidays especially seem to bring those original emotions rushing back to the surface. Whether it’s holiday movies, hearing coworkers talk about their family traditions, or seeing a couple share a tender moment in the snow, we are constantly reminded that holidays are a time of connecting with loved ones.

As hard as it is, challenge yourself to sit with the feelings of grief you may be experiencing. If you make space for them and listen to their message, they can serve as a guide to help you figure out what you need. Maybe it’s finding a community that welcomes you with open arms so you do not have to feel alone. Maybe it’s performing some sort of ritual to honor what/who it is that your grieving. Perhaps it’s researching different holiday traditions and implementing them in your own life if you feel like you do not have your own.

Sometimes even these things are not enough to help us function in our daily lives during the holidays. If you feel like you are really struggling, professional help is only a click or a phone call away. Whether it’s myself or a referral I can provide you with, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Give yourself the gift this season of self-love and the freedom to ask for help if you need it!

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alicia@springspsychotherapy.com
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