All I want for Christmas is some peace of mind

Friday, December 14, 2012 - 3:53pm

By MARGARET ANGUS

Social calendars are filling up with holiday commitments and the seasonal to-do list is growing (perhaps along with the Christmas lists of family members and friends). Some of us may be wondering how we can possibly trim a tree, bake for visitors, clean and decorate the house, shop, attend holiday concerts, go Christmas caroling and visit relatives (whose company we may or may not enjoy).

If you’re getting heart palpitations at the mere thought of the harried and hurried holidays, take a long, slow, deep breath and consider, “Do I just throw up my hands and hang on for the bumpy sleigh ride, or can I create a different holiday experience for myself?” If you’re leaning toward the latter, Capital Health’s Mindfulness Network* offers the following tips:

Notice what you say to yourself and others

The language we use to describe our experience can have an immediate effect on our physical wellbeing. “If we complain, catastrophize or exaggerate our experience of feeling stressed, the body ‘hears’ this and perceives this as an additional stressor to protect from,” said Elizabeth Berlasso, psychotherapist and member of the Mindfulness Network. Even if your schedule is bursting at the seams with activity, watch the language you choose when someone asks, “How are you?”  For example, instead of replying, “I’m going crazy with all the things I have to do,” you can say, “I’m busy and happy/grateful, thanks for asking!”

Check your expectations

The holiday season is packed with expectations – of ourselves and of others. We might have expectations about the gifts we give or receive (what those gifts are, how much they cost or how people should react to them), the way people will act (are you holding out for an “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment?) or the emotions the holidays will create (on either end of the emotional spectrum).

“Like it or not, our expectations affect our experience,” said Berlasso. “By recognizing our expectations and challenging them where appropriate, we can experience and appreciate the holidays for what they are, not what we or others expect them to be.”

Shelve the "shoulds"

Along with our expectations, we likely have a long list of “shoulds,” from “I should have Christmas decor that rivals Martha Stewart’s” to “I’m not a good parent if I don’t take my child to every holiday-related event” or “I should be baking 42-dozen cookies to keep up with the neighbour.” Notice if you are getting caught up in “shoulds” and ask, “Is this true? Is it realistic?” If you answer no to these questions, let it go and give yourself a break.

Be kind to yourself

The holidays are often so hectic that we don’t take the time to take care of ourselves - to sleep, go for a walk or sit quietly. Think about the activities that rejuvenate you. How can you fit these into your holiday plan?

Build space and time into your schedule

Think about how you want to spend your time over the holidays. If you’d really like to spend an evening sitting in front of the fireplace with a good book, plan for it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of holiday events on your agenda, take a closer look to see if you truly want or need to be at all of them. What would happen - really -  if you didn’t make it?

If your holiday planning involves other family members, talk together about how to create a more spacious and meaningful holiday season. For example, how can you connect in a way that adds meaning and value to your idea of a joyful holiday? For example: spending time in prayer or meditation, volunteering with a local charity or homeless shelter, giving a gift to a child in need.

Be aware of your breath

If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the holidays, take a moment to stop and notice your breath. Focusing on the physical sensations of breathing brings you into the present and can help settle a swirling mind. Whether you’re in a quiet space or in a busy shopping mall, your breath is always available.

This holiday season will come and go – they all do. The crumpled wrapping paper will be recycled, the holiday treats devoured, the decorations packed away. What you’ll take away from the season is your experience. The question is: What do you want yours to be?

The Mindfulness Network is a group of Capital Health staff from a variety of areas across the organization that are committed to bringing the principles and practices of mindfulness into their work. It's not associated with any one facility or program at Capital Health.

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