The holidays bring up such mixed emotions – there’s joy and hope…and there’s stress and sadness.
When I taught a class on managing holiday stress, participants gave me a long list of stressors that include worries about budget and creating a “perfect” holiday, and feeling sad when remembering loved ones who won’t be here this year.
Find Balance and Watch your Budget
Class members had plenty of ideas for reducing holiday stress. They want to set realistic expectations, create a better balance between personal time and social time, and spend more time with supportive people. Some people talked about reducing financial worries by changing some of their family traditions; instead of buying gifts for everyone in the family, they will have a white elephant exchange or arrange for secret Santa gifts, so that each person only buys one gift.
Stress Reduction Tips
During the holidays, more than at other times, it’s important to manage your stress. This is the time for deep breathing exercises (breathe in for 3 counts, hold for 2, breathe out for 3 counts). Progressive muscle relaxation is super helpful. Sit in a chair with your eyes closed. Tense your right fist; let go. Tense your whole right arm; let go. Do the same on the left side. Then scrunch up your face and hold it tight; let go. Tense your shoulders and your chest; let go. Tense your stomach muscles; let go. Tense your thighs and calves; let go. Tense your toes; let go.
As members of my class completed the exercise and opened their eyes, the energy in the room became light and peaceful.
Help Yourself to Help Others
So, first take care of yourself during the holidays. Then help others. If you take time to volunteer or collect toys to donate, you’ll feel the joy of giving. Plus, when we change the focus from materialism, we reap the benefits of feeling the spirit of the holiday season.
Remember: You have the right to enjoy the holidays and even buy a gift for yourself. You are also entitled to feel all your emotions – from happy to sad. You don’t need to attend every party and eat all the food offered to you. You can design the holiday you want to enjoy. Make some new traditions. What can you do differently this year?
Lately friends have been asking me about my philosophy. They want to know if I have a dogma, or if I’m guided by a self-help guru. The answer is I’m a pragmatist. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve found a path that works for me. It includes having a balanced life, getting unstuck, pursuing fun leisure activities, keeping healthy, fulfilling my life purpose, sticking to my personal guiding principles, and achieving goals.
In my workshops and coaching, I share this “path” with others. And that feels great. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have this opportunity to teach and be a coach. It truly is fulfilling to help people who are feeling uncertain about what next steps to take, and then see them leave at peace, knowing how they want life to look and what they need to do to achieve it.
This work, plus so much more, makes me feel that my life is balanced and full. I am thankful for good health which allows me to enjoy hiking, skiing, cycling, sailing, dance, and yoga. I’m thankful for the amazing friends I’ve made while pursuing these activities. I’m grateful that as a Marin Master Gardener, I can volunteer for the Dig It, Grow It, Eat It program that teaches children about gardening and nutritious foods. I’m thankful that I’m able to travel; this year I went to the East Coast and Canada, while next year I’ll visit New Zealand. And I’m grateful for my small family.
I want to wish you a fulfilling Thanksgiving Holiday. If you have time, write down some of the things you are grateful for. Did you know that a 2012 study found that grateful people have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people? Spend 10 minutes jotting down a few grateful thoughts before bed, and you may sleep better.
A year after the devastation of the Sonoma County, California fires, friends who have lost their homes and most of their material possessions spoke to me about gratitude – gratitude for the outpouring of gifts and support from both friends and strangers.
It doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, but one friend shared that small events will long be remembered, such as gong to community garage “sales” where you are told to take anything that fits or is useful…maybe a new pair of earrings or a sweater or even a bicycle – for free.
I recently spoke with a Sonoma artist at a local art festival. He lost most of his paintings when his studio burned in the fire. I looked at photos of his lost paintings and then felt exhilarated by his fresh, new paintings. He has worked through the trauma and come out the other side with stunning, gorgeous images.
My friend Annie calls this “getting pruned.” She says it’s like cutting back a rose bush and being rewarded with even more stunning rose blossoms.
This metaphor reminded me that in the 1980’s I lost my home in a mudslide in Sausalito, California. I’m grateful I got out alive and was able to rescue some possessions. I realize now that the loss and trauma was a turning point for me. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and eventually led to a better romantic partnership, and work in coaching and training that was more aligned with my values.
In fact, one couple I know announced their engagement shortly after she lost her home in one of the fires. Maybe they would have announced it at that time anyway, but experience tells me that after facing the possibility of losing your life, some decisions become very clear.
Another friend told me that when the fire destroyed her home, she decided to move closer to San Francisco where most of the family works. The shorter commute has resulted in greater family togetherness, which she loves.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the pain and trauma of major loses; however, as we remember the fires, it’s good to recognize that sometimes life calls for us to reinvent ourselves…and that can be a good thing.