A Few Tips on Mindfully Navigating the Holidays

Originally posted November 2016

While the holiday season can be joyous and abundant with excitement and love, it also can be a time of great grief, stress and sadness. What we do not have is hi-lighted in contrast to what we wish we had. Expectations are heightened as we look for how things “should be” versus how they are. Holiday concerts, parties, shopping, food and general merriment may be fun but lead to packed schedules and little time for much needed silence and reflection. This year has been greatly complicated by an election that has most of us in Seattle feeling a mix of strong emotions. Whether you love the holidays or struggle with them there are some strategies you can use to make the most of what you have.

Quality Time over Quantity of Time: Coping with Busy Schedules
Years ago when I was in graduate school, interning and working I quite literally had no time. I also had little choice in my schedule as that was the nature of accomplishing my goals. What I realized is that in the midst of busy you can have quality time. If we put intention into our lives we can create moments of space and peace in even the most busy of schedules. One practice that I did and still do is to catch moments where I can pause, look around, and appreciate something happening right now. Maybe it’s walking outside to my car and I feel the breeze and look up at the sky, maybe it’s just when I’m in the bathroom washing my hands and I appreciate the warm water or smell of the soap. If I slow down and take in these experiences with focus on the sensory input my nervous system calms and time seems to slow down just for a moment. It sounds very simple to incorporate this into life, but it can have profound effects on stress as well as your outlook on the day. Instead of always focusing on my to-do list and expectations around it I also had little respites that brought in a sense of ease and gratitude that made all the difference. If you have kids, do it out loud and see if they can join in on noticing, give it a try!

Less is More: Presence is a greater gift than presents ever will be.
Speaking of gratitude, as we enter the consumer season for the holiday I think it’s a great time to take stock of what we already have and to ask what we really need. I’m not just talking about what we need in material goods but emotional resources. I know this time of year I often need rest and space to recover from the stress of the season. For others maybe it is connection and fun. Many studies have come out saying that people feel like they have happier and more fulfilling lives through their experiences and relationships rather than stuff or accomplishments. In adolescence and middle age novelty is very important in giving ourselves new opportunities to learn or try new things. Perhaps thinking of ways to create time and space to have fun and engage new activities with yourself and your loved ones will be a healthier route for you than stuff.

Compassion with Boundaries: The Importance of Saying NO!
We often confuse compassion with sympathy or enabling. True compassion is about empathy and understanding for ourselves and others, and it is also about boundaries. The most compassionate people tend to have solid boundaries and know how to create structure in their lives and relationships to keep them out of resentment or confusion of roles or resources. As we tend to spend more time with family and friends this season it’s a good idea to cultivate healthy doses of compassion so we can attempt to understand our loved ones instead of simply reacting to them or putting them in a template from our history with them. It’s also a good idea to extend that same understanding to yourself and ask what your needs and lines are in relating with others. Over extending yourself can impair genuine connection, so check in with yourself before you say yes to everyone. It’s okay to say no, to disengage conversations or people that drain you. This is self-care.

I am wishing you all a peaceful, loving and joyous season, and if it’s not I wish you much compassion and support through it. Take care.

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