The winter holidays, with the promise of joy and togetherness, also carry the shadow of stress and tension. Our culture has cleverly molded the very human rituals of banishing the dark and spiritual celebration into a non-stop whirlwind of buying, eating, drinking and events. However, if your plate is full and if you also struggle with mental illness or addiction, these extra demands will inevitably create stress and tension. Taking care of yourself is probably the best gift you can give yourself and your family and it is the key to the maintenance of balanced physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
Balance will make it easier for you to truly live the holiday spirit and activate the thoughtful details that bring real meaning to your gatherings. It's a spiritual and emotional challenge to fully "show up" when you feel conflicted, run down, or need sleep.
Below are a few tips for balance that we offer to our clients (and to ourselves!) via individual and family therapy and in our wonderful array of groups, including Mindfulness in Action, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), DBT, CBT, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and Seeking Safety.
1) Mindful breath: Keep tabs on your body tension. When you notice you are not breathing deeply, stop, and take ten to twelve centering breaths, putting your attention on the breath and where you feel it the most. If becoming conscious of your breath is not a tool in your balance toolbox, set your phone alarm to remind you to breathe every hour or two. Science shows that twelve deep breaths begin to move the toxins that gather in the lower lung lobes an increase your oxygen level, thus rejuvenating your body and giving your thinking mind a break.
2) Challenge your "musts": Familial obligations often run the holiday show. If you feel pulled in many directions with family obligations, use writing to unknot the conflict and a friend to talk it out. Your serenity and well-being are not conditional upon the actions and behaviors of your loved ones. We will have to say no to some activities, but using your personal values and your "wise mind" for guidance can make your choices rewarding and guilt-free.
3) Travel the path to exquisite self-care: Schedule a massage, take a new yoga class or sign-up for an individual work-out session amidst the holiday whirlwind. The key word is "schedule" and following through on your commitment. If we want to show up for others and be in full emotional connection, tending to our biological, spiritual and emotional wellness is necessary.
4) Cultivate body awareness: It's easy to ignore or override yourbody's signals in the holiday rush. Under normal conditions your body can absorb some neglect but adding the increased stress of the holidays might be more than it can take. Ask yourself, "Am I in HALTS?" HALTS -Hungry - Angry - Lonely - Tired - Stressed. If your answer to any one of those is "yes," it's time to attend to slowing down (and stopping!), letting go, processing anger, eating well, and reaching out to a support person in your life.
5) Allow the inner child some space through humor: Science shows that humor is a great stress reducer. Play a card game - like Pictionary, where the absurdity of a stick drawings can be incomprehensively funny. How 'bout those old standbys of musical chairs or putting on the "Cha-Cha Slide," where we can laugh at ourselves being uncoordinated and exuberantly child-like.
6) Do one thing at a time: When you are eating, just eat. When you are walking, just walk. Extend your senses and use that old cliché of "stop to smell the roses" to capture each moment through your senses, noticing beauty and the things that are meaningful to you.
7) Use your support system for balance and sobriety: If you are a recovering person, the holidays can be very tricky due to an increase of parties and the always-ubiquitous alcohol that goes along with them. Be prepared for the challenge by using your friends and therapeutic professionals to plan and take responsibility for actions toward your own well-being, balance and sobriety.
8) Create your own meaningful traditions: Sometimes the traditions we grew up with can create stress and can be corrosive to authenticity and closeness. Create your own rituals, events and fun that will become the "new tradition."