From pumpkins and spooky Halloween decorations to Hanukkah candles, Christmas lights and hot cocoa, the holiday season is a lively time of year. Traditionally this is the time to spend with loved ones, give thanks for all that you have and indulge in comfort food. As a child, my excitement came from watching holiday cartoons and anticipating the arrival of Santa and presents.
But the holiday season can be overwhelming for many people. What is supposed to be a pleasurable time with loved ones can easily cause turmoil. Sadness about the past, missing loved ones and anxiety about the future can come in tandem with the holidays. Stress, whether it’s about finances, cooking the meal or conflicts from heated conversations takes a toll on the body. Memories created can often be painful and tax the heart leading to more anxiety.
Avoiding difficult situations is ideal but not always possible. However, we can be mindful, recognize conflict before or when it is happening and control the way we react to it. Here are a few things you can do to stay healthy and keep the peace during the holidays:
Before your Thanksgiving day begins, write down at least one thing you appreciate about each person that you will be spending time with. Focus on feeling gratitude for each person in your heart. Remember, none of us are perfect so be kind to yourself and loved ones. Forgive those who have caused you suffering. Have compassion for yourself and others and be aware that those who say or do hurtful things are usually the ones in the most pain.
Silence the ANTS
Chances are if you’re stressing ahead of time about the holidays you have ants in your head. An ant is an Automatic Negative Thought that crawls around and agitates your mind. Ants cause you to feel bad and react to situations poorly. We all have ants in our head but some of us give more power to them than we should. The first step in silencing an ant is to identify it. When we recognize a thought is just an ant, we are less likely to automatically respond in a negative manner.
Move Your Body
Movement of any kind is incredibly good for your mind and body. Even a brisk 5-minute walk sends oxygenated blood to your brain increasing your mood and helping you to think more clearly. If the weather permits get out and go for a long walk before and/or after Thanksgiving meal. Staying active after a big meal will also help with digestion.
Eat Slowly & Enjoy
Speaking of digestion, the holidays come with an invitation to overeat. Overeating is not good for the body. It causes digestive discomfort leaving you sluggish and will interfere with sleep. Before you sit down for the meal say to yourself, Hara Hachi Bu! Hara Hachi Bu is a Confucius saying from Okinawa, Japan that roughly translates to eat until you are 8/10ths full. Eating slowly and chewing your food well will also help you to avoid overeating. Eating should be pleasurable and the last thing you want to do is rush through the meal. Plus it gives your body time to digest and send signals to your brain that you are full. Lastly, give yourself time before going for seconds. You may find that you’re not hungry and don’t need the extra food.
We have a saying in Chinese Medicine that alcohol heats up and stirs the blood. Too much alcohol can exaggerate feelings, turning a harmless conversation of differentiating opinions into an ocean of emotions. The timing of drinking is also important. Late-night drinking interferes with blood sugar levels leading to restless sleep. If you want to have a holiday drink put a limit on how much you ingest and enjoy it earlier in the day. The amount varies from person to person but in general, one drink per hour followed by an equal amount of water is a good place to start.
Last but not least, remember to breathe. If you feel yourself getting upset, take a moment to do some deep breathing before reacting. Inhale for a count of 7, hold it in for a count of 5 and finally exhale for a count of 7. Not only does this send oxygen to your brain but it will relax your body. Also, having a meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Staying calm in difficult situations is a technique that comes with practice. Just like you wouldn’t expect to have a healthy body by exercising a few times a year, mental and emotional stamina takes constant practice. The more you do it, the better you will get at it.