The holidays, you either love them or you hate them. Sometimes the holidays feel like taxes, everyone has to do them and either you get a gift back or you loose some money! Every year feels a little different despite the fact that you might be able to predict what will happen. Even though this time of year is meant to inspire celebration and a break from the stress of work, you can end up feeling an array of emotions which can lead additional stress in the body and the mind. The APA reports "Stress does increase for certain groups during the holidays: those who feel particular responsibility for the family, like women, and those who struggle to find the extra income to afford the holidays, like lower middle income individuals." Emotions can run high leading up to events depending on what role you play on the festivities, what financial status you are in, and the type of people you might be around this time of year. It can be stressful on those with dietary beliefs and restrictions as well, those who don't or can't eat certain types of foods and will be surrounded by them. For those who have recently lost a family member or friend this can be an incredibly difficult time that can trigger trauma and depression. And for people who are going through relationship troubles this can be an emotional time as well.
Some of the main negative emotions that the APA reports around the holidays are fatigue, irritability, sadness, anger, and loneliness with the leading stressors being lack of time, lack of money, pressure to give or receive gifts, family gathering, dieting commitments, and travel. When all of these play a factor in your experience you have a recipe for mental and physical wear and tear!
No matter what the cause of the foreseen stress, there are many ways to prepare mentally and physically for this time of year. In my experience, the first step is to simplify. The more complicated you find your plans the more stress that can manifest. Simplicity is an invitation for times of relaxation, reflection, and flexibility if and when plans take an unexpected turn. The less you have on your plate, the more you can enjoy! Thats not just a metaphor for clean eating either, its a metaphor for life. Make "simple" your best friend, try and simplify as much as possible.
When we take a step back to simplify life we are choosing to take things back into our own hands, as much as possible. Nothing will be fully under our control, in fact hardly anything is, but we do give ourselves a chance to get a handle on our emotions. In the book "When things Fall Apart" Pema Chodron talks about getting into a state of total awareness and silence, allowing yourself to become still in meditation to give your emotions the chance to be there and give them a chance to pass. Taking the time to meditate becomes extremely important during this time, especially if you are expecting things to become busy, emotionally triggering, and physically demanding or taxing. In fact, WebMD reports "a study that indicated that meditation improved both physical and emotional responses to stress. In the study, people who meditated regularly for six weeks showed less activation of their immune systems and less emotional distress when they were put in a stressful situation."
Simplifying your pre-holiday schedule to allow for meditation and meditative practices such as yoga, walking, hiking, climbing, etc; will give you a chance to calm the mind prior to being placed in difficult situations. Consider it preventative medicine for stress, and as the study shows the more you do it the better your response will become. Mindfulness is an incredible antidote to a myriad of things and indeed has an incredible health benefit. When we actively chose to take care of our mental health, our bodies have no choice but to positively react to that choice. The more clear your mind is the more you have a chance to regulate your mood for when challenges arise, your actions and responses become more mindful as a result. Even when you become emotionally unbalanced you have a stronger bounce back after the event or challenge has passed.
When time is of the essence in our lives, finding the time to meditate or simplify our schedule to include relaxation can seem nearly impossible. Make it an opportunity to really take a look at what takes up your time that might be an inefficient use of your time and replace it with at least 10-20minutes of meditation or mindful relaxation instead. I often find that when I say I am too busy to do something I am actually making an excuse to not do said activity! With that said there are times and situations in life when we are genuinely pressed for time and every minute is filled with plans. In those instances it becomes that much more important to take time for self care, even if it is just a few minutes. I knew a mother once who used to meditate in the car while her husband drove the family from point A to point B! What a creative and useful time to add in her mindfulness practice. Mornings and evenings are also great points of the day to find time for meditation. You can practice mindfulness in your shower, while eating, or sitting down in silence before you head out the door. The buddhist advice is to always find time to meditate and the busier you are the more time you should set aside for it!
Learning to take care of ourselves can become the greatest holiday gift you can give to yourself and others. The more emotionally stable we are the more available we become for others to find peace and joy within themselves. The holidays are meant to inspire gratitude and for us to be of service, to be kinder and softer people. This time of the year can allow you the chance to become that much more in tune with yourself so you can be that for others. Showing those around us that might struggle with this themselves allows for a deeper connection and discussion around sensitive subjects and wellness. It gives you a chance to truly be the change you wish to see in the world, and with that to truly have a happy holiday!
APA report: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/12/holiday-stress.pdf
WebMD report: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/features/meditation-heals-body-and-mind