Sometimes holiday gatherings can be stressful. Even when we’re surrounded by loved ones, making positive holiday connections is often challenging.
But it helps to stay grounded and centered within ourselves. Hence, self-care is a primary tool for holiday stress management.
Taking the time and space to attend to our own physical, mental, and emotional needs during the holiday season makes a huge difference. When we feel relaxed and calm, we can make authentic connections with others from a balanced place.
Practicing Self-Care During the Holidays
In the busy holiday season, we tend to neglect self-care. This year, prioritize it. The holidays are much more enjoyable when you’re feeling rested and peaceful.
Here are five ways to practice self-care during the holidays.
Ask for help.
Many people have a long to-do list during the holiday season. Remember that you don’t have to get everything done on your own. Thus, if you’re hosting a holiday meal, make it a potluck. Jeffrey Zurofsky, Newport Academy’s Culinary Program Director, says he often asks his guests to help out with setting and decorating the holiday table. “One person brings flowers, another brings candles, and someone else makes the centerpiece,” Jeffrey says.
Get enough sleep.
Sleep has a powerful impact on well-being and mental health. When we don’t get enough, especially during stressful times, it can wreak havoc with our emotions. In studies conducted by Kimberly A. Babson and Matthew T. Feldner, people who lost a night of sleep responded with more emotion to stressors presented in the lab. Hence, lack of rest has a negative impact on the functioning of the emotional regulation circuit of the brain. And a good night’s sleep sets us up to face holiday stressors with more creativity and resilience.
During the holidays, we often let our regular routines slide. Instead, stick to your exercise schedule. Multiple studies confirm that exercise positively impacts mental health. Families might even consider incorporating exercise into their holiday routines. For example, the whole family could run a Turkey Trot together.
Take moments of mindfulness wherever you find them.
Stuck in a long line while grocery shopping or holiday shopping? Use the time to take six long, deep breaths. Waiting in a traffic jam at the mall? While sitting in your car, simply relax your body, moving from the toes up to the head. Even a moment or two of conscious breathing and relaxation can boost our mood significantly.
Research shows that volunteering offers mental and physical health benefits.
And the holidays are a perfect time to reach out and help others. For example, families could help out at a food pantry or serve Thanksgiving dinner at a local shelter. This is a great way to make holiday connections.
Seasonal Rituals and Holiday Connections
Marking the holidays can also be an acknowledgment of seasonal transitions. “Holidays are both celebrations and anchoring points for nature’s seasonal changes,” says Nicole Renée Matthews, Director of Yoga at Newport Academy.
“Simple, fun holiday traditions are something the whole family can look forward to year after year,” Nicole says. Those traditions can be different for each family. Find something that creates positive emotions and a sense of joyful holiday connections.
Hence, Nicole takes time during the holidays to, for example, she might visit an apple orchard, a pumpkin patch, or a farmers market. We can take in the sight, smells, and sounds of the great outdoors as part of preparing for holiday celebrations. Thus, we feel more connected with our ancestors and with nature, Nicole says.
“Making local or seasonal vegetables and fruits a focal point of holiday meals creates a connection to our place on the planet. Holiday self-care is then an act of attention toward the abundance of our planet and the nourishing memories of our lives.”
—Nicole Renée Matthews, Director of Yoga at Newport Academy
Making Positive Holiday Connections with Family
During the holiday season, the media presents us with many idealized images of holiday connections with relatives. But the truth is that spending extended time with family during the holidays can be challenging for many of us. According to Family Development Theory, a family goes through various stages as each member of the family matures. And the road isn’t always smooth.
To create authentic connections, it helps to take control of our own reactions. That’s where a regular practice of yoga and meditation can help. These practices help develop tools for staying centered and calm. Therefore, yoga and meditation build stress resilience.
“The approaches we take while on our yoga mat or meditative seat create that still point within, where we can let a challenging relative’s words and behaviors move through our awareness,” says Nicole. “This isn’t to say the interaction will change, it’s that our response will change.” And, she says, it helps to remember that each person at the holiday table has their own pains and triumphs.
A Meditative Practice for Opening the Heart
Mudras are hand positions that are done with specific intentions. In yoga, mudras are used to direct the energy in the body and mind.
Here’s one of Nicole’s favorite mudras for opening the heart and making holiday connections easier.
- Cup the pinky side of the hands together at heart level.
- Envision your breathing traveling into the basin of your belly.
- Next, envision the breath swirling up into your palms.
- Feel yourself breathing grace into the space of your heart.
- Experience your heart as the space between you and another person.
Strategies for Making Holiday Connections Easier and More Authentic
Here are a few ways to navigate family gatherings during the holidays.
Don’t set unrealistic expectations.
Changes in family dynamics take place slowly, over time. Therefore, don’t expect difficult relationships to get better without lots of hard work and patience. Hence, acknowledge what works and what doesn’t work so well. And go into a family gathering with optimism but without setting yourself up for disappointment.
Clear up outstanding issues beforehand.
Try to work out any current conflicts with relatives before you see each other at holiday gatherings. Spend time one-on-one with the person. Express yourself clearly and listen with compassion. See if you can find a solution or resolution. If not, then agree to put the conflict on pause during the holidays.
Agree in advance to avoid hot topics.
In some families, certain subjects are guaranteed to stoke conflict. Circulate a text or email to remind everyone that you won’t be talking about that topic—whether it’s politics, old grievances, or gossip.
Moreover, teens and adults should turn off their phones during holiday gatherings. This way, we avoid the temptation to turn to the screen for distraction during challenging interactions.
Take space whenever you need it.
If a conversation becomes uncomfortable or you feel triggered, step away. In fact, step outside for a few moments. Take a few breaths of fresh air or watch the clouds go by. Hence, you can return to the gathering feeling calmer and more centered.
Do something fun.
Find something everyone can participate in. It might be a board game, outdoor games, Charades, or a hike before or after the meal. Find as many ways as possible to entertain and engage family members of all ages.
Even when making holiday connections is challenging, there’s always something to be grateful for. Research on gratitude has shown that focusing on the good things in our life positively impacts mood, coping behaviors, and even physical health. Families might consider making a gratitude practice part of their holiday tradition.
In summary, holiday connections can be satisfying and nourishing. It helps to come into the season with a positive mindset rather than being depleted. Moreover, paying attention to our own needs as well as others’ will make all the difference.
Science Daily, 25 March 2015.
BMC Public Health. 2018;18:8.
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