Counsellor's Corner: Keeping the Holiday Season Simple

Counsellor's Courner: Keeping the Holiday Season Simple

The Holiday season is approaching fast and with it often comes feelings of stress and being overwhelmed. We try to squeeze all the good cheer, kindness and making everything perfect in the three to four weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year. Why do we do that to ourselves???

The reality is there are lots of ways of rethinking and experiencing the holiday season that can take the pressure off and have us get in touch with the spirit of the season. Here are some ideas:

Be Present in Each Moment

Whatever you are doing, try to be fully present in that experience. If you are baking cookies with your grandkids focus on that experience. If you are at your weekly yoga or kick-boxing class, stay fully present in that. Building skills around staying present in our own experiences can go a long way to reducing anxiety and lessening worry in our lives.

Think Small

Try to spend this season showing caring through small, inexpensive gestures. Think of things you can do with people instead of buying for people. A homemade gift card for a walk in the park, a foot rub, or a movie night out together are appreciated. A Christmas card that tells the person what you appreciate about them is always cherished. These small gestures help build relationships and express your love and gratitude.

Make Time for Yourself

During the holiday season, it’s even more important that you make time for yourself. Reflect on what rejuvenates or relaxes you the most and then mark that in your schedule. It may be a soothing bubble bath, a movie night out with your partner or friend, or an evening reading a good book. Maintaining balance through this season is very important to feeling positive about the season when it’s over.

Expect Mixed Feelings

The expression “be of good cheer” is often associated with the holiday season, yet at this time of year, like any other, people have often experienced difficult losses or significant hardships that make “being cheerful” very difficult. Allow yourself to feel all the emotions that come up at this time of year and recognize that is normal and expected. It is normal to be sitting at a family gathering and feel sadness that your dad has passed away, and at the same time feel grateful for the other family present around the table. Let the feelings move through you, acknowledging them and breathing through your experience of them. Think of them as waves that ebb and flow through our lives and be gentle with yourself.

Practice Saying “No”

Setting limits with people in respectful ways is necessary to living a healthy and balanced life. We can’t be everything to everyone and we certainly can’t’ be everywhere at once. Depending on your energy level and your time, you may not be able to show up to every holiday season gathering that you’re invited to. Or you may need to show up late and leave early. Saying “no” to something will leave the door open to saying “yes” to something that is more of a priority for you. Be gentle with yourself and remind yourself that you are allowed to make those choices.

Share the Load

If you are having big family or friend gatherings, consider making them potluck. Everyone bringing their favourite appetizer or dish can make for a culinary delight! Or if you are having a traditional Christmas dinner, make a list of the menu and ask family/friends what dish they would like to bring. Many hands do make light work, and will help your hosting duties be less overwhelming, leaving to you more time to visit with your guests.

Start new Rituals and Traditions

When families grow and change, old ways of doing things don’t always fit. Who do you spend what time with? What kind of meals do you have? Where do you gather? Who does the cooking? Who’s coming home? These are all questions that are up for discussion and negotiation as family and friend networks grow and change. Having discussions about these questions and inviting creative ideas can get people enthused about new ways of celebrating and gathering. It does take time for everyone to adapt so in the meantime, be kind and respectful to each other.

Focus on Gratitude and Love

The holiday season can be a time to realize what is important in your life. A simple way to do that is to take time each day to reflect on three things that you appreciate in your life right now and what difference those three things make. This focus on what’s in your “half full” glass will remind you what your priorities are and you will see the potential in life, yourself and others.

Remember to Breathe

It’s funny how something we do thousands of times each day can be something we are so unaware of! Breath is a tool that we carry with us wherever we are and has proven to be a helpful way to center ourselves, to get more settled in our body and reduce anxiety. So if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsettled, find a quiet place - bedroom, bathroom or close your office door - and bring your attention to your breath. Notice it moving in and out of your body, and be curious about the flow and rhythm without any judgment. Taking 2 minutes to experience your breath will give you a little bit of space from the whirling thoughts in your head, and allow your body to start to settle. You can check in with your breathing once or many times a day to create little pockets of calm. You can also join a meditation class or search for an App that help develop this skill.

Keeping things simple around the holiday season can make more room for reflection and sharing the spirit of gratitude and love.

Colleen Barss, MSW