Contributed by Annie Meneakis, LCSW
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the season of winter holidays was truly described with the classic lovely words: joy, light, peace, beauty, and charity of heart, while the other common but not so lovely words: stress, hassle, and hurried were replaced with, “time of serene reflection, making room for joy, slowing down to take in the beauty, connecting with those we cherish?”
There are small practices we can utilize in this season to bring the latter more to life/more to light. Holding firm to what brings us meaning in this season is a wonderful way to keep the stress at bay and make room for what is most important to us. Try making yourself a cup of tea and in a quiet moment, writing down three words to describe what you most loved about the winter holidays you have celebrated in the past, that felt the most filled with joy, or beauty, or with a sense of connectedness to others. If there are other words to best describe what you most wish for yourself and those you love for this coming holiday season, write those words down too. Place the three words which convey the deepest meaning for you, where you will see them at the beginning of every day this holiday season.
Each week, you can write down 4 simple things you can do to make those words come to life/light. For example, make a paper star, or candle with a note to tell someone how they bring light into your day/life, then send it or put it in their lunch box; make time to take a walk slow enough to stop and look at your favorite winter trees; make a winter nature’s beauty collage, call an old friend you haven’t spoken to in ages; take more tea breaks and practice mindfulness while sipping; or linger for a moment to really take in the fragrances you most love in this season, such as mandarin orange peels, or cinnamon or cedar sprigs, or chocolate gelt.
Check in to see what you might need to let go, in order to make room for moments with more meaning. Another day with another cup of tea, you can make a plan for simplifying-the-holidays to bring down the pace and so, keep the stress at bay. How many events felt like too much for you or your family, how many gifts being bought felt over the top, or what time of day or evening do you need to end outings so that you have time at home to slow down and simply enjoy being present in the moment and in the season? Tape the plan for simplifying your schedule to your calendar, so that you can follow through with setting the boundaries required for simplifying the pace of your days/evenings.
Make a practice of setting a moment here and there in the day to check in with how you’re feeling. Stress lingers in our bodies. The simple practice of mindfulness where we check in, with awareness, with what is happening in our bodies, can be such a helpful tool for noting if we need to take a moment to stretch, exhale, or simply just ‘be.’ And the more aware we are of what is happening inside us, we are more able to communicate more mindfully, more lovingly in the present moment with those we love. If you find yourself feeling stressed, take a moment to follow your breath. You can simply note the inhale and the exhale, or you can imagine breathing in a feeling of peace and exhaling stress. These are great practices to utilize when you get home, or when you get in your car after going shopping or after a rough day at work, so that you can return home to be present with those to whom you wish to give a present.
Wishing you much joy and peace this holiday season and in the New Year
Annie Meneakis, LCSW, is a counselor/therapist whose individual and couples counseling services include coaching in mindfulness practices for greater health and connectedness with loved ones.