My son burst into tears as his friends waited at our door to play. He had fallen up our stairs and gashed his shin on the metal rims of the hall steps. I plopped on the floor to comfort him and as he turned to me, he said, “Mom, you told me to hurry.” And why? Why did he need to hurry? In my mind, I had a million tasks to accomplish including facilitating his tasks – homework, dinner and holiday preparations. I had thought it could be good for him to get outside and run around with his pals for a short time. But I was pressuring him to hurry up and why? “Quick, go examine bugs under the rocks?!” The pointlessness of my urging dawned on me. As he ran out and the door shut, I noticed the quiet in our house and really stopped for the first time that day. What was I doing?
With the holiday season upon us – no matter what holiday you are celebrating – you may be feeling similarly – fully in the throes of too much to do with too little time. And the knot in your tummy may be growing as mine has been. In a time when I want to produce joy for my family, I realize I am a lesser version of what I can be because of stress. I know I will get to this anxiety-ridden place well before the major events actually happen. And somehow I feel powerless to stop it. There’s still work to get accomplished before taking time off. There’s still the same amount of presents to buy for others (and actually, more as E’s friends and connections grow). There’s still cookies to bake, decorations to hang and packages to send.
And so I write this post to help myself as much as you, dear reader, think about and deal with the situation we find ourselves in. In the very midst of the chaos, how can we keep our calm center? And how can we recall that our state of mind and being will impact the way others experience our celebrations together? Our stress will show. And whether we like or not, it’s contagious. It spreads like a virus and others get snappy and agitated – not conducive attitudes for cooperation more less jubilation.
Whether you celebrate Hannukah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, all of the major holidays this season celebrate light in the darkness. And that’s the gift I most want to give my family and the one I think they will appreciate beyond the “stuff.” Yes, I’ll bring gifts. But more importantly, I am setting an intention to prepare myself for the experience of celebrating with family and friends. I plan to deck our halls with a feeling of peace and joy and appreciation for others and our abundance. And I know that has to begin with me. Here are a few things I plan to do that, maybe, you’ll consider for yourself.
Engage in deep breathing each day. I was in the habit of taking ten deep breaths before I launched into work each morning but my routine fell away as the season crowded my moments. So I plan to return to this practice to set a tone for my day.
Get exercise and fresh air. The routine of breathing outside and getting to the gym could easily also fall away with the season. But I know these are the activities that keep me centered, focused and feeling resilient. So I plan to make special arrangements while my son is home over the extended break so that I am sure to keep my routines sacred for the benefit of my whole family. If I cannot get to the gym, then a walk around the block will become an easy substitute.
Mentally prepare before events. My sparkling outfit is not as important as the demeanor, the tone or the mood I bring to any celebration. Whether it’s in my own home, at a friend’s house or in a restaurant, the way I engage with others matters significantly. It can mean the difference between really connecting or “phoning it in” without true interchange. There may be individuals that you celebrate with only one time a year. This is that moment, that unique opportunity to bring your focused attention to them. I will set my own intention to focus on the present before I go so that when I arrive, I am ready to fully engage with whoever comes my way. I’ll stop and take a pause before leaving the house or answering the doorbell. This small step can have a ripple effect on my own and my family’s experience of the holidays. I know this will set an example and tone for my child. I notice when I’m stressed, he’s stressed. But when I’m calm and engaging with others, he does the same.
Set goals for connection. When you go to a party, you likely anticipate who you’ll see. Sometimes that anticipation creates anxiety if you’ve had challenges with individuals in the past or if those individuals view you in ways that you do not view yourself. Those interactions can be opportunities for your own growth in social and emotional competence. Instead of dreading those who challenge you, ask yourself three important questions.
I know that if I model curiosity and compassion, that will have a direct impact on how my child interacts with others. I want to leave a party feeling like I know more about the individuals that I met than I did walking into the room. And what if I also learned more about myself by attempting to relinquish worries about what I’m saying and what messages I’m communicating about my own life but focus on learning about others, finding common ground and sharing my ability to be empathetic and show care?
Reflect on plans and say “no” when it’s too much. Instead of cramming each activity into every space of time in the few weeks left in the year, consider what might be too much. Have you accounted for quiet rest time? Have you considered how the pace will impact family members? We rarely plan our schedules for our mental well-being but particularly in this season of over-commitment, it can be worth asking, “What do we really want or need to do?” “When can we get in rest time?” and “Are there plans we need to say “no” to?
Express gratitude daily. The holiday season is a time of high contrasts – tremendous sorrow missing loved ones that have passed on or reflecting upon our tough circumstances and then, also feeling the magic, imagination and sheer bliss of children’s experience of the traditions surrounding the holidays. It’s an emotional time. So it requires us to become more planful about our big emotions. One way to balance out our adult angst is to express gratitude with our children daily. Whether you mention your gratitude over breakfast or during the ride home from school or at bedtime, kids will benefit by actively appreciating all that they have. And you will benefit by recognizing the goodness in your life. If one of your traditions includes an advent calendar, why not offer words of gratitude with each passing day as you count down the season? It will assist you as you set a positive tone with your family.
Carving out time and space for your mental well-being may seem like another “to do” to add to the list. But consider the fact that paying attention to the tone of your family and setting an example will give you energy and motivation as you gently experience your days. The gift of your attention certainly is one of the most important for your children and your partner. You will be setting the tone for all members of your household to truly experience all of the enjoyment the season has to offer. While you are decorating your home, consider how you might also deck your halls with mental well-being this season! Happy holidays!