Have Yourself a Mindful Holiday Season
Emily Short Steiner, LMFT
Once the calendar flips to November and December, we are told over and over again that it is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. However, work stress, busy social schedules, financial strain, and longer hours of darkness are a combination that can create a tremendous burden. Many of us feel like we are crumbling under this pressure while trying to put on a smiling face and meet the high standards we set for ourselves to have a perfect holiday season. Here are some small strategies to set boundaries, cultivate self-compassion and have a more mindful holiday season.
1. Reflect on “Christmas Past”
Growing up, we all internalize traditions, expectations, and standards for what the holiday season is meant to be. For some of us, December holds the fondest memories, ones full of magic and laughter; for others, this season is a reminder of fighting families, stress, or grief. If you are able, take a quiet moment to reflect on what emotions and expectations the holiday season brings up for you. The more conscious we are of these expectations, the better we are able to predict our personal triggers. Once you are aware of those internal assumptions about the holiday, try setting an intention for one to two things you want to happen this holiday season, such as “I want to enjoy a holiday movie with my kids” or “I want to take a walk with my spouse to see the Christmas lights in the neighborhood.” By setting a small intention it is easier to stay focused on what your priorities are and control unrealistic expectations.
2. Assess and Respect your Time and Energy Levels
There is so much to do this time of year like: buying presents, baking cookies, having hot chocolate, going to the Christmas tree farm, meeting up with friends, and attending fundraisers. Many of us feel we need to do it all—if not for ourselves than for our children and other loved ones. Try going into each week and thinking about your personal energy levels, available time, and financial situation and then choosing what events feel doable and satisfying. Remind yourself that an invitation is not an obligation and it is okay to say “no.” Remember that we cannot control the emotions of others, and if they feel disappointment over a boundary we set, it is not our responsibility to manage it. Many people worry about disappointing their children if they are not able to buy every present or attend every holiday event. It can be helpful to remember that your children are allowed to feel disappointed and it is a healthy feeling for them to experience. A good boundary respects your needs while taking into account the needs of others. If set boundaries around your time and energy, it will be easier to stay in the moment and enjoy the events you do choose.
3. Practice Holiday Mindfulness
How many of us have had the experience of putting so much effort into planning the perfect event only to spend the entire time thinking about the other items on our to-do lists. When we first start practicing mindfulness, it can take effort to “stay in the moment,” but the effort pays off. We can practice mindfulness by paying attention to the sights, sounds, textures, and smells of each activity to stay firmly grounded in the moment. For example: Picture yourself wrapping presents and noticing the texture of the wrapping paper, the sounds of scissors moving through the paper, and the smell of the tape. Engaging with our senses helps our minds stop wandering and helps us enjoy the moment we are in.
4. Allow for Negative and Positive Emotions
As adults, we become so weighed down with standards and expectations we don’t allow ourselves to fully engage with each moment. We sometimes wonder why the holidays don’t feel as wonderful as they did when we were children. Children are able to experience the highs and lows of the holiday season because they do not restrict their emotional experience as much. It may help to focus on each emotion as it comes and notice whether it is joy, sadness, grief or excitement and then allow it to pass instead of trying to ignore or change it. It is also important to recognize that we cannot have positive emotions without negative ones. It is okay to feel sad or nervous during this season. By accepting those feelings, we will have more energy to feel our happier emotions as well.
The more we can be compassionate toward ourselves and accept our own needs during this busy time of year, the more we will be able to fully engage and be present with our loved ones.
Emily Short Steiner is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Pennsylvania. She has experience working with individuals, couples and families and a specialization in sex therapy. Please reach out if you are interested in counseling services.