The presents! The parties! The food! The holiday season can bring great joy or great misery, depending on how you look at it. Who among us hasn't thought it might be better to escape the dreary weather and endless commitments, for a jaunt in Hawaii instead? At the same time, most of us have fond memories of a favorite family tradition, the extra time to spend with friends, and the cheery lights surrounding us.
This can be a stressful ambivalence, as making many holiday plans seems like a great idea several weeks out. With the best intentions, we say yes to every invitation that comes our way, commit to hosting a party ourselves, and make homemade presents for all five dozen people on our list. But by the time these commitments roll around, we realize just how busy we've made ourselves. And resentment builds. The annual holiday fight storms over the dinner table. Expectations and reality collide, leading to sometimes colossal disappointment.
So how do we take ownership over our experience of the holidays? It isn't easy. And we can't expect perfection (but really, when can we?) However, there are a few things we can do to be mindful around the holidays and reduce our stress levels.
1) Do it for Someone Else
This is the oldest trick in the yogi book. Karma yoga is an action performed without expectation of results. Unfortunately, many of our activities during the holiday season have an implicit expectation tied to them. So when we give a gift this year and the reaction is not as enthusiastic as we'd hoped for, let's ask ourselves why we chose to give the gift in the first place. Was it because we wanted to show our appreciation for the recipient? Or because we were desiring that they express their appreciation for us? When we spend hours cooking a meal or getting our home ready for a party and feel angry that no one helped us, let's remember why we are hosting in the first place. Not to force others to give to us, but so we could give to them.
When we evaluate our expectations like this, it's easier to see how they disappointment us. If our motive is to "get" something, maybe it's time to evaluate our methods as well. Would our friend be just as happy with a homemade card as the present we bought? Would our family be okay doing a potluck or rotating party duties every year? Getting in tune with our wants and needs is liberating. Once we realize that we're feeling angry because we aren't feeling appreciated or respected, it's easier to ask for what we really want. This is more effective than turning gift-giving into implicit, reciprocal needs-giving. A final, powerful way to cultivate this attitude is to donate your time to a worthy cause, like your favorite local charity or your elderly neighbor who lives alone. It is easier to see how much we really have when we give to others.
2) Take Care of Yourself
This one sounds easy, but isn't. If we aren't able to strike a balance between taking care of ourselves and others, we run the risk of burnout. Burnout is the fastest way to build resentment and nobody likes that! Let's take a few minutes before the holidays really get into swing and brainstorm three ways we're going to take care of ourselves this month. As examples, we might commit to practicing a half hour of meditation and yoga everyday. Or book an hour one evening each week for a candlelight bath with music (lock the bathroom door). We could treat ourselves to a spa day or get tickets to a concert or play we've been wanting to see. Or maybe a daily walk or some extra family-time will clear our minds.
3) A Mindful Exercise
Old habits die hard. It's likely that unpleasant thoughts will continue to arise, even if we are practicing karma yoga and self-care. In these moments, it's helpful to have a short practice to get the mind back under control. Recognize that noticing unpleasant thoughts and experiencing them without judgement is a mindful practice itself. This practice takes about five minutes.
How do you stay relaxed during the holidays?
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.