Every year I find myself wishing we could somehow stretch this holiday season out. For example, wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate Christmas in July? Not only would it be easier to travel, but think of all the party options. We could have barbecues or lakeside swim gatherings. This is, of course, possible in some locations. When my dad lived in Florida we New Englanders would visit him at Christmas and marvel at the Christmas decorations on the palm trees. People could sing about dreaming of a white Christmas, but they didn’t have to scrape their cars and drive in it.
For most of us, though, the holiday season can seem to descend upon us like a huge “to do” list where every item needs to be completed in rapid succession. Not only that, it all needs to be perfect since other people are counting on us. Instead of being a joyful time spent with family and friends, the months of November and December can become a blur of obligations. Already I can see my own calendar filling up with invitations and commitments. Then along come January and February which should be a time to catch our collective breaths and recover. Instead, we often find ourselves depressed from the let-down of the abrupt end of all that activity. We are then faced with yet another “to do” list of things that need to be undone (take down that Christmas tree!) or that didn’t get done while we were focused on the holidays.
Buried under all of this activity the actual meaning of the season can get lost. That is, gratitude (remember the name “Thanksgiving”?) and the opportunity to give and receive in ways we should probably have been doing all year long but may have neglected. Now seems to be the time to make up for that.
So how can we mitigate some of the stress we impose on ourselves at this time of year? One thing we can all do is try not to completely abandon our usual routines. If you have a regular exercise practice, try to find some way to maintain it in some fashion. Maybe the time you can allocate won’t be as long or intense as your usual activity. But even 10 minutes can help clear your mind, loosen your muscles and diminish some of the tension in your body. The physical activity will not only help calm your stress but also give you the energy you need to attend to all your tasks. When you can’t make it to a class, try getting up a few minutes earlier and doing some exercising on your own. Ask your instructor to give you some ideas for a short practice you can do at home. Or check out some of the many ideas you can find on the internet. You might be surprised to learn how much you can do in a small space. If you have guests, bring them with you to your class. Or ask them to join you for a walk. Sometimes we feel obligated to spend every waking hour with visitors, especially if we have not seen them for a while. But a 10-minute break might be welcome for a guest who has also been engaged non-stop for the entire visit.
If you are a guest yourself, see if you can find a class in the area you are visiting. It can be interesting and even fun to try something different. But avoid making that an additional source of stress. No matter where you are, there are always places to walk even if you have to drive a bit to get to them. If the weather is bad, dress appropriately. Borrow clothing if you haven’t brought the right stuff with you. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Make it a priority just as you would if you were home. Remember – you count, too! You can’t give what you don’t have. If you become overwhelmed or exhausted you won’t be any good to anyone.
During any travelling, make sure to take breaks. Sometimes we get in a car and just want to get to where we’re going regardless of how long that requires. That is certainly true for me. So when I’m driving any distance longer that a couple of hours, I try to plan my timing to allow for stretch breaks – time to get out of the car, breathe some fresh air, and walk around even if it is only a few minutes worth. If you’re driving with someone else, tell them how much these breaks mean to you. They might even find that it helps them, too.
Flying presents a different set of challenges. There can be long, anxiety-producing lines when checking in, cancelled or delayed flights or other obstacles in the path of your best laid plans. You can’t control any of these interferences. So getting upset will only make you feel bad. It won’t change the situation. Try taking just a few minutes to close your eyes and breathe deeply. This can help to soothe and relax you. You might even find that you become more receptive to whatever is happening in this particular moment. Once you’re in the plane, get up from your seat periodically. Don’t worry about disturbing the others in your row. You would get up for them, so why shouldn’t they get up for you? Walk up and down the aisle or do some stretches in the aisle or near the rest room. You can even stretch in your seat. Try googling “seated stretching” or “stretching on a plane”. You’ll find lots of ideas for ways to stretch when mobility or space is limited. If you need to change planes (and have enough time), try and walk between gates instead of taking a shuttle or those moving stairs. It may seem like a long walk, especially if you have to haul your carry-on bags, but think of all the calories you’ll burn! That Thanksgiving dinner will taste that much better when you know you’ve earned it!
Finally, it’s important to remind yourself that receiving is just as important as giving. As a gracious recipient, you are honoring the giver and acknowledging their kindness. Your family and friends will most likely be happy to give you the space you need to take care of yourself. This is a gift just as much as any trinket presented to you. If you dismiss this gift or treat it as if it is unimportant to you, you are sending the giver a message that what they are offering is meaningless. You would certainly not want your own gifts to be treated this way. The Golden Rule is appropriate here. Think about it before you say “No, I don’t need any help”.
Through it all, remember that most of our “to do” list is things we impose on ourselves. It never hurts to take a moment before committing to something and just think about whether or not it’s a good idea. Are you adding something else to your plate that really isn’t necessary? Or is it something you can graciously decline. Maybe you can suggest an alternative that might lighten your load. Overloading yourself can even make you resentful which is probably not something you want to feel during the holidays. Also, remember that perfection is not required. It’s OK if everything doesn’t get done to your exact specifications. Give yourself the best gift of all: slow down, take some time to breathe, reflect, relax and enjoy. Everyone around you will be glad you did.