Holy fruit cake, it’s that time again! You know, when everything’s over-priced, overbooked, overstuffed—and you’re already over it. Before you start slinging Scrooge clichés and adding too much rum to your eggnog, here are some holistic hints to help you survive the season in mind, body and (holiday) spirit.
Filtered, curated Insta-ntaneous images have replaced the sugar plums dancing in our heads with impossible expectations and futile comparisons. Your turkey doesn’t look like the portrait-mode perfectly basted bird in your feed, your tree isn’t decorated with homemade ornaments you made in your spotless Dwell-worthy kitchen, and your family doesn’t wear beautiful white cashmere sweaters frolicking by the fireplace with organic mulled cranberry cider (recipe #linkinbio), smiling without spilling a drop.
Like trying to make our way out of the elevator at the shopping mall, it can be easy to feel trapped and resentful. How do we find our way from the bitter taste of ambush to “the most wonderful time of the year?”
A Merry Meditation: STOP, So We Can START
The pressure to have a good time, make sure everyone else is having a good time, handle travel logistics, and navigate family dynamics alongside managing expectations can add up to serious hypertension. This kicks up production of stress hormones like cortisol. Our central nervous system is fascinating. In order to manage stress, we need to encourage our parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation) and ask our sympathetic nervous system (stress response) to subside.
Taking time to meditate or even a power nap for twenty minutes during the day will help calm our stress hormones and return us to a more peaceful state. This isn’t only good news for our emotional wellbeing; it encourages better sleep patterns, helps keep heartburn and inflammation at bay, and contributes to a more effective metabolism and a stronger immune system as well. We’re four times more likely to get into a car accident if we’ve had less than six hours of sleep (and imagine how much more likely to have an incident with that obnoxious co-worker at the ugly-sweater office Christmas party).
In other words, we need to log off and hit refresh so we can untangle our perspective and discover that creating space is creative space. If we stop to start, we can design a solution instead of spinout into something we end up regretting—shouting verbal explosives when our mate sets off the fire alarm and doesn’t remember the code, berating our sister for over-salting the latkes, or going ballistic when our mother turns the whipped cream into butter.
STOP to START is a handy acronym, and a meditation you can sneak in anytime. It’s a guiding system you can apply to any situation from kitchen nightmares to the Kwanza catastrophes. Step outside, stay in your car for an extra minute, find a bathroom, an empty room, or garage for a moment alone, or just stay put where you are and:
S : Stop.
T: Take one breath at a time.
O: Observe. Is your heart beating into your throat? Are you shaking, terse, grinding your teeth, or wearing your shoulders in your ears? Is a scenario ruminating over and over in your mind like a whirlpool sucking you down? Maybe you’re amped up, anticipating certain failure for something that hasn’t even happened yet. Just take notice.
P: Pause for thirty seconds and just breathe.
S: Make space. Space is where possibility lives; it’s where you viscerally discover creating space to be creative space. Like a fresh parchment-covered cookie sheet, appreciate the crisp, uncluttered newness, ready for innovative ingredients. Notice the space between your fingers and toes, and between your inhales and exhales. Allow them to become even more expansive and free. Add a pause at the top when you’re full of breath and a beat at the bottom when you’re empty. Rich, deep oxygenating inhales and surrendering, calming exhales can help you even sense a bit more room in between the swirling thoughts in your head.
T: Turn the volume down on negative chatter, defensiveness, judgement and assumption. Imagine your hand on the volume knob; keep turning it to the left, encouraging crowded calamity to give way to capacious quiet.
A: Accept and acknowledge. Accept where you are right now, and acknowledge room for improvement without finding fault. Shift from a perception of comparison and competition, or impossible perfection to one of patience, compassion and curiosity. A meal is forever a work-in-progress, just like life. We keep improving the recipe even as we learn to enjoy the bites in between. Every assemblage of personalities will have its own spice too—sometimes a bit bland and other times total overload. All of it is intel for how we might season the soup next time.
R: Renew. Let this newfound spacious awareness inspire your creative START. The alarm code will be retrieved and the smoke will clear. Your relationship with your sister is more important than the latkes, and the butter your mother made will be delicious when you toast up the panettone you got from your Secret Santa.
T: Take mindful action. Now that you have taken a STOP to refresh, you can START to find what many Eastern philosophies refer to as your “Beginner’s Mind.” The mind of a beginner is curious and open, not mired in what it thinks it already knows; it isn’t weighed down by expectations (those “resentments waiting to happen”).
When Merriment Exceeds Moderation
When it comes to the culinary spoils of the holidays, it’s our favorite time of year for traditional treats and seasonal splurges. But sometimes, our go-to response to stress is to reach for seconds—or thirds (or fourths). If you find yourself in that common call and response, here are some things to keep in mind.
Don’t Panic: A one-off of over-doing it isn’t going to cause serious damage, but we don’t want it to turn it into a modus operandi. Strategically plan your go-for-it meals, and shift toward veggies, fruits, fiber-rich foods, and plenty of water for the rest. Next time you reach for that extra piece of pie, helping of mashed potatoes, or glass of wine, remind yourself how it feels to go too far, and ask yourself if it’s worth it.
Too Late? Stir a spoonful of baking soda into a glass of water, have a cup of peppermint tea, or sip some sparkling water to help settle your over-filled stomach. Give it about twenty minutes to take effect. Probiotics are great all the time, but they could be your favorite holiday gift when you’re feeling like you’re the stocking stuffer. Kefir and many yogurts on the market are good sources, and there are supplements and liquid forms, which are easy to find as well. Probiotics help boost the good, gut-dwelling bacteria that aid our digestion and immune functions, and they may help lower cholesterol and risks of certain kinds of cancers too.
Try these digestion-encouraging poses:
Cat and Cow Pose: On your hands and knees, inhale deeply, arch your back, and look to the sky, tilting your sit bones (those bones on which you actually sit) high. Exhale and round your back like a cat, tucking your tailbone toward your navel. Rhythmically, gently repeat this stretch of the front and back body. This massages our digestive system as well as our liver, gallbladder and pancreas, all of which could use a little extra love this time of year.
Seated or Supine Twist: A great way to flush out our system is in a carefully constructed deep twist. Sit in a way that’s comfortable to you. I suggest a seated, cross-legged position. Find leverage, using your left hand to the outside of your right thigh. I love doing this pose in front of a wall with my right hand pressing against it to deepen the twist. For even more spinal support, lie on your back. You can cross your right knee over your left, or hug both knees into your chest without the cross for a softer version—adjust your hips to the right as your knees gently fall to the left. Be sure to do both sides of your twist, and refrain from forcing; be kind to your body the way you would your holiday guests.
During this holiday season, think of these moments as a gift to yourself. And these are strategies that can be called upon throughout all seasons, which are useful to remember as we careen toward that mother of all expectations—the New Years Resolution.