In Search of Holiday Zen
Most of us can sum up the holidays in five words: time (not enough), food (too much), money (too little), stress (twice the norm) and fatigue (the “I could nap for a week” kind). We get so wrapped up in trying to conceive and manufacture the perfect holiday that we lose sight of what truly makes it special. We eat more than we should, our exercise program goes down the tubes, and ultimately we wind up shorting our families, our friends and ourselves.
So why not get the mercenary aspect of the season over with early by setting a deadline for buying and wrapping gifts? Then you can spend more time socializing, taking in the sounds and sights of the holidays, and treating yourself to some downtime at the spa, in the yard, on the couch—anywhere but the mall.
Identifying the obstacles to saying no and acknowledging when we’ve done enough is also important. “This is an acceptance issue,” says Dr. Robert Bulgarelli, a cardiologist and stress management consultant at Riddle Memorial Hospital. “Most people think, ‘If I care for everyone, I’ll be seen as a good person.’ But you have to know who to care for and avoid excluding yourself in the process. Think: self-care, self-love, self-nurture.”
This is especially important for people who work in a service-oriented business. “When you give so much—moms do this the most—you end up resenting the people you’re doing things for,” Bulgarelli says. “Instead of worrying about the risk of caring for yourself, ask what the risk is if you don’t.”
As the director of the Penn Program for Stress Management, Dr. Michael J. Baime reminds his clients to look around at others. “Everyone around us has had hard stuff to get through,” says Baime, who urges those suffering to reach out to others who’ve faced similar challenges. “Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone to support you and help you see how to grow.”
Gaining an understanding of what triggers our anxiety, sadness and resentment is one of the best means of self-care. Especially during the holidays, it’s important to surround yourself with those who truly care about your well-being and distance yourself from negativity and criticism that’s hurtful rather than constructive.
Part of living in the moment is facing contentious or turbulent emotions head on. Sometimes the best release is simply to sit down and have a good cry. Baime advocates letting go of old grudges and resentments. “Forgiveness requires revisiting the hurt and making peace with it, so it’s easier said than done—and it’s just a quick fix,” he says. “But if you try, just for a few days, to let go and lighten your emotional load, your mind will be freer to embrace the positive and special moments—big or small—that might have otherwise passed you by.”
In this month’s Living Well, Dawn E. Warden offers 21 ways to deal with holiday stress. A mother of five, she knows of what she speaks.