A few weeks ago I found myself in CVS with the mission of grabbing a last minute birthday card for my oldest sister who lives in Boston. My family is a devout snail mail tribe. Calls may go straight to voicemail, text is hit or miss, but the card better be postmarked. And I was late.
I made a b-line to the Hallmarks, noticing that the Halloween selection was slim; rightfully so, it was October 29th. Then I noticed the display change in color from black and orange to brown and cranberry. Thanksgiving cards. Fair enough I thought to myself, we’re about four weeks out. But then everything turned to red, green, blue and silver. Christmas and Hanukkah. Not okay by my standards, but then again, people who plan that far in advance don’t find themselves frantically running laps through CVS at the last minute like I was. To each their own.
Each November, I tell myself that this year, the holidays will be different. I’ll focus on the true meaning and cut back on my spending. I’ll indulge less and donate more. And in small measures, this has actually become true for me over time.
On one hand, the holidays are a soulful, heart warming time of year. They serve as a reminder to be thankful for our good fortune and they allow us to reconnect with loved ones. They also validate the argument that we too deserve that new leather bag. One for Auntie Laura, one for me.
But the holidays can also be challenging. Stress reaches an all time high during the final months of the year. We’re suddenly keeping track of far more obligations and it feels like the brain is constantly going into overdrive. When distance separates us from those we love and lean on, or the loss of someone dear to us dampens tradition, our negative feelings become amplified and the spirit of the season certainly doesn’t burn as bright.
Of course, there are a few things we can do- easy things at that- to stay on track and maintain perspective during the season. I’ve had success with these holiday tricks, and I know others have as well. As always, take small steps, release judgement and experiment with what works for you.
In the corporate world this means “make sure they know that they’re only getting what they’ve paid for!” But that’s not what I mean. There’s no need to lower our expectations, it doesn’t do us any good to prepare for a sub-par holiday.
Think about it this way- our thoughts will create our outcome. This is always true, but especially true at the holidays. We are always looking for ways to prove ourselves right. For example, if you dread Thanksgiving dinner with your super successful, married with mansion cousin because her questions about your new startup feel condescending, you will automatically look for a tone in her voice that indicates disapproval. Or you might mistake her distance at dessert for a lack of interest and support, when really she just wants ten minutes of peace after a day of insane holiday shopping. You’ll win the game you choose to play, so make sure it’s one that serves you and your intentions.
I know, we’re busy people. Time and energy are valuable resources and the last thing we want to do is squander them. I have a good friend who loves to entertain and host. She’s amazing at it too. I always find myself asking her before an event “what can I bring?!” A few months back I noticed a change in her normal “oh nothing” or “wine is fine” response. Instead she asked if I could come a few minutes early to set the table. And at the last gathering I found myself rinsing and loading dishes into the dishwasher as the evening wound down. Of course I was thrilled, it’s human nature to want to help and feel useful. That little chunk of time and energy was the perfect thank you that topped any side dish or dessert. You don’t have to devote a day. You don’t even have to devote an hour. Just take note of the small opportunities and do what you can for those you love.
The holidays can feel like an infinite bombardment of temptation. The treats at work. The traditional meals that can go on for hours. These things have a place and you don’t have to ditch them if you don’t want. But I encourage you to start each day on the right foot. This will mean something different for everyone. It might look like sticking with your morning yoga routine even if you were out late the night before. Or perhaps opting for the breakfast smoothie even when you know it’s pastry day at work.
Morning rituals are key in setting ourselves up for a successful day. If you wake up late, skip your morning meditation and go to town on the leftover cookies from last night, you’re much more likely to continue the string of poor choices as the day drags on. That ‘well I already messed up the day’ mentality is tough to overcome, so give yourself the benefit of the doubt from the get-go.
The holidays mean something different to everyone. Whether you dread them or eagerly start your count down in July, take the time to get honest about what’s important for you. Then spread that joy in a way that feels true to you.
Megan Sanchez is the owner of UpSwing Health Coaching. She works one-on-one with busy professionals who want to revamp their lifestyle and prioritize self-care. Megan helps people develop habits that are built on super small, everyday commitments to nutrition, movement, and personal nourishment that feel good because your body tells you so, not because you’re following the latest trend. She loves both outdoor and urban adventures. She’s called DC home for 7 years.