‘Tis the season! That’s what all the billboards, advertisements, and email subject lines are saying right about now, anyway. But ‘tis the season for what, exactly?
The obvious answers are “giving” and “gathering” and “getting out the sparkly decorations.” There are presents that need purchasing and cards that need crafting; there are parties that require our presence and ornaments that must be unearthed, unpacked, and put on display; there are cookies to bake, stockings to stuff, sidewalks to shovel… In other words, there’s a lot of doing to be done.
Amidst all this seasonal hustle and bustle, however, possibly the most significant thing you can do for yourself, your loved ones, and the world at large is to keep your own spirit bright. I don’t mean that you should force a smile or put on a 24/7 front if, at any given moment, you’re not feeling particularly merry. I mean that becoming swept up in and frazzled by glitz and good intentions is a common tale during the winter holidays — and as such, now is the prime time to stick to or establish self-care habits that will support not only your personal well-being, but also your good will and your desire for peace on earth.
This is not a one-size-fits-all prescription, so if you’re not already sure what kind of self-care works for you, a bit of trial and error may be in order. To get you started, I’ve put together a short list of pragmatic daily practices to help you maintain your equilibrium during what can be, if you’re not prepared, one of the most stressful seasons of the year. Yes, the thought of agreeing to do anything on a daily basis, even something that is widely assumed to be relaxing and restorative, can be daunting. But we are all capable of this type of commitment. Starting is the hard part, and I’m happy to give you a leg up.
Note that every one of the recommendations below has the power to influence and inspire your children and other family members. Whether you simply set a good example by following this guidance yourself or you invite them to join in on a particular practice, they will inevitably feel the difference in the atmosphere (and see the difference in you).
Meditate. I often find that those who are hesitant to try meditation hold a skewed perspective on what it entails. They picture a monk getting his “om” on in an empty room with no distractions or obligations to stand in his way, and they think, “Fat chance I’m making that happen.” The monk in the monastery is just one super specific, not very relatable illustration of meditation, however. There’s both more and less to it than that.
To put it simply, meditation is an opportunity to turn inward so that you can connect with your intuition, restore your energy, and reignite the light within, amongst other things. Sounds great, right? It is. And contrary to popular misconceptions, there are no “commandments of meditation” to dictate your approach or how long you should spend at it. If you’re a newbie, five minutes is all you need to get you going, and there are plenty of free apps out there to lead you through your first sessions. The primary aim is to give your nervous system a chance to reset so that you can face the unique challenges of each day with a cool head and a calm body. I feel refreshed just thinking about it.
Start (or restart) a journal. Of all the books in my possession, my journal is probably the one I hold most sacred, not so much because of what I put into it each morning, but because it is always ready to hear what I have to say with an unbiased “ear” and to absorb my feelings without judgement. For more than a decade, journaling has been a mainstay of self-care for me, and it has gotten me through some pretty tough times. I am certain that it can do the same for you.
As with meditation, there are no rules to follow here — beyond honesty, that is. You simply need to pick up a pen, put it to paper, and let your thoughts flow out, free in the knowledge that no other soul ever needs to see what you write. By the time you’re finished, your mind will inevitably feel more roomy, less weighted, and better able to process new information and intense sensations (which can be in pretty high supply around this time of year).
Get physical. This is a general reference to exercise. Pick your poison. The point is to keep yourself moving, especially when the impulse to hibernate is strong, because succumbing to a sedentary lifestyle for several months won’t do much for your mind-body balance.
If it’s not too cold where you are, or if you don’t mind that frozen-face-and-fingers feeling, hitting the bike trail or going for a run or walk outside are excellent options because they allow you the chance to connect with nature while getting your move on. Where weather prevents such external adventures, a trip to the gym or a dance or yoga class can be just as effective. If safety and social distancing are concerns in your area, you’re in luck: Dance and yoga studios across the country now offer group and private sessions online. There’s no longer any excuse for inactivity — not even a good old-fashioned snow day.
Fuel up. Whether or not you’re a fan of fruitcake, the many culinary delights of the holidays can pose a threat to your mental clarity as well as the size of your waistband. I’m not suggesting that you forgo all your favorite festive foods; I’m advocating for moderation and intuitive eating (i.e., literally listening to your gut).
Start your day with a low-sugar breakfast so that you won’t be tempted to make an entire batch of gingerbread disappear at lunch. Snack on a little something solid before you head to parties or potlucks so that you don’t find yourself over-indulging on sweets. Cut off your peppermint bark supply chain ahead of nightfall so that you aren’t up all night with a stomach ache. Difficult as it may seem to put down the chocolate-laced candy canes and grab a bag of baby carrots, making sound nutritional choices throughout the season will help you to keep your brain and body in the game straight into the New Year.
SLEEP. Seriously. “Sleepy” is not one of Santa’s reindeer for a reason. Making memories with your family and friends becomes more and more challenging with every hour of shut-eye you sacrifice. Those pine needles in the living room will not judge you for waiting until morning to sweep them up. Baking is best done when you’re conscious enough to remember whether or not you turned the oven on. The meaning of Miracle on 34th Street is kind of lost if you doze off before Kris Kringle’s court case is over.
Invest in your REM cycle. No one else can do it for you, and I guarantee that your whole holiday experience will be far more satisfying if you don’t collapse from exhaustion in the middle of it.
All things above considered, making it through December with a healthy body, happy heart, and full spirit isn’t entirely a practical matter. I have one more not-so-tangible tip to offer: Whenever you can, choose to be Cindy Lou Who. In this instance, you may have to let your kids take the lead. Ask them to make festive movie selections and plan out a silver-bell-laden soundtrack. Let them decide if conditions are better for snow angels or sledding. Allow them to remind you what the snow-covered, pine-scented, sugarplum holiday world looks like through wide, innocent, childlike eyes — because that’s where the real magic comes from.
As always, I’m happy to serve as a resource for you and your spirit anytime of year. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and feel free to reach out to me personally via my website.