The good doctor on how to cope with the holidays
The holidays can be such a perfect time to work on yourself. Put another way: a perfect time to observe the issues you’re in the process of working on. Whatever it is you may be trying to change within, the externals, filled as they may be with family, friends, food, drink, spending, commercialism, merriment (forced?), travel woes and more, are guaranteed to provide an opportunity to see just how far you’ve come, and just what parts of yourself are still in need of your attention.
Sometimes we observe with a sense of humor, indicating that we’re doing pretty well, although perhaps there’s still some internal eye-rolling and tongue-biting going on. At the other end of the spectrum, maybe we’re in a state of wanting to numb ourselves until the whole ordeal is over. Probably most often the holidays offer some combination of happiness and old wounds being pricked; wonderful and difficult significant others; personal growth opportunities that bring about a sense of accomplishment when we succeed, and those that remind us that there are still insecurities or unresolved resentments to be tackled. Artfully speaking, the holidays have a way of showing us both our inner Norman Rockwell and our inner Edvard Munch.
Any and all of this may be sparked by a racist or homophobic comment from Uncle Morty at the holiday dinner table. Or by a passive-aggressive gift from Aunt Louise. Or by the behavior of a sibling with whom you have a long history that turns ever more prickly each year. Or by any other big white elephant in the middle of the room. Just the thought of returning to the family home at the holidays can bring about a sense of joy, dread, grief or angst, or some combo. Let’s face it: at the holidays, childhood rears its head, and the quality of yours—plus whatever personal growth work you’ve done so far—will determine how it all feels. And to think…we do this year after year, Thanksgiving to Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.
So how do we gladden the tidings? My suggestion to you is that we absolutely have the power to allow this time of year to be an opportunity to do it more happily and healthfully. Here are three tips to help make the holidays a time that feels good to you, in all ways: mind, body and spirit.
• Pray / meditate / ponder gratefulness. An attitude of gratitude is a powerful thing. I believe that there is always, always something to be grateful for. So before your internal complainer has a chance to gather steam, think of this: Neale Donald Walsch (author of the Conversations With God series), reminds us that, “The struggle ends when the gratitude begins.” And humorist Garrison Keillor puts it this way: “Thank you, God, for this good life, and forgive us if we do not love it enough.” Perhaps a gratitude meditation of your own can help prepare you for whatever challenges your holidays may offer. Get to a quiet place…breathe…and remind yourself that no matter what, you’ll be OK.
• Take care of yourself while you take care of others. In past columns, you’ve read about the problems that occur when you lose yourself in the busy-ness of the season, or when you put everyone else’s needs first without honoring your own needs and wants, or when you simply can’t say “no.” The diminishing of your own importance, ignoring healthy boundaries, a lack of good self-care—these are the best ways I know of to plant seeds of resentment. If you get your holiday cookies through suffering or guilt or playing the martyr, it’s time to look at that, because the holidays are when all these buttons are absolutely going to get pushed. So you might as well start your process of paying attention now. Believe me, everyone will be happier.
• Go hug a tree. Now, you can take this as literally as you’d like. What I mean is, take a break. Observe your own pace, and when you start to race too fast, talk too fast, eat too fast, think too fast, drive too fast, slow down. You know the feeling I’m talking about. Use it as a red flag to remind you to take a breath. Push the pause button. And maybe spend the afternoon over a long lunch with a good friend. Or call an elderly relative and really listen to them, with nothing else on your mind. Sit on the back porch with a cup of tea or a glass of mulled wine and breathe in the energy of the universe. Get out of yourself, and think of a creative act of kindness to do for a stranger. Play with the dogs. Go for a walk. Hug a tree.
I hope these suggestions help make your holidays the best ever. My gift to you is a wish for great joy, strong health, and a forgiving spirit. Until next time, from Byron Katie: “Our loved ones will continue to press every button we have, until we realize what it is that we don’t want to know about ourselves yet.”