Transcending Holiday Stress:
A Spiritual Approach
By Kathryn Alice, RScP
Here’s some good news about holiday stress: it’s not nearly as bad as some experts make it out to be. According to a study by Hillary, Holland and Ramm, there is actually a decrease in psychiatric emergencies, and studies consistently show lower incidences of suicide and psychiatric hospitalization during Christmas. This is undoubtedly due to the increased connections people have to others over the holidays. However, the rate of heart attacks soars (probably due to overindulgence) and an NBC/Prevention Magazine poll found 41% of those questioned consider the holidays stressful.
If you are one of those who either hates the holidays or finds them overwhelming, a spiritual approach can make this coming holiday better than you could ever imagine. And because of the September terrorism, more people than ever before will be both going to church and spending cherished time with their families and friends, a step in the right direction. Below are some spiritual steps you can take to experience the holidays differently:
• INTEND: Set an intention for the holidays and write it down, taking into consideration things that haven’t worked for you in the past. An example: “I set the intention that my holidays are filled with love, joy and harmony. I treasure the time with my family, and we get along well. And the shopping gets done with ease, without breaking my budget.” Get as specific as you want, and definitely address fears or worries you may have. For example, if you’re worried about flying, affirm that “my travels are safe and filled with grace.”
• RELEASE: Release holidays of the past that you may consider “perfect.” No matter how great they were, holding on to the past can only get in the way of enjoying the present. Release a past love who is not with you now. Release the “good old days” when perhaps more of the family got together or were alive. Release trying to create the perfect Martha Stewart occasions. Release any internal pressure you may feel to buy the perfect gifts and spend too much money.
• LOVE: After everything our country has been going through, connecting with others has taken a much higher priority. A sense of unity and openheartedness is in the air. It is the perfect time to open your own heart, to get over differences you may have had with friends or family and to extend compassion, love and understanding to others. This can be as simple as vowing to see the good in an irritating relative or volunteering at a homeless shelter. The fact is that each interaction, no matter how small, is precious, each act of love and caring sacred. If you have felt isolated or have no family, as you reach out and love, you will be met in kind.
• ACCEPT: Part of spiritual practice is letting go of the ideal. There are no Norman Rockwell Christmases. Appreciating what is in your life now is important. The ideal can get in the way of your simply enjoying what is before you. In fact, the ideal is false, never to be realized anyway. If you find yourself without a romantic partner, better to tell yourself “I will have other holidays that are romantic, but for now, I’m going to enjoy my family and friends to the fullest.” Accept that you’re human and can only do so much. If you don’t get those hundred Christmas cards addressed, that’s okay. Accept that fighting more traffic, navigating crowded malls and standing in longer lines are just part of the season, and pledge not to let these things get to you. Develop a thick skin and don’t take irritable people around you personally.
• ENJOY: Vow to enjoy yourself more this holiday, even if it may look like indulgence to you. Use the time off from work to do something that feels decadent like staying in bed to read for the entire day, getting a massage or luxuriating in the bath. Consider it a gift to yourself. If enjoyment for you means avoiding someone whom you just can’t handle or spending only 24 hours with your family because they’re hard on you, then by all means, protect yourself. Life is too short to do things you don’t enjoy.
• CREATE: It is a good time to get creative. Money is cited as the number one stress factor over the holidays. And most people say they’d rather receive something personal like a photo than something extravagant. Instead of spending megabucks on gifts, get creative and frame a treasured photo or color xerox a collage you made as gifts. Another way of getting creative is to introduce some new fun into your family. If your family or friends tend to sit around and bicker or complain, instigate a joke-telling fest. Or start a group backrub. You’d be surprised at how open people of any age are to doing new and fun things.
• EXAMINE: If you tend to overspend during the holidays, take some time to explore why you do it. It may be that you want to look good to others or keep up with the wealthier in your family. Or maybe you’re playing “God,” trying to give the world to someone, instead of understanding that it’s not your place to do so. Parents don’t want to disappoint their children and so spend more than they can afford. What’s hard for you about the holidays can guide you to beliefs that you’re ready to change. Journal, contemplate, meditate and ultimately pray, so that you can transcend old and troublesome patterns.
• BE HEALTHY: To avoid the physical ailments of overindulgence, be aware of ways you can embrace health during the holidays. Snacks rather than full-on meals are better when possible. Eschewing alcohol helps with depression and is a big boost to keeping an emotional balance. One woman initiated a daily family walk through the neighborhood. Not only did it help them feel better but it was a tremendous bonding time. Other ways of getting exercise include tumbling with the children, volunteering to do the dishes or organizing a game of “kick the can” in the yard with the whole family. Let out your emotions through journaling or talks with trusted ones. Bottled-up emotions can spill over the top and wreak havoc on your health and emotional wellbeing. Be especially aware of your body and its needs during this time. Make sure you get enough sleep, and drink water to keep yourself hydrated.
• SPIRITUALIZE EVERYTHING: The recent tragedies have helped us focus on what’s important. Start viewing each moment of connection as sacred. Go to a place of worship and connect with God. See each small gesture you make as an important ritual. See each challenging moment as an opportunity for growth and transcendence, a time to remember what truly matters. The fact is that whatever stress you’re feeling is probably not earthshattering in the grand scheme of things. You’re not facing lions in a pit. Putting it in perspective can help you go from feeling blue to being grateful for each breath and beat of your heart. Nothing should be important enough to stop you from feeling happy and peaceful. In the end, it is up to you to create a wonderful, stress-free holiday for yourself. Only you can take the pressure off of yourself, draw appropriate boundaries and set high intentions for enjoying each moment. Even as you set the intention to change things, it is already happening on the inner, sure to manifest in a transcendent experience of the holidays. Here’s to the best holiday you’ve ever had!
Kathryn Alice, RScP has led Agape’s Crisis Support Team for the past five years. She teaches work-shops all over the country and writes frequently on matters of spirituality. She has a large private practice, and can be reached at (310) 581-1981.
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