In November, we gather with friends and family to give thanks for the love, health and gifts we have in our lives.   We spend the day cooking, feasting, cleaning, and celebrating.  In one day, it is over as we lay our heads down with full bellies and hearts full of gratitude.  

Then December hits and it can feel like a tornado of new obligations and activities.  Each day is a rushing river of to-do lists, shopping to be done, rehearsals to shuttle children to, class parties to attend, get togethers with friends, work parties, travel plans, cooking, baking, cold and flu season, end of the year deadlines at work,  wrapping…the list goes on and on and on. Most days feel like an endless merry-go-round rather than the most wonderful time of the year.  

So, how to find the joy?  How to to get off the merry-go-round of full calendars, parties and obligations and find the happiness and joy that this time of year can bring?  How do we bring back that full heart of gratitude rather than the ever ending stress?

Employing a few tips into your winter routine will not only help to lower your stress, they can also help bring more calm, balance and happiness to you and your family!

Schedule in a time to breathe

We breathe all day long without even thinking of it.  Thank goodness because we can get so busy we might actually forget!  The thing is, we often don’t pay attention to our breath and the extraordinary power it has to support our mental and physical well being. 

Try setting an alarm on your watch or phone four times a day to remind yourself to take time to intentionally focus on your breath for 1 to 3 minutes.  During this time, you can pause, place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach, just focusing your attention on your inhalations and exhalations.  You can even try breathing in for a count of 3 and exhaling out for a count of 5, as science shows a longer exhale helps to calm the parasympathetic nervous system. These small breaks can work wonders to clear your mind, calm your body and give your worried mind a break!

Move It, Move It

Getting your body moving pumps fresh oxygenated blood to your brain and body, bringing with it dopamine (the hormone that increases happiness)!  This oxygen and dopamine

supports a sense of calm and joy which lasts much longer than the time of exercise.  

As a bonus, try exercising outside!  Researchers have found that spending time in nature reduces stress, anxiety and anger and increases a sense emotional and physical well-being.

Continue with Gratitude

We spend so much time in November creating “thankful turkeys” in school and expressing gratitude at dinner. Yet, after Thanksgiving, we seem to put this extremely beneficial practice aside.  We say, extend this gratitude practice past November!  Research has shown that expressing gratitude actually raises happiness levels – who knew? And, did you know that we can’t have feelings of gratitude and anxiety, for example, at the same time?

Practicing gratitude has the ability to make us happier and less anxious.  Here are some ideas to try: practice finding gratitude in your everyday activities and notice how this feels, keep a gratitude journal each night and spend moments expressing feelings of gratitude from the day at dinner or on the drive home with your family. 

Looking for and expressing gratitude in this way will eventually become a habit that will bring joy (and numerous health benefits) to you and your entire family!

Treat yourself like you would treat others

Self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff says, “Sadly, there’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as we treat ourselves.”  During this extremely busy and stressful time of year, it can be easy to be hard on ourselves.  Are we doing enough for our families?  Am I meeting the end of the year deadlines at work? Am I being cheerful enough? Do I look good enough for the holiday activities?  The thing is, this self-critic and constant judgment doesn’t make us a better friend, spouse, parent or colleague. Not to mention, it’s exhausting!

Practice noticing when this inner-critic shows up. Notice the message and remind yourself that these are just thoughts and thoughts are not facts!  See if you can change the negative inner dialogue to offer yourself compassion. Self-compassion involves treating yourself the same way you would treat a dear friend – with kindness, compassion and respect. Practice asking yourself “What do I need right now?” Or telling yourself, “I got this!”

Engage your senses

When you fully engage your senses, the part of the brain responsible for anxiety, stress and worry is given a break.  What a relief!  During this time of year, when schedules and obligations are overwhelming, we can find ourselves either ruminating over something that didn’t go as planned or worried about what we still have to do.  This can be exhausting.  When you notice these overwhelming thoughts and feelings, practice engaging one of your senses fully.  For example, spend a minute listening to all the sounds around you, letting the sounds just come to you without judgment or labels.  Light a scented candle and take several deep, cleansing breaths, really noticing how the smell enters and exits your nose.  Hold your warm coffee mug, feeling smooth, warm ceramic in your hands.  Spend a meal eating mindfully. This involves slowing down, noticing the colors and shapes of the food on your plate, taking time to really taste the food and paying attention to the textures in your mouth as you chew.  Engaging your senses in this way will not only support you in being more present and grateful for the small things in life, it will also help reduce stress and worry!

Trying even a few of these accessible and fairly simple practices during this hectic time of year can profoundly effect how you feel and show up for yourself and those around you. Ideally, you’ll go from feeling like a frazzled ball of stress to being more calm, balanced and better able to find the joy and happiness that the holiday season has to offer!

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