Family plays in snow.
December 15, 2017 | by The Polyclinic

By: Jennie Crooks, MSW

“The holiday season” is upon us—the season filled with a variety of reasons to celebrate—or not. This time of year has the potential to be joyful, bright, and filled with family and friends! It also has the potential to create tremendous stress, a tendency to overeat, and feelings of isolation or grief.

No matter what you’re planning or celebrating this holiday season, consider these tips to help make it more enjoyable. Following any of these suggestions can help you notice what you’re feeling, when you’re feeling it, and when it’s time to take a break for self-care.

Enjoy every bite with mindful eating

Being fully present during holiday dining not only helps you appreciate the all-sensory experience of a good meal, but also may help you avoid overeating. Here’s how it works: When you are sitting down for the meal, begin by noticing the colors of the foods on the table. Then you can move to noticing the place setting, feeling the tablecloth – or the table itself. Are you noticing any steam rising from individual dishes? As food is moving around the table, you are paying attention to each dish’s smell.

As you are serving yourself, you are feeling the weight of the spoon in your hand as you scoop the food, the sound it makes as you put food onto your plate. As you are lifting the fork, you are noticing how much pressure is required to puncture a piece of food, your mouth salivating as the bite approaches your lips. You are noticing the taste, the texture, the tendency to want to swallow, and savoring each flavor. As the meal progresses, taking the occasional mindful bite will help you fully experience the joy of eating with friends and family.

Establish ground rules to smooth over family time and practice self-care

Given the news cycle of the past year, conversations at holiday gatherings can quickly become fraught with tension and frustration. Certain topics can feel especially uncomfortable, so it helps to set boundaries up front. Perhaps openly acknowledge how challenging this year has been and agree to keep politics and other sensitive subjects off-limits.

Celebrating the holiday solo? Do something you love or value

Research shows us that we are at our best when we are taking action that aligns with our values. No matter how big or small the action might feel, if it affirms your ideals, it can energize and fulfill you..

For example, if you value health-related activities, focus on those: Practice deep breathing three times a day, include greens with your meal, go for a walk, or practice yoga. Because each activity aligns with your goals and values, you will be doing something that brings you fulfillment (even if you don’t love greens!).

Make time and space for holiday plans after losing a loved one

Do something in honor of your loved one

Consider lighting candles in their memory, make a donation to their favorite charity, volunteer for a cause they supported, or watch their favorite movie while eating a favorite movie snack. Being intentional about how you honor their memory can help you feel more connected to them.

Plan A and Plan B

If you’ve recently lost someone, it might be tough to think about getting through a social situation without your loved one. Consider making a plan A and a plan B. One plan can be “Go to the party” and another plan can be “Stay and home and read a book.” What’s important is that you provide yourself with the space you need to celebrate in the way that feels best in the moment.

Tackle multiple demands by writing lists and letting go

Make a list

Got a lot to do? Write it all down! It might seem obvious, but making a list can help clear up some holiday anxiety. A list gives you a practical, achievable plan and reduces the stress of trying to remember all you have to do.

Make a plan

If one demand in particular is taking up excessive space in your mind, and you find yourself worrying about an undesirable outcome, write out a worst-case scenario plan and how you will cope. Having a plan can help reduce anxiety. Then write out a best-case scenario. Picture the ideal state and encourage your attention to rest there.

Rely on others

It might seem as if you have to do everything by yourself, but chances are, someone close to you would love to help you. Embrace delegation and shared responsibility! Choose the things to do that bring you the most joy, and then allow your “support staff” to pitch in with the rest.

The holiday season might drag on or fly past, but the moments you spend being intentional and mindful can help you create the kind of memories you’ll continue to cherish.

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