It’s mid-November, and while most people are probably finalizing their travel plans and doing Christmas shopping, I’m stocking up my toolbox with tools that will help me regulate my nervous system and stay grounded to combat holiday stress. I’m fortunate to have a dear and wonderful family; the holidays tend to be merry and bright, overall. Even so, with travel, group gatherings in a covid world, and a disruption to routine, the holiday stress is all too real.
Here are a few ways that I’m preparing for holiday stress:
Lately I’ve been focusing a lot on my breathing throughout the day, not just in meditation. I’ve been learning breathing techniques to help increase my energy level and to soothe my nervous system. I’m starting to realize that all of the different breath practices that exist have a specific purpose behind them, and once you become familiar you can select which breathing technique to do based on how you want to feel. I’ve been finding one particular technique to be very helpful: 4-7-8 breathing. This particular technique has been found to reduce stress and anxiety and help with falling asleep. To do this, you breathe in through your nose to a count of four. Retain the breath for a count of seven. Exhale through pursed lips, with some force as if you’re blowing out through a straw, making a sound like a balloon being let out. Repeat four times. [Disclaimer: breathing techniques can cause dizziness or lightheadedness. Do not try this alone for the first time if you are new to breathwork. Practice while sitting or lying down. If you are doing this without the guidance of a teacher, stop if you feel discomfort or lightheadedness.] Thank you to Hannah Kinderlehrer, for sharing this technique in her recent series, The Wisdom of the Body.
This is the most challenging one for me. I can do it in a class (if I can motivate myself to get there), but I have SUCH a hard time fitting movement in when it’s just me at home. I am grateful for my puppy, who gets me out on a walk each day, but I can tell my body wants a different type of movement to help release stress and tension. Yoga and qigong are the two forms of movement I am able to get myself to do at home right now, and I especially enjoy online classes so I have the support of a teacher. I’m excited that Mind Oasis is offering The Gift of Grounding for the Holidays: Yoga and Energy Techniques. I don’t have to leave my house to attend a class with a real live teacher and other students! Plus, the recordings will still be there after the class ends, so I can continue to practice during the holidays. Time and again in my life, yoga has proven to be hugely effective at helping me manage my stress, and I know it will make this holiday season more enjoyable for me.
For some reason, I’m much more likely to make something happen if it’s for someone else than if it’s just for me–this applies to meditation, too. If I have a commitment to a teacher, I’ll show up without fail. If I have a buddy who is counting on me to show up or even just to report back to them, you better believe I’ll do it. Community Meditation is such an amazing tool for providing accountability and connection. Even when I’m having an “I don’t wanna” kind of practice day, when I show up to Community Meditation and am greeted by the warmth of a friendly guide, welcoming me by name, it can totally turn things around. I know that it’s much harder to stick to a practice routine when I’m with family for the holidays, which means that I’ve got to shore up my practice now so that I can be more likely to carve out that time when I’m not at home. I also know how crucial having that time in stillness is to managing holiday stress. I’m also looking forward to the Mind Oasis 5-Day Holiday Reset as motivation to really get back in the groove.
Have you thought about your sleeping patterns lately? Sleep plays a critical role in our physical, mental, and emotional health, yet in my experience there aren’t that many people talking about it. I’ve recently been diagnosed with sleep apnea, which has me paying a lot of attention to my sleeping habits and my sleep hygiene. I had no idea that good sleep hygiene includes practices all throughout the day. I don’t know about you, but I’m not the most pleasant person in the world when I’m not getting enough sleep, so I’m really working on improving my sleep hygiene so that I am better equipped to manage holiday stress. Here are two of my favorite tips that I’ve learned recently from Rosa Schnyer, who recently taught a series on Mind Oasis: 1) Spend time outdoors without sunglasses for 5-10 minutes, 3-4 times a day (avoid being in direct bright light). This helps the brain produce melatonin and can have a beneficial effect on your mood. 2) Have a journal beside your bed to “park your worries” by writing down things on your mind to do, and allocate a time within the next day or week that you will address them. This can help the brain relax and unwind from anxiety producing thoughts. With a longer to-do list on the horizon to prepare for the holidays, this practice will be especially useful. If you’re also interested in improving your sleep, you may enjoy this free 30 minute mini-workshop, taught by Sara-Mai Conway: A Brief Morning Practice for More Restful Nights.
I have a tendency to want to keep everyone around me happy (who’s with me?), and have trouble setting healthy boundaries, especially when it comes to people I love. I find that I want to maximize my time spent with my family, so I tend to skip a lot of the above items on this list. Before this holiday season hits I’m going to spend some time reflecting on what I need, so that I can show up in the most healthy and loving way for myself and for others. What about you? Are there any boundaries that you need to establish with your family?
In what ways are you preparing for the holidays? Help me grow my toolbox–leave your tips in the comments!
By Kaleigh Carter