We call this the holiday season. Family, food, fun, and train wrecks all rolled into one span of time: Thanksgiving to New Year’s.
There are memories rolling like thunder through our minds and emotions, traditions that seem to come back around again and again – some very sweet and some recurring nightmares. Why we always go there is one of life’s great mysteries.
I am from a big ol’ Southern family and our home scene at holiday times was Cat-on-a-Hot-Tin-Roof-on-steroids. I can look back now and it seems so funny, crazy, tragic, and real all at once. But today, I no longer have an emotional charge around any of that stuff. I have cleaned and cleared my life for many years and I am at peace with it all. Life goes on and so do we, peacefully if we have done the work to let go and live for today’s real-time moments. I’m fortunate to be where I am today and grateful – very, very grateful – to be living life with my eyes, heart, mind, and spirit wide open to the here and now. That’s my gift to myself – and a reminder that the holidays have not always been the peace and freedom I know today.
Over the years I have picked up a few valuable tips about keeping the holiday cheer clean, clear, and happy!
Tip #1: Be mindful around the food and drink of the season. The truth is, this applies to life every day, but is even more relevant when we are all in the eat-like-we’re-still-kids-stuffing-our-faces-mode for the holidays. Sugar is toxic, poison to our cells. It feeds all the auto-immune diseases, is a disaster for blood sugar levels, contributes to mood swings, and takes us from high-and-happy to crashing-and-burning rapidly. So being very mindful of the sugar-land temptations is very smart. Easy does it. This reduces your sensitivity to be triggered. We also need to be mindful of carbs, as they are immediately transformed into sugars during digestion and head straight into the blood stream. Eating fresh foods, veggies, salads, whole grains, and reasonable portions of meat keeps the body and blood sugar in balance. And with all the other potential challenges of the season that are not necessarily within our control, what we eat is one we can control. Moderation also prevents that terrible emotional guilt about overeating that can also contribute to depression or hyper-sensitivity.
Tip #2: Break the cycles of your holiday history. Rather than following your personal history of holiday behavior, change it up. If you tend to sit and watch football games, get up and out of the house, take some long walks – see the world on foot. If you like to sleep late, make yourself get up early, catch a sunrise, and say some personal prayers for those who are no longer with you and to life itself for that beautiful morning. Changing patterns allows us to live in the moment, rather than living in a rut of old stories – the ones with which you fool yourself, such as “It’s going to be better this time around.” When you catch yourself getting triggered, stop! It is that simple. STOP. No need to explain. Just say, “I’m not going there,” change the subject, or let there even be some stillness. You don’t need to engage. Break your pattern.
Tip #3: Make an altar to your life, to the now of your life, not the past. The holidays are a time when you are filled with the enjoyment of decorating the house, so include in your decorating a special altar to your faith – whatever form it takes – to your family and friends, and to your personal journey through life. This could be placed on a side table or on your dresser in your room. It commemorates your corner to connect, to breathe, and acknowledge how far you have come through the years. This marks who and where you are now in your life. Consider lighting a seven-day candle to keep the flame of gratitude burning and to honor your living journey.
Tip #4: If you are musical or love music, make a song mix for the season, something that’s relevant to the past, present, and future of the soundtrack of your life. This is an easy and creative effort that can get a lot of play. Plug in the songs of the year that mark the good times, the transitions, and accomplishments. Music is a big part of life, so why not create your own personal holiday mix? End it with something joyous, something that stirs your positive, uplifting emotions.
Tip #5: Have a go-to friend – or better yet, two – people with whom you can pledge to have each other’s back for the holidays. If any one of you gets into a bad spot or in too deep with an emotional crisis, you have a bond to be there for each other. This is very important. It brings us close to the ones with whom we are in it for the long haul, and ensures ahead of time that we won’t get stuck in a bad situation with no one to call. Consider getting together on a regular basis for coffee or a meal where you can each unbend about the challenges of the day – and the blessings that are unfolding. Keep it here and now and keep it honest and sincere, heart to heart. The past has a way of haunting us over the holidays, but that is a choice. It’s one we can change to our benefit. By staying with the present, with life today, we experience the beauty and grace of the opportunities to be connected together, moving forward as a band of friends, and even family. In the now, we own this minute only and save ourselves from getting lost in that old-time-feeling minefield.
Tip #6: Most importantly, do not isolate. Being alone with yourself by choice is good, but isolating out of sadness, anger, or fear – any of those old emotions and feelings that often erupt over the holidays – is exactly the opposite. Don’t let those emotions or feelings own you. Our feelings are solely our responsibility. So take action to keep the energy moving and your attention on today, the present, where you can change what needs to be changed and choose where to put your attention. We create our lives based on where we place our attention. It serves us well when we take 100 percent responsibility for where and what we do with that attention.
Follow these tips and you’ll never again derail in one of those emotional holiday family train wrecks. You’ll preserve your peace, calm, sobriety, and enjoyment regardless of what is happening around you.