By Yvonne Castaneda
For many, the holidays are a time of year to be approached with anticipation and excitement. There are holiday parties to attend, gifts to wrap, decorations to put up and all manner of sweets to be eaten. Some people think nothing of the holiday decorations on sale at Costco in the middle of September, and they will gladly put up a Christmas tree and lights no sooner have they given candy to the last trick-or-treater on Halloween.
And then there’s the rest of humanity, those of us who cringe at the sight of decorations so early in the year. My spouse is one such person. “Already?” he says, his heart racing and tiny beads of sweat forming along his forehead as his eyes take in the decorations, toys and trees on sale as we shop for groceries, an unhealthy level of stress that shoots to the sky no sooner have we washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner. Each year when the holiday season comes to an end, rather than joyous and merry, he is exhausted and defeated.
“The holidays always go by so fast,” he says. “Seriously, I can’t even remember what we did. I didn’t really enjoy them. Everything felt so rushed.”
Whether you look forward to the holidays or want to stick your head in the sand, this time of year can bring with it a range of emotions. Worry about not having enough money to buy your children what they most want can provoke feelings of sadness, which in turn can show up as irritability and anger. Having to deal with family members who seem to have discovered exactly which button to press to annoy you can make you feel as though you’re heading into an emotional battle, making you feel more stressed and tense. The expectation that you be ‘merry and jolly’ at all hours of the day is reason enough to want to cancel the holidays, because this pressure to have a Norman Rockwell picture-perfect kind of holiday season is an unfair and unrealistic expectation. More importantly, there’s the stress of feeling as though you have a million things to do, things to check off your epic to-do list; food to cook, gifts to wrap, a home to clean, perhaps a holiday gathering to attend, any number of interminable tasks that must be completed before the holiday season peaks and comes to an end.
Perhaps your friends or loved ones tell you to slow down and enjoy the holidays, that you need to stop stressing and getting so worked up about things. But slowing down is no small feat when so many things in our environment constantly remind us that relaxation and enjoyment are not going to be possible. 5 more days! 4 more days! 3 more days! Hurry up, sale ends tomorrow! Last minute shopping deals! No surprise, rather than get into the holiday spirit, most of us get into a pair of imaginary running shoes and sprint towards the metaphorical finish line that is the end of the season, while others happily coast through the holidays.
So what makes for a joyful and merry, stress-free holiday season? Is it more time? More patience? More compassion? Could it be more presents? Not quite. Perhaps what we need is a little more presence: the ability to fully be in a moment with our mind, our body and spirit.
Imagine if Tom Brady, the former QB for the Patriots, had spent all of his time during each football game agonizing and worrying about the rest of the season. What would’ve happened if Coach Belichick had spoken to the team during half time about the plays they needed to execute in the coming weeks? What if the fans had come to the games with huge signs that read, “Don’t forget about the Chiefs game next week!” or “Start thinking about the Ravens game in two weeks!”. Perhaps the Patriots would not have won 6 Superbowls; maybe we would’ve packed Tom Brady’s suitcase for him. They are champions today because they put forth all of their skills and talents and drive and determination in the present. Next time you watch a football game, notice the players on the team as they execute a play. They are not “future-tripping”: they are right there for each play in mind, body and spirit.
When we spend each moment thinking about the next day or the next week, time seems to pass quickly, and later we find it hard to remember what we actually did because we weren’t present for any of it. Let’s be honest, though; being fully present for 100% of the holiday season may be an unfair expectation. If you’re someone who has always planned out each moment, it wouldn’t be realistic to suddenly change everything about how you do things. Maybe for this season, you pick only ONE thing that you’d like to approach a little differently, something that you’d really like to slow down and enjoy. Maybe it’s shopping or putting up decorations, or maybe it’s getting together with friends or family members. (If it’s wrapping gifts, rest assured there’s a special place in heaven for you). Whatever it might be, make a commitment to it and be mindful of your thoughts. If you catch yourself thinking about the future, use any one of your five senses to find something in your immediate environment to bring you back to the present: the sight of holiday lights, the smell of a candle, the sound of children laughing or playing, the taste of hot chocolate, how it feels to touch your pet’s fur. This simple technique may help you find the present moment once again, so that when the season comes to an end, you can cherish that one moment in which rather than stressed and anxious, you were mindful and merry.