By Denise Hellekson
Well, Thanksgiving is over, Black Friday has come and gone, and the beginning of the holiday season is upon us. I love the holiday season; Bing, Andy, and Frank serenading me with the Christmas songs that shape my memories; Christmas decorations adding a warm glow to the cold, dark December nights; holiday movies like old friends reminding me of the magic and miracles and goodness of the season; gathering with friends and family to bake cookies, decorate the tree, and celebrate with those we love. What’s not to love?
But I can become overwhelmed with the lists of things to be done before December 24. I have been known to become a servant to the almighty “to do” list in an effort to buy the “perfect” gifts, and fulfill the commitments that come with the season.
At the height of trying to do all things/be all places/for all those I care about, I can remember flopping onto the couch one Christmas Day to catch my breath; I finally had time to sit down and take in the moment, only to discover 90% of it had already passed. The presents had been opened, the feast eaten, boxes and paper strewn everywhere. By the time I was fully present to Christmas, it was almost gone. In my quest to conquer “the list,” I’d lost sight of the reason behind all the activity. I was so caught up in getting to the finish line that I missed out on the experiences that make the season so special.
Since that time, I’ve been working on giving myself the gift of being more present to the season; it’s a work in progress, but here are some simple, quick, low demand tips to help set the stage for a happier, more present holiday experience.
Set your intention for the holiday season. Before you start making the “to do” list, which is all about the “what,” define for yourself the purpose and overall goal, which gets to the “why.” How do you want to feel? What do you want to experience? What do you want to remember? Identifying your “why” not only helps you determine what really needs to be put on the “to do” list, but it also takes it from an obligation to a choice; the list becomes a tool to help you get to your overall goal, rather than a task master that controls your days and eats away at your peace of mind.
Set your intention for the day. When you wake up in the morning; instead of flying out of bed playing “beat the clock,” set the alarm for 5-10 minutes earlier and start the day by asking yourself some questions. “What kind of a day do I want to have?” “How can I bring a sense of fun and enjoyment to the day?” “What do I need to NOT DO in order to have a good day?”
Start the day by saying “thank you”—think about all the things you are grateful for and looking forward to. “Thank you” can be a great way to end the day as well, and helps you to fall asleep remembering the successes and unexpected joys of the day.
Be selective. What do you need to cut back on in order to appreciate and enjoy the engagements that matter to you? Is it really about doing it all, or doing what matters most to you and your family? Give yourself permission to be selective; to slow it down a little and to choose. Maybe taking an evening to slip into your pj’s, read “The Christmas Carol,” and enjoy your tree will be the perfect gift to yourself instead of rushing out to another engagement when you are tired and worn and nerves are wearing thin. You get to decide; choose wisely!
Stop and breathe. As you go about your day, take time to stop, breathe, take in the sights, smells and sounds around you. Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What do I need to do to take care of myself?”
Recharge your battery! Take time to eat food that gives you the nutrition you need to stay energized. Pack healthy snacks to graze on throughout the day. Get adequate sleep.
Spread some cheer. Make it a goal to spread a little cheer throughout the day. There are a lot of stressed people running around this time of year; we can either be the catalyst that snaps their last nerve, or the balm that offers kindness and connection in a busy world. It doesn’t take much; a friendly smile, a little patience, common courtesies like holding a door open, or saying thank you; simple gestures that can extend the hand of friendship to those around us.
By being more present, we not only have the opportunity to embrace the season more fully for ourselves, but we are also more available to share the gift of our presence with others.
Wishing you simple pleasures, happy moments with those you love, and a heart filled with the goodness of the season.
Denise Hellekson provides EAP counseling, training, consulting, and crisis response services for The Village Business Institute. She has a master’s degree in Community and Rehabilitation Counseling from St. Cloud State University; and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and a Qualified Neutral under Rule 114 of the Minnesota General Rules of Practice (Mediator). Hellekson has many years of experience in counseling, advocacy, and consulting services.