The 7 habits you need to survive the holidays.
Now that we’re through Thanksgiving and into the holiday swing, I want to focus this week on 7 habits to set you up for success through the holidays. And by “success,” I mean getting through the holidays feeling good about yourself and without wanting to murder anyone in your family.
Holidays are a major trigger time for many people. Between the focus on food, family, and enforced fun, it can kick up major feelings of insecurity, resentment, and abandonment and put pressure on areas of addiction. Not to mention stirring up family memories and dynamics that many of us would rather keep stuffed in a locked drawer.
If you love the holidays and have none of these triggers, wonderful! These habits will support you in having a great time while cultivating empathy for those who aren’t having such a great time.
Habit #1 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Sit yourself down and do nothing.
The holidays can be a major time of stress and running around. You’re trying to find the perfect gift. The 3 stores near you don’t have the obscure ingredient called for in your grandmother’s special pie recipe and you’re afraid to make a bad substitution that will bum out your family. The traffic is bananas and your city is glutted with dumb tourists who don’t know how to walk down the street.
If you don’t have time to meditate, it’s a sign that you desperately need to meditate.
Even if it’s for 5 minutes, just sit down and put your attention on your breath. Skip the timer or use an app with words or music so you can just let go and listen.
You could focus on feeling where your breath enters your nostrils. You could focus on the expansion in your ribcage or belly. It doesn’t matter, just sit.
It’s more about breaking the pattern of stress and overwhelm in your mind and nervous system then it is about hitting a target, like 20 minutes or a quiet mind.
Habit #2 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Keep it moving.
Even if you don’t have a dedicated gym or movement practice, the holidays are a good time to add movement to your life. Take a post-prandial walk, stretch in front of the TV, drop and do ten pushups next to the bed. Incorporating movement into the holidays helps move emotional energy that might otherwise get stuck and fester.
The holidays are a heightened time, so you probably have more feelings than usual. Instead of going down the spiral of whatever story your head cooks up about what your father said and ending up in the basement of despair, put on some music and dance it out of your body instead.
Habit #3 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Make amends.
The holidays are a perfect time to reflect on the past year (or 50!) and see where you might have amends to make. Chances are if people are triggering you, you’re triggering someone, too. Make an honest assessment of your relationships and where you could clean up your side of the street.
Watch out for making sneaky apologies that pull for a certain response. Are you secretly trying to get the other person to apologize to you? Do you want them to feel bad for the thing they said or did that triggered you? Keep working on your amends until it's clear of all that underlying stuff.
[bctt tweet="Amends work best when they’re only about what you did and what you want to do better in the future.—Marie-Elizabeth Mali"]
Go ahead and set up a phone call to own something you did that you’re unhappy with. Tell the person how you intend to do better next time. Go into 2019 with a clear conscience and a lighter load.
Habit #4 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Be curious
Did a friend say something that landed weird with you? Be curious and ask what’s up for them.
Does a family member seem shut down at the party? Be curious and ask if something’s happened that they’re upset about.
Curiosity goes a long way during an emotionally heightened season like the holidays. Instead of immediately shutting down or assuming someone’s worst intentions when they say something “off,” and instead of starting a fight, decide in advance to stay curious. By doing so you make it possible for a deeper, more genuine connection to unfold.
Maybe your offer of curiosity isn’t met with openness from the other person. That's okay. By being curious you may still avert a fight and the resulting jangle in yourself from which it can take hours or days to recover.
You don’t have to like someone to be curious. You don’t have to agree with someone to be curious. Being curious means you get your attention off yourself and your own reactivity for a moment (don’t worry, you can have it back if you want it!) and try to understand the other person's point of view.
[bctt tweet="Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.—Dr. Stephen R. Covey."]
Habit #5 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Get your SEP on.
Sleeping, eating, and pooping are three crucial ways you can regulate your emotions throughout the holiday season.
Make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep. Limit screen time before bed or wear blue light blocking glasses to mitigate the screens’ effect. Keep the room cool enough that you don’t wake up sweating. Try to go to bed and wake up at the consistent times that are right for you.
Limit sugar and alcohol, both of which are probably responsible for the most fights and tears of anything we ingest. Look at how toddlers come down after a sugar high and you have a clear picture of what happens in your nervous system when you binge on sugar and alcohol.
Eat nourishing and grounding foods, making sure to include vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins. Staying grounded with healthy food goes a long way to avoiding a spat with your mom if she passes the peas with a snippy comment.
Do what you can to keep your pooping on track. Do you get constipated or have loose stools when you get stressed? Emotions have a hand in that and there are also physical things you can do to help your digestion stay steadier under duress.
Taking magnesium, like Natural Calm powder taken before bed, can help with constipation and relaxation. Warm cooked foods like rice, as well as probiotics, can help with looseness. Drinking ginger tea helps overall digestion.
You can most help your digestion by giving yourself permission to feel what’s being kicked up emotionally. Address it instead of suppressing it or directing it inward at your guts.
Habit #6 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Cozy up to no.
To say sane during the holidays, meet your new bestie: NO.
Invited to multiple parties and have no idea how to squeeze them all in? Say no to most or all of them.
Did that aunt you never liked invite you over for tea and you're dreading it? If it won't cause World War III in your family, consider saying no this year.
Does your boss want you to take on extra projects before the end of the year and you know that you're already maxed out? Find a way to gracefully say no, like "I'd be happy to take on this project. Which of these other three projects would you like me to put on the back burner until January in order to get this done?"
You get the picture. Having boundaries around your time and energy expenditure during this heightened time will go a long way toward having you enter the new year filled up and ready to rock those resolutions instead of crawling across the finishing line of 2018 and collapsing on the ground.
Habit #7 to get through the holidays with your sanity intact: Build it and they will come.
Your subconscious doesn't know the difference between fantasy and reality. You can use this truth to your advantage over the holidays. In the past, maybe you went into the family gathering dreading the fight you knew would break out, or the icy silence and the loud glares. Not this year!
This year instead, decide how you want to feel. Let's say you want to feel joy and peace. Practice feeling joy and peace in your body as you picture the table where you'll be sitting, the people who will be there, the whole scene.
Spend a few minutes every day from now until the day in question feeling joy and peace in your body as you picture the gathering. In this way, you'll groove a new emotional experience into your subconscious mind.
When the time comes and you walk into the gathering, you won't enter braced for pain like before (which tends to recreate it). Instead, you'll enter expecting joy and peace. Chances are you'll get less triggered if others act out. The gathering might even go more smoothly than it has in the past. You're that powerful!
So give it a try, as if you were doing research. Decide how you want to feel. Practice feeling that way for a few minutes every day, while also thinking of the people who are most likely to trigger you. Then see how you feel when you actually see them. Does something change?
The holidays can be a source of joy, love, connection, and they can be a nightmare. Get through the holidays with your sanity intact by using these 7 habits. You have agency to create the holiday experience you want instead of being a victim of your circumstances.
Grow your agency in the face of the pull of your oldest patterns by practicing these habits that boost clarity and resourcefulness. When the family shenanigans happen that would typically wreck you, you'll have the power to deal with them in a new way. This agency and power will also serve you in the coming year to create the life you want.