My daughter was just visiting for the week of Thanksgiving and I found myself thinking about what it means to come home. Maybe you also grew up thinking of “home” as that place you could really be yourself? Ideally, home is where you can put up your feet and get comfortable, where you’re safe, accepted, and valued. Coming home for the holidays, then, should be like returning to that familiar feeling of love and peace.
But for many of us, achieving that sense of well-being to have a calm holiday season is not as simple as “coming home.”
“The holidays bring up a lot of grief for me,” says Kristina Sigurdson DeFrancesco, a ministries coordinator in Massachusetts. “Plus, it’s my roughest time of the year for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder,” she adds. With about 5% of Americans coping with SAD and nearly 7% with depression, Kristina is not alone in struggling this season. Even for those without SAD or depression, the hustle of holiday preparations, endless shopping, and family expectations can feel overwhelming. Since most of us can’t return to an actual place for that sense of well-being (if we ever could), where exactly do we find it?
For Kristina, who’s discerning a call to ordination, her work and worship at Episcopal churches provides “a grounding outside of the commercial chaos. I really appreciate that for helping me stay centered amid the craziness — for me, Christmas has always been about love. My church is offering a Cookies and Carols day for kids, and I’ll be there as photographer, taking photos of kids with Saint Nicholas.”
Turning to a spiritual community during the holidays is one way to have a calm holiday season. Norma Maxwell, a Life + Business Coach at Immeasurably More Life Coaching, shares another: “Don’t forget to breathe! One extremely effective way to help ease anxiety, relieve heartache, and begin to recharge is through the consistent practice of yoga. Find a short, gentle sequence of poses you can practice each day and really focus on your breath. Breathing in calm and exhaling stress. It’s a great time to pray, express gratitude, and ask for strength. By simply slowing down a few minutes each day, and focusing on your breathing, you’ll begin to clear the chaos of your day. Even five to ten minutes a day will help significantly, and soon you’ll find the stress of the holidays losing its grip over you.”
If you’re in the Fargo, North Dakota area, check out one of Norma’s yoga classes at Holy Yoga Fargo-Moorhead.
Dr. Jen Riday, a Women’s Happiness Expert and host of the Vibrant Happy Women Podcast, shares her secret to well-being during this often stressful time: “One easy way to increase your sense of calm and peace during the holidays is to simply ask yourself, ‘How do I want to feel?’ And then to do only those things that generate the feeling you want. For example, if you know baking holiday cookies with your kids leaves you feeling completely drained, then by all means ditch the cookies and go read a quiet holiday book with them instead. Remember, the greatest gift you can give your loved ones is your own happiness. Feelings are contagious, so give the gift of happiness by first doing what makes YOU happy.”
To learn more about Jen (and get your free guide to eliminate overwhelm at the holidays) visit JenRiday.com.
Doing what makes you happy may feel more challenging at the larger family gatherings that are common this time of year. Hannah Curtis, a social worker who practices in Portland, Maine, offers advice for maintaining peace during these situations. Particularly helpful this holiday season is her suggestion to, “Bring up topics of conversation that are mutually interesting, focused on the present, and are non-controversial.” She adds, “Try to think ahead of some things to bring up. It could be sports, hobbies, funny stories, sharing favorite music or television shows. Having present-focused conversations can help steer away from bringing up…those old feelings and behaviors you are trying to avoid.” Read more of Hannah’s advice for surviving the holidays with your family at New Approaches.
As Hannah notes, sharing music can be an effective way to keep the peace in the family—which can certainly contribute to your inner calm this season. But music may have the power to heal even deeper rifts in a community.
Musician Ashley Offret, who lives and works in the Boston area, offers her thoughts: “As a working violinist and private lessons teacher, I spend my days making music. In particularly emotional or difficult times, I find myself teaching music as a release and a therapy. Music has a magical ability to bring strangers together and remind us of things which make us all part of the human race. When there is conflict, I remember Leonard Bernstein’s response after President Kennedy’s 1963 assassination: ‘This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.’ His words remind me of my role as an artist to continue to create.”
Ashley will be performing with Vermillion Strings in Melrose, MA on December 11; learn more and find additional performance details at Vermillion Strings.
While it’s easy for any of us to feel overwhelmed during the holidays, Jennifer Dimond, a social worker through home care and hospice in Maine, notes that, “when you are grieving, getting through the holiday season can feel impossible.” If you’re having a particularly rough time this season, the key to your well-being may be to lean on others. Jennifer says, “I often suggest making a list of tasks—raking the yard, picking up a few groceries, a trip to the post office to mail holiday packages—and keeping it nearby. Then, when people ask, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ you’ll have an answer—and they’ll have a way to support you that is helpful and meaningful.”
Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” but if you’re looking for a sense of peace and well-being this season, maybe you don’t need to. Maybe staying “sane” through the holidays is more about thoughtful support and sensitive communication, spiritual community and gentle self-care? And maybe staying centered and grounded in that well-being lets you come home to yourself, anytime you want to, all year long?
What do you think? How do you keep an even keel to celebrate a calm holiday season?
This post is part of our Celebrating What Matters series, a countdown to the holidays. Last week we talked about health in Party Foods that (Almost) Anyone Can Enjoy and How to Make a Sparkle Bar. Please subscribe to receive updates as the series continues!