For most of us, the holiday season is a special time of the year. We may celebrate the winter holidays for their religious meaning or use them as a chance to get together with our family and friends. While this time of the year can certainly bring us a lot of joy, it can also present us with some challenges.
As somebody who sees life itself as a spiritual journey and uses life’s difficulties as opportunities to continuously evolve, I was reflecting on the possibilities for growth in this special time.
While generally holidays are associated with celebration, fun, and joy, for many of us it can be very overwhelming. It can be a time of mental and emotional turmoil, relationship issues, and even physically demanding, especially if we are traveling.
After observing people around me go into "preparation mode” as the holidays get closer and seeing their stress levels rise with all the pressures of this season, I felt inspired to share some simple strategies and quick practices we can all use to turn this time into a truly magical experience and grow both as humans and as spiritual beings in the meantime.
Typically, in personal and spiritual growth, we consider difficulties as opportunities to become more self-aware and develop new skills and emotional resilience to become better versions of ourselves. It is certainly where most of our efforts are directed. On the other hand, positive or pleasant experiences are often enjoyed without much awareness and can be taken for granted. While, of course, the good things in our lives are to be enjoyed, I encourage you to take it a step further and remember to pause and feel deep gratitude for those moments of joy by recognizing their preciousness. We can make it a conscious practice. Genuine gratitude experienced with the whole body not only feels good, but it is a powerful antidote to anxiety and depression. Gratitude also helps us balance our innate negativity bias and allows us to live more in the anticipation of positive experiences.
Tip #1: Use every opportunity to practice genuine gratitude and feel it in the body.
Now let’s talk about some of the most common challenges we might encounter in the coming few weeks. Two of the biggest issues people struggle with during this time of the year are stress and feeling overwhelmed.
Stress: Activities like shopping for the right gifts, traveling, and cooking the perfect holiday meals all can increase our stress levels. Not to mention, having to spend time with family members who, of course, know how to push our buttons and remind us just how “unenlightened” we still are! So, what can we do?
We can practice self-compassion. When we get stressed, our inner critic becomes louder, and this can be a great opportunity to turn that obnoxious voice in our head into a voice of a kind and loving friend, parent, or mentor that is always on our side. The truth is that this voice wants us to be safe, successful, and happy and it will be much more helpful if it speaks to us in a kind and encouraging way.
Self-compassion also means setting internal and external boundaries with others and ourselves. For example, in relationships, setting internal boundaries would mean being aware and firm about our needs and what we will or will not tolerate in our relationships. External boundaries are about communicating these with other people in a kind and caring way. Setting internal boundaries may also mean not having that extra slice of cake or another glass of wine. But still, enjoy ourselves! Remember that other people treat us the way we treat ourselves in their presence.
Tip #2: Practice self-compassion, be kind to yourselves, and set healthy internal and external boundaries.
Feeling Overwhelmed: This is often a result of stress and can make us feel out of control. If you are feeling overwhelmed, here is a simple exercise you can do. Write down all the things your mind says you need to do. Put that list aside, meditate or use another practice to clear your mind and connect with your heart's wisdom or your Higher Self. Then while holding your left hand on your heart, go over the list again and pay attention to how each item on the list feels inside your body. Trust your intuition. Feel the deeper desire underneath the surface and think about why you feel the need to do each task. You might find that some of the items on the list are not nearly as important as they seemed to be at first. You may find you can remove some of them from the list entirely, delegate some, or add them to your calendar to do later.
Tip #3: Don’t simply believe what your mind says. Connect with your heart’s wisdom and understand the real “why” behind what you do. This will help you eliminate what’s unimportant and allow you to be more present for those things that are truly meaningful.
Of course, you might be dealing with many other challenges at this time, which may or may not be related to the holidays. These could be struggles with health, finances, work, or relationships. While there could be many solutions to these concerns, I do suggest you practice the three tips shared above for those as well because gratitude, self-compassion, and remembering what matters will have a powerful and positive impact on every area of your life.
Let's enjoy the holidays and grow in the meantime!
Diana Vehuni, Ph.D., is a certified spiritual and holistic life coach, mindfulness meditation teacher, and an artist. She brings together perennial mystical wisdom and cutting-edge scientific knowledge to facilitate profound transformation in her students and clients.