Christmas comes upon us so quickly. There's so much to do, and it doesn't matter how many hours of work and effort go into the preparartion, the actual celebration goes by in the snap of a finger. The weeks prior to Chrismas day are busy and frought with anticipation. We all look forward to a plesant time off, spent peacefully with our friends and family. It is the season of hope. It is a time of promise.
The Christmas season was much different for me this year. My year was taken up with lots of personal work and self-improvement. I also had another operation in mid-November, which was necessary and related to my reconstruction, but a blessing at the same time. It gave me the time leading up to the holidays to recover, de-stress and relax. It slowed down time for me, and enabled me to focus within. To really savour living in the moment.
In this day and age, there is very little that allows us to do that. We are packing so much into our day, that we hardly have time to breathe, never mind taking the time to smell the roses. My usual routine at Christmas is to work my crazy long workweek until December 21, if I'm lucky, followed by an agonizing couple of days frantically looking for gifts for my family and loved ones. Then I have another several hours of wrapping. Not exactly what the doctor called for at the start of the busy season.
But this year gave me a break. Or perhaps I have instead broken the cycle. I am a big fan of practicing what I preach. Regardless of this outlook, I have, at times, probably seemed like somewhat of a hypocrite. I have been the victim of fitting too much into my days, and I have always been the victim of anticipating a happy, stress-free and peaceful Christmas with my family. Until now.
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Remember the holidays aren't just about shopping. All too often we get caught up in the shopping, the endless sales, the "need" to make sure we buy something for everyone, that we lose sight of things that really matter -- our friendships, our family, our spirituality, our fellow man (and woman) who may be less fortunate than us. Even in tough economic times (some might say, especially in such times), others need our help even when we feel we have little to offer. Volunteer at a food bank, do something additional for your church, adopt a family in need this season. If you cut just 10 percent of your spending on gifts and donated that money to charity, you'd be surprised at how much a difference such giving would help. As an added bonus, <a href="http://psychcentral.com/news/2008/03/24/money-spent-for-happiness/2070.html">research shows</a> such giving makes us feel better about ourselves, too.
While rushing around during the holidays, we often put ourselves last on the "to do" list. We also feel guilty when we indulge in things we wouldn't ordinarily indulge in ("Another piece of pie? Why, thank you!"). Give yourself a break this season, forgive your transgressions, and be kind to yourself. That means taking some time out for yourself and your needs, even if it's just a few minutes of solitude in the morning or before you go to bed that you can relax, catch up a crossword puzzle or some reading, and just enjoy your own company. It also means not beating yourself if you step off your diet or can't get to the gym for a few days. More people cause themselves more anxiety and stress about beating themselves up over such decisions, when the resulting difference is almost always negligible. If you're feeling blue or lonely during the holidays, join <a href="http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/alone-during-the-holidays-join-the-crowd/">the crowd</a>. So here are <a href="http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/10-things-to-do-if-youre-alone-for-the-holidays/">10 things</a> you can do if you find yourself alone.
We often get into trouble by over-indulging in things. Whether it's food, drink, or just the amount of time we spend with relatives, it's easy to go overboard. Aristotle knew a thing or two of what he was talking about a few thousand years ago, and yet it's a lesson many of us forget. While the holidays are a good "excuse" to stop being moderate in our drinking or eating, we should resist the urge to overindulge. Sure, you can have an extra piece of cake or one extra drink more than you might usually enjoy, but that shouldn't open the floodgates to eat the remaining half of the cake or finish off a half-bottle of Jack Daniels on your own. In the same way, even buying presents for your kids can be taken to an unhealthy extreme ("always leave them wanting more"). Celebrate, but not to the point of excess.
Feeling overwhelmed by too much to do and too little time to do it? Schedule it all out right now on your favorite calendar or planner. Then stick to it. Too many people get into trouble accepting last-minute invitations, or by trying to accommodate a last-minute visit with someone they hadn't planned on seeing. If your schedule allows for it, fine, but if not, you'll know in an instant.
We're all human (yes, you too!), and we humans get ourselves into more trouble than you know because we simply don't know when to say, "Thank you, but no." I suspect it's tied closely to guilt and not taking time for ourselves, but at some point, the sooner we learn that it's okay to say "no," the sooner we'll feel less stress and anxiety. You can't do everything. Ask for help from your significant other, children, friends or family when you need it. Be direct and honest with your requests, and don't expect others to read your mind. For instance, if you decorate the tree every year, but this year find you won't have the time, ask someone to do it for you (don't just assume people will see the bare tree and offer their help). Don't stop at a single request if you need help with a dozen different things, either.
Most of us love most of our relatives and families, but even then, there can be old arguments and wounds that seem to magically re-open at about this same time every year. We get into disagreements or sometimes full-fledged arguments with others we care about. We often find ourselves <a href="http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/tis-the-season-to-regress/">regressing</a> to old familiar reactions and behaviors during holiday gatherings. In the spirit of the giving season, give something that is priceless -- your compassion and forgiveness (even if only temporary) to those in your life you feel have wronged you in some way. Give the gift of disengagement from others who would pick a fight -- you'll be the better person for it.
This year I put what I have learned through many of the people I look up to, and many of the inspirational bloggers out there into practice. My biggest gesture was to forgive someone from my extended family who had caused me much grief over the past couple of decades.
It was something I never thought I would do in this lifetime, and it was not easy. But I suddenly understood that this act was not for her, but for me. It showed me how far I have come from the start of my journey through cancer to my new and improved life now. More importantly, it demonstrates that through the changes I have made in my life......the running, the healthy eating and the spiritual journey......I have also grown to respect and love myself, first and foremost!
And there was much rejoicing!
I also took the opportunity of my pre-Christmas recovery time to enjoy where I was and what I was doing. Instead of stressing out about the famiy getting together, the cooking and preparation for the big day and the hope that everyone would have a good time, and that peace would reign in my house, I lived in the moment.
I didn't set myself up for disappointment with thought of hypothetical happenings in the future. I decided that I would enjoy the holidays and the people that would sit around my table, when the time came. I organized myself. I made the menu ahead of time, and knew how many people would be coming to my house. I had my shopping done earlier, and took the time everyday to savour the holiday moment. I actually loved listening to the Christmas carols on the radio! Who would have thought?
Much of all this personal growth stems from gratitude. The number of times I stop and give thanks in the day has increased with the passage of time. And this is the key. So at the risk of sounding cheesy in this time of peace and good will towards man, I can be an example of how there really is truth to this.
For it is not a secret that the more things you find to be grateful for in a day the less time there is for those negative self depreciating thoughts to come into your head. So as I sit here looking at the heavy snow from a nor'easter blow around my house, I am again thankful, for I can stay in my pajamas and write this blog!
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