I was at my dentist’s the other day and he asked me if I was taking time off for the holidays. It was a reasonable question, but I was laughing inside because, for psychologists, therapists and most healthcare professionals, this is our busiest time of the year. There are those great songs about how the holiday season is “the most wonderful time of the year” but, in my experience, people feel more anxious, stressed, sad and lonely starting just before Thanksgiving. The big focus on “family time” and all the additional activities and responsibilities that come along with November and December can put people in a pretty negative state. I think the only people who routinely find nothing but joy in the holiday season are about six-years-old.
Whenever I look at “tips for a sane holiday season”, I see the same old stuff: “take time for yourself”, “let it go”, and “get extra support.” Really? If I could just “let it go”, I certainly wouldn’t need to be looking at Joe Shmo’s blog post for sane holiday tips. I’m here to change all that. I’m coming at you today with my top six sure-fire tips to get you through the holidays with an attitude of gratitude and feelings of peace and calm (and maybe even a little of that joy)! And don’t forget to grab your free infographic at the bottom of the page, so you can keep these tips close at hand during the entire holiday season.
Tip #1: Don’t SAC this holiday season
During the holidays especially, be mindful not to “SAC” any of your relationships. This means, don’t give Suggestions, no offering Advice and no Criticizing anyone. When you do any of these things you invite friction and arguments. Also, it puts your mind in the wrong place with the focus on what’s not working instead of what is working. Instead of any comment that falls into the SAC category, think only of either offering words of encouragement or asking questions. When you ask questions, it invites an open dialogue and allows others to have their own “aha”moments.
Tip #2: Set Intention Often
If you do this one activity consistently, you will definitely change the nature of all your relationships for the better. The more you do it, the better your life will become. Setting intention means that you stop, take a breath, and set a goal or intention for how you want to be in your next interactions. You can set an intention to be kind, patient, responsible, mindful, thoughtful, fun, loving or whatever floats your boat.
Set your intention before you walk into your home and greet other people. If you’re in the house, set your intention before your partner walks in the door or when you hear your mother ringing your doorbell. Set your intention before you walk into work, when you wake up in the morning or before you work out. It, literally, takes less than a minute so do it a few times per day, especially before you interact with others. You’ll immediately start to see the benefits as your mind seeks out ways to act out your healthy intention.
Tip #3: Flip the Script
If you identify something or someone with a negative trait (your mother criticizing your haircut at Thanksgiving dinner), switch it in your mind to a positive trait (your mother who cares about you so much that she even thinks of your hair).
Maybe you’re late getting to Christmas dinner at your parents’ house and you’re feeling stressed out. Instead, remind yourself how grateful you are to be celebrating with people who love you and being late isn’t the end of the world. Burned the turkey? Think of how lucky you are to be able to afford a turkey when so many are hungry (and, who really likes turkey anyway?). No matter what the negative or yucky thing is, push yourself to find something positive in the person or situation, no matter how small.
Tip #4: Keep a Daily Gratitude Journal
I know this one can seem a bit hokey, but the research shows that one of the most effective strategies for increasing your level of gratitude is writing about it, consistently. Set aside some time, every day, to note a few things that you’re grateful for. You can write when you get up or at the end of the day, but pick a time that allows you to be consistent. The important thing is to establish the daily practice of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events and to write them down.
Tip #5: Talk Kindly to Yourself
If you spoke to anyone else the way you speak to yourself, you’d likely get punched in the mouth…. A lot! Stop with the mean, judgmental and rude internal dialogue! To do this, you’re going to need to be more self aware of when your thoughts are doing their own thing. So, right now, start a daily mindfulness practice of some kind. That could be setting intention like I talked about in tip #4, praying or meditating for even a couple of minutes every day or making a conscious decision to notice your thoughts and reign them in every time you sit down to eat. Do whatever small practice it takes to start getting in charge of your brain.
If you feel like you just can’t figure out this mindfulness stuff, then I want you to do your best to notice when you’re in a bad situation or when your thoughts are focusing on something negative. Then, I want you to ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?”. Then I want you to ask yourself, ‘What’s one thing I can do different next time?” You can’t change the past, but you can certainly change your future and that’s how we instill hope in our brains.
Tip #6: Stop Kvetching!
I just threw a little Yiddish at you. Stop kvetching means, stop complaining: Make a promise to yourself this holiday season not to complain, criticize, or gossip for some designated period of time; it can be one day, seven days or the three hours you’ll be at your in-laws’ house. If you slip-up, get yourself back on the non-kvetch-track. When you stop complaining, it opens your mind up to start seeing the good around you instead of the bad. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel as you get in charge of your thoughts and actions!
As always, I’d love to hear how the tips worked for you this holiday season, and, of course, I’d love to get your comments to share your inspiration with others!