Cindy-watson-christmas-tree-2019

Hot Tips to Negotiate the Holiday Season

Happy holidays! If I said “Tis the season …”, how would you finish the sentence? Is it the season of joy for you? Or stress? Giving? Receiving? Pain? Pleasure? More likely, it’s a strange combination of the full range of emotional notes, creating a symphony of something approaching chaos. Or so it sometimes seems during the busy holiday season as we try to live into a Hallmark movie version of life. Navigating the holidays is a negotiation. If you’ve been following my work, you know that I believe all of life is a negotiation. And we get to choose how we negotiate it. Are you interested in negotiating a better holiday season this year? If so, read on.

As with most negotiations, the first aspect to manage is yourself. Negotiating with ourselves is tricky as we typically haven’t trained ourselves to do this with intention. There are many aspects of our self we need to consider if we want to negotiate the best version of ourselves over the holidays. Let’s explore a few of these elements together to get you on track.

The holidays tend to bring up a lot of baggage for most of us. Some of it repressed, some of it not so much. Lost loved ones are felt more keenly during this time, bringing pain if not managed well. Past hurts resurface unexpectedly and can be toxic little poison darts leaking into our psyche if not addressed with intention. Feelings of ‘not enough-ness’ are particularly pesky as they try to niggle into our consciousness. Aspects of our lives that are not perfect can become magnified (whether it’s no relationship, a poor relationship, body image issues, career, finances, health, living arrangements or something in between). Pet peeves can become exacerbated during this period of intensified emotion. It can feel as if we’re all Mother Earth, with simmering volcanoes of trembling nervous energy ready to blow.

The expectation of perpetual joyful exuberance adds an element of pressure capable of bending the mightiest oaks to near-breaking points … or so it can seem. So, how can you negotiate your mood to avoid these potential soul-sucking pitfalls during the holidays? Here’s a few tips:

  • Set an intention for how you want to show up during this holiday season. Choose 3 words that describe how you want to show up each day – for yourself and in your interactions. Maybe it’s present or engaged. Maybe it’s joy, bliss, peace or grace. Maybe it’s bold and excited. Whatever resonates with you. There’s no right or wrong answer. Print your 3 words on a sticky note and post them on the bathroom mirror (or somewhere you’re most likely to see them as you get ready for bed each night and wake up each morning). Read them aloud and spend a moment each morning to embody them and consider how to implement them in the upcoming day. Set the words to an alarm on your cell phone to go off midday (or whenever your typical lag time is during the day) to remind you to live into your chosen words. If you find yourself being reactive during the day, that’s okay. You’re human. Don’t beat yourself up. Just take a moment to ground yourself. Take a deep breath. Breathe in your 3 words and find your way back.
  • Choose a trigger for yourself so you can more easily and consistently implement your 3 words. For me, it’s a door jamb. Each time I enter my home, I touch the door jamb and briefly consider my 3 words, with intention, before I step over the threshold. That grounds me into being who I want to be with my family every day. I leave the worries or stressors of work at the door. At the other end, I do the same thing. Going into the office, I touch the door jamb and consider the 3 words to represent how I want to show up in that environment. I leave the wife and mother behind and show up fully present in my work role. Find a trigger that works for you. Some people choose to touch their heart or head. Whatever works for you. The goal is simply to bring intention to choose how we show up.
  • In addition to setting an intention about how you want to show up, I invite you to set an intention about what you want to get out of the holiday experience. This helps stay on track to enjoy it and ground yourself in the elements that most fulfill you. When we don’t approach the holidays with intention, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind storm of commercialism and ‘more, more, more’ that can leave us feeling hollow and dissatisfied. By contrast, for example, if your intention is to spend quality time with family and/or friends, you can focus on making time for those people you want to spend time with, embracing the experience rather than focusing on the ‘things’. If cooking a full turkey spread stresses you out, do pizza. If high end hostess skills leave you sweating, take a pass, do simple, and focus on being fully present instead.
  • Adopt a gratitude practice. It’s impossible to feel anger, resentment, hurt or stress in a state of gratitude. It’s easier to get there than you’d think. You can do this anytime, but implementing a routine each morning and/or evening, where you consider 3 things you’re grateful for in that moment, is an easy way to set a positive tone for embracing the holidays.
  • Remember that you can’t control everything that happens to you, but you can control how you react to it. Choose your reactions with intention. This may take some practice if you’re lifelong conditioning is to give in to knee-jerk reactivity, but it’s well worth mastering this simple practice. For example, you can choose grace, forgiveness and joy over anger, resentment and hurt. This is true even (and especially) in family dynamics where old habits can cause easy patterned triggers of reactivity. Instead choose an emotional reaction that best serves you. Remind yourself that it’s always a choice.
  • Make time to exercise, even if it’s a brief walk. It’s easy over the holidays to neglect this habit. There are lots of excuses to justify opting out. Whether it’s no time, too much on the plate, vegging out to de-stress, too much company, or some other flavour of avoidance. You’ll note I said make time to exercise. One quick mindset shift to remember during the holidays is that we don’t find It’s incumbent on us to make the time for our priorities. I invite you to set aside some time, even if it’s just 15 minutes/day to get some exercise. It will energize you and make you more productive and engaged, thereby ironically freeing up more time.
  • Get some fresh air. Ideally, you can tie your exercise above to this tip by walking outside. It can be tempting to stay indoors, whether snuggled up with a hot chocolate or tending to the myriad of chores we set for ourselves. By all means, snuggle up with a hot chocolate (and Baileys) and also set aside a few minutes to get a breath of fresh air. Make this a priority over some of the chores and to do’s that probably aren’t real priorities in any event. Fresh air gives you a fresh perspective. I won’t bore you with the science but suffice it to say there are physical and emotional benefits from stepping out each day. Clear your head, fill your lungs, and increase your energy while uplifting your mood and resilience.
  • Watch your diet. I’m not saying go on a diet. I’m not completely delusional. I’m just saying be intentional about your diet. By all means, indulge during the holiday season. Just do so in moderation. Do so by choice. Plan (or at least manage) your indulgences. In my experience, when you’re intentional about allowing yourself a set amount of self-gratification and excess, you’re more likely to stay on track in the big picture (versus trying to deny yourself altogether where you’re more likely to fall off the wagon longer term). This simple practice can reduce brain fog and useless self-flagellation while increasing energy, productivity, and engagement.
  • Get sleep and be present. It can seem challenging with holiday parties, finalizing ‘must-do’ work assignments before the holiday break, gift-buying and get-togethers. I remember the days when we were up half the night stuffing stockings, setting up Santa gifts and wrapping the too-many last-minute gifts I’d got as I doubted whether I’d gotten ‘enough’ (whatever that is). My eyes felt like sandpaper and my cotton-batten stuffed head (at least that’s what it felt like) found it hard to be fully joyful Christmas morning as the kids invariably charged upstairs at the crack of dawn chirping “Can we start now? Can we? Can we start?” Again, I invite you to consider buying less ‘stuff’ and instead enjoying more experiential gifts. Either way, plan so you’re not scrambling at the last minute. Make a point of getting enough sleep leading up to and through the holidays so that you can greet each day being fully present. For those of you who do a Christmas tree, are you growing tired of the mad Christmas morning unwrapping frenzy, as hours’ worth of careful wrapping gets shredded and strewn within minutes and the ordeal is over so quickly there’s barely a moment to appreciate it? If so, here’s an option to consider. When the kids were young, we switched to a new tradition where we took all day to ‘open the tree’. We would open the stockings, then break for hot chocolate and cinnamon buns. Then we’d open a few gifts, and break for French toast breakfast. Then we’d open some more gifts until a game or movie or some other item caught our attention and we’d play or watch together. In that way, we enjoyed our time together. We enjoyed the experience. We enjoyed our gifts more. You can substitute healthier food choices than ours, but you get the idea.
  • Manage your spending with intention. In a world where we’re inundated with marketing from all sides, and where the message is always that we need more, it’s easy to fall into the trap of empty over-spending. Needless to say, this causes high stress levels as we push outside our limits and carry debt that negatively impacts us through the holidays and well beyond. Consider instead, sharing experiences with the people you love. As trite as it may seem, it serves us all to remember that the things we buy will disappear but the memories we create will last a lifetime.

These simple tips can make a world of difference in how you experience and enjoy the holidays. Set your intentions and live into a more joyful, engaged holiday season.

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