Gifts to Yourself

Pause for just a moment and say “holidays”.  What comes to mind?
Is it love, joy and peace?
Or perhaps it is more along the line of “I hope I don’t gain any more weight.”  “I really can’t afford to buy one more present.” Or “I’m too exhausted to enjoy my family.”

For most of us, the holiday season is marked by stress that saps our life of the love, joy, and peace, making us feel pressured, harried and depleted.  Often it feels like there are far too many social activities and commitments crammed into a very short period of time.  There is more holiday preparation than usual such as shopping, cooking, decorating and seemingly less time in which to do it all.

But the holidays don’t have to be merely about trying to survive.  While making your list of presents, consider these gifts you can give yourself to put more joy and happiness in your holiday season beginning today.

The first gift is the simplest:  the gift of reconnecting with the breath.  When is the last time you really noticed your breathing?   It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of preparations and activities to the point that we feel our stomach tighten, our heart pound and our breath grow shallow and unnoticed.  Pause for one minute right now to become fully aware of your breath:

breathe in peace as you count 1-2-3-4; pause
breathe out love as you count 1-2-3-4; pause again before repeating the cycle of long, slow breaths in and out.

After breathing mindfully for one full minute, notice the positive shift in your mindset.

Starting today, take one minute each hour to reconnect with your breath in this way.  Pause before a meal to connect with your breath while feeling gratitude for the food.  Breathe mindfully regularly throughout the day. By periodically creating and connecting with this centered place of calm, it will be easier to extend peace and love to yourself as well as to those around as you go about your day.

Second, give yourself the gift of mindfulness:  Worried about gaining weight during the holiday season?  Feeling exhausted and having trouble relaxing?  Anxious about a social gathering?  Then tune into this moment, right here and right now.  When we come into the present and are fully aware of this moment and only this moment, we call it mindfulness.

We can extend mindfulness to every occasion, taking and savoring one moment at a time.  At mealtime, mindfulness asks that we take and savor one bite at a time so that we’re more likely to avoid those extra pounds.  Holiday goodies are plentiful and often full of carbohydrates and fat; limit desserts and party foods to a few bites.  Plan to eat regular meals high in protein and fresh vegetables to keep you feeling satisfied and your blood sugar more balanced.  And plan to take a brisk walk every day to burn a few of those extra calories.  If you choose to drink alcohol, do it with full awareness and notice how it feels in your body.  Be sure to get enough water, and drink each sip with mindfulness.

Don’t forget to give yourself the gift of rest:  During the holiday season, it’s easy to get caught up with the abundance of social activities, shopping, cleaning and long to-do lists.  But mindfulness asks us to bring our awareness to the present moment.  As we pause in the here and now, we can ask ourselves what we are needing or wanting.  Sometimes we’d like to be busy; other times, our bodies and our minds simply ask for some much-needed rest.  Rest can vary from a few quiet minutes after lunch, a leisurely weekend morning, or an early night as opposed to burning the midnight oil once more.

For those nights when it’s hard to wind down and get to sleep, think back to when you put a child to bed.  Remember the long bedtime routine?  A bubble bath, followed by cozy pajamas, a snack, then a story, some soft music with the lights out, and finally off to sleep.  Somewhere, we’ve buried our bedtime routine; we work hard into the evening and then collapse into bed expecting to fall fast asleep.  But our bodies, minds and spirits need a time of transition.  So this holiday season, create a special evening routine to help you move easily from day into night.  Don some flannel pajamas after a warm bath with candlelight and fragrant Epsom salts, then read your favorite meditative book for a few minutes as you settle in.  When your eyelids begin to feel heavy, you’re ready to turn out the light and discover sleep and peaceful dreams.

Next, give yourself and those you care about the gift of memories:    If you dread shopping and feel stressed when spending money, then try shifting your focus from gifts that you purchase to gifts that create happy memories.  There are many simple and inexpensive ways to do this.  Consider making a handmade gift such as knitting a scarf or assembling an album.  Plan a memorable outing to a holiday concert or new city.  Or simply spend your time together, sharing a cup of tea or coffee, and really listening to each other.  The memories created by these intimate experiences far outlast any gift that you purchased.

If you’ve lost a loved one, then you know that this holiday will be different.  There will be a void, a sadness that is felt.  Honor how you truly feel.  Write in a journal or express your feelings of grief to a loved one or a professional; don’t ruminate or hold your feelings in.  Create a way to honor the memory of your loved one perhaps through photos or memorabilia, a special meal, celebrating mass, creating a new tradition, or in whatever way feels right to you.  These new traditions continue to keep the connection with your loved one alive but honor them in a different way.

Remember the gift of gratitude:  Gratitude is the gift that keeps on giving.  When we express gratitude, either silently or out loud, we are pausing to recognize the many blessings we have been given and to offer thankfulness and appreciation for them.  As we begin to take stock of our blessings, we notice how much we have to be grateful for and in fact, the list keeps on growing.  Gratitude is like that.  A grateful heart begets more for which to be grateful.  Some experts suggest that we keep a gratitude journal in which we list five things each day for which we are grateful.  We can keep adding to list and review it from time to time when we need of a reminder.

The gift of gratitude can be shared with those around us.  When we share the many things we are thankful for with our loved ones, we are all reminded of our bounty of blessings.

Among the gifts, give yourself the gift of connectedness:  reach out to those who are around you to strengthen connections during this season.  Join in holiday festivities which bring you closer to family members, co-workers, or people in your faith community.  Consider reaching out beyond your usual circle to connect with new people in your community.  Reach out to an organization to volunteer for a special cause during this season of giving. Donate coats to needy kids, bake cookies for a senior group, or give non-perishable items to the food pantry.

And while giving the gift of connectedness, remember to connect with yourself as well.  Return to the center of your being through your breath often.  If you discover you need some time of solitude, then make plans for time out from everything to rest and rejuvenate.

Finally, give yourself the gift of joy:  Do you make joy a priority in everyday life?  Do you even remember what brings you joy?  It takes a bit of thought and planning to prioritize the activities that reduce stress and bring you satisfaction and ultimately joy.   So take a sheet of paper and write your to-do list.  Put a star by each thing that lights you up.  Put an X by each thing that you don’t enjoy or even makes you feel irritable.  How many of those activities can be eliminated?  Of the things that remain to be done, is there a family member that would help or someone you could pay to do them?

As you make joy a priority, be sure to plan some “down time” just for you to do the things that light you up:  practicing yoga, watching a movie, listening to music, getting creative through painting or baking or whatever you love to do.  After the holidays, instead of remembering how frazzled you felt, you’ll be able to look back and remember how well you nourished yourself and how often you felt joyful.  It takes a bit of planning but don’t let stress suck the joy out of your holiday!

As you look back over this holiday season, I hope you’ll remember the abundance of love, joy and peace…and that your heart will be filled with happiness!

Copyright: rido/123RF Stock Photo

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