by Jill Hope
As a mom, the joy you can experience during the holidays is second only to the joy your children feel. I always watch from a place of wonder and deep appreciation as my son embraces the family traditions we’ve created, enjoys his school holiday parties, delights in decorating cookies, and sings in his school holiday performance.
But in our role of mom, we also take on all the additional errands that go along with making the holidays special. Decorating, baking, shopping for gifts, being present for all of the performances and activities… just thinking of all this can be exhausting, let along doing it. And for some, this time of year can also carry with it less desirable reminders. Family friction, extra money demands, or financial stress can be even more of a presence at this time of year.
This added pressure can add up to a whole lot of holiday stress that over- shadows the joy we’d like to feel instead. If the demands of the holiday season keep you from being fully present to the joy that surrounds this time of year, I have good news.
You DO have control of your stress levels over the holidays!
You may be thinking “how can that be?”, and I understand that response because I used to feel that way. I thought living with stress was my cross to bear, not just during the holidays, but all throughout the year.
However, the truth is that our feelings come from our interpretations of an event. In other words, we create a story about what we’re experiencing, and how we react to that story is what creates our emotions and stress levels.
So how can you take control of your thoughts and enjoy a stress-free, joyous holiday?
Here are 5 strategies that can help:
1. CREATE AN INTENTION FOR YOUR DAY Just because you have a lot to do doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. If you could create your day, how would you like it to go? How would you like to feel when you go to bed at night?
Take a moment each morning before you get out of bed and scan through your day. Visualize each task, appointment, and errand, and see yourself feeling calm, happy, and free from stress. This takes less than 5 minutes, and makes a world of difference in terms of how your day flows and how you feel going through it.
When you consciously focus on how you want things to go, what it will look like, and how you will feel, you greatly increase the chances of things happen- ing the way you envision.
2. WHEN STRESS HITS, FOCUS ON WHAT IS GOING RIGHT It’s easy to fall into the trap of negativity when you start feeling overwhelmed. When something doesn’t go well, we can fall into a downward spiral that makes everything feel harder.
When things aren’t flowing smoothly, notice how you are feeling and allow those feelings to be there, without judgement. Then, shift your thoughts away from what’s going wrong, and instead, run a checklist in your head about what has gone right.
By catching yourself in the moment and noticing how many things actu- ally do go right in your life, you stop the downward spiral of negativity, and instead create a sense of wellbeing.
You may have heard the saying “What you focus on grows”. Keeping your focus on all that IS working will help you more easily get through those things that aren’t working.
3. USE A MANTRA AND DEEP BREATHING TO QUICKLY SHIFT OUT OF STRESS AND INTO CALM When you find yourself in the midst of anxiety and overwhelm, your physiology changes. You become contracted, your breathing can become shallow, your mind is less receptive to ideas, and your body tenses up.
When you notice yourself in this state of contraction, immediately take at least 3 slow, deep, conscious breaths, breathing the air all the way down to your belly. After 3 deep breaths, your mind opens up, ideas can once again be received, and the tension in your body will dissipate.
Then, have a mantra ready that you can repeat to yourself to get you back to a positive frame of mind and remind you of how you are supported. Some mantras I have used are “Everything always works out”, “I am connected to the Divine”, or “Everything happens FOR me, not TO me”.
These steps can literally be done in less than a minute, quickly taking you to a more positive state of being.
4. OWN YOUR POWER How often do you say “yes” to someone because you don’t want to let them down, but inside you really want to say “no”? When you don’t act in alignment with your desires, you are not acting from your place of authentic power.
Energetically, this means that your energy is split, which can drain your vitality and your ability to get through all those errands you have to do.
To get back into alignment with your authentic power, start noticing when you say “yes” when you really want to say “no”, and “no” when you really want to say “yes”.
Once you become aware of how often you aren’t honoring your true feelings, you can start taking back your power.
Start saying “no” when you mean no and “yes” when you mean yes and see how that feels. Acting from your place of authentic power will increase your energy and help all aspects of your life go more smoothly.
5. CREATE A DAILY PRACTICE TO EXPERIENCE MORE PEACE AND TAP INTO YOUR INTUITION One of the practices I added to my daily routine that has had the most profound effect on my life and business was adding a daily spiritual practice.
Not only have I created a deeper level of peace within, but I am more easily guided by my intuition, and I’ve even become more productive.
Creating a daily practice can include quieting your mind, meditating, doing deep, conscious breathing, or even writing in a journal.
In the practice I’ve created, I put on some deeply relaxing music, quiet my mind, allowing any stray thoughts to move through without entertaining them, and then doing some deep breathing.
If I have a question I am struggling with, I may ask it and then write down in my journal the first thing that comes to mind.
Engaging in a regular daily spiritual practice can reduce stress, increase relaxation, and help you get acquainted with the voice of your intuition so that your choices will be guided toward your highest good.
Even 10 minutes of a mindful practice in the morning before your kids get up can be highly beneficial. And what’s best is that the benefits of a spiritual practice are cumulative. The more you do it, the more peace you cre- ate to sustain you through the holidays and beyond.
You can consciously choose to minimize the feelings of stress, worry, or despair brought on by holiday activities. And in doing so, you greatly increase your chances of experiencing more of the joy your kids feel. What’s more, the healthy practices you estab- lish now can extend well beyond the holiday season.
by Shaila Saint, M.ED and Mollie Bennett
We are in the final days of September as this article is submitted. So let’s see…kids back to school?…check. Some sort of a system and schedule in place for extra curricular activities?…at least half a check. So can we take a breath and get to know our new driving routes, before being lured off the road to buy Halloween costumes, turkey roasters, and Hanukkah napkins?
Not likely. The unrelenting marketing madness has begun, and it can make us feel like we’ve fallen behind, we will never get it all done, and we will always be out of balance. Add the anticipation of out-of-town guests or long travel days, financial constraints, and family drama, and ho ho NO , the bells don’t sound quite so jingly. Ideally, this out-of-sorts feeling is not the way we want to start the season.
While we may never be totally immune to the pressures surrounding the holiday rush, if we remember 3 simple yogic principles for balancing in a tree pose, and apply them to checking in with ourselves this holiday season, we may be surprised at how clear and connected we may become to our own values and to what truly brings us joy this time of year.
1. ESTABLISHING OUR FOUNDATION (ROOTS):
In order to balance physically, we start by setting a strong foundation in our feet, rooting them in the ground, which establishes and supports the rest of our body from our legs, on up. To establish our foundation during the holiday season, start by asking yourself, “What are the foundations, roots, and traditions for the holidays that are firm and that I want to remain strong?” “Are there some simpler ways that I may have celebrated the holidays in my early life that I want to reestablish with my family now?” These types of questions can really help you stay grounded, mellow everything out, downplay the commercialization and “up” play the quality time and creativity. Plus, very often, children are fascinated by something they know mom or dad did as a child. So break out those felt and sequin ornaments from when you were the 3rd grader!
2. FINDING OUR CENTER (TRUNK):
To find our center to balance physically, we work to engage the strongest part of our body–our core- -for added strength and power. To find your center during the holiday season, ask yourself, “What do I know to be true for my life/my family at this time of year?” When focusing on our center or truth, it’s important to tap into the values and traditions you’d like to continue with your family, while gently letting go of the ones that don’t work. Taking time to reflect on your truths may bring up a variety of thoughts and feelings, because we know that not all family and holiday memories may be positive ones. Setting boundaries, while sometimes difficult, can be the difference between sanity and insanity at this time of year. Not every party needs to be attended, not every acquaintance needs to receive a perfectly wrapped gift, and not every need of your high maintenance cousin needs to be catered to! Remember that we are in charge of shaping this experience for our families now, and sometimes owning that can be difficult.
3. KEEPING OUR FOCUS (HIGHER BIRD):
Finding our focus when we balance physically, means finding an immovable point or spot beyond us in which to hold and steady our gaze. To find and keep our focus this holiday season, envision the end goal or big picture by asking, “What do I want my family to remember about their holiday seasons in our home? If you were a bird, flying over your holiday “tree”, what would you see now, and what would you like to see? Start making small changes based on that higher viewpoint. No rush or pressure, you’re just gradually creating what you envision for your family.
Finally, here are a few concrete ideas to think about for maintaining balance during the holidays:
If your children are chomping at the bit for the newest toys and video games they are already seeing advertised, then why not start that wish list nice and early? They can edit for a while, working out the urgency they feel for each thing they see, and deciding what they want the most. It will help you spend your hard-earned money as effectively as possible.
Eating, cooking together, sharing family recipes, and any activity surrounding food is such a great way to bridge the age gaps. A low tech and tactile experience like a cookie making party (with as many generations as possible in attendance) makes for wonderful memories and natural learning opportunities.
Forgo the impeccably wrapped presents. Choose one or two basic papers or gift bags, and one or two coordinating ribbons, and let your kids go at it. The perfectionist in us may cringe a bit at the results, but honestly, we all know Grandma will love their creations much more!
So when the holiday frenzy starts to bombard you, remember that you can always focus back on the three fundamental elements of balance – your roots, your trunk, and your higher view of your family holiday tree. We hope this will help you clarify and create what is most important to you this season.
Joyful balance to you and yours!
The following is a story of a mom who after having tried to become pregnant for several years found her family welcoming twin boys into the world this past October. She is well accomplished in her career and was returning back to work after her 12 weeks of maternity leave. She wanted to capture her feelings that she could later share with the twins in the following journal entry. This is a true sentiment of the wealth of a mother’s love and maintaining her wellness in the process.
This is not to say there weren’t trying moments, exhaustion, breastfeeding struggles and tears, but she knew when to access support. This mom joined two twin support groups and a local parent group that provided meals for the first two weeks of the babies’ lives. Local families generously donated clothes and baby items…to the point that they did not need to buy any clothes. She was able to access the grandparents, friends, and family to help in the beginning weeks and plan for future visits as well. Her wealth in support, strong partnership with her partner Theresa, and ability to ask for support when she needed it are a testament, which leads to this beautiful journal entry as she prepares to go back to work.
I’m desperate to capture this time—to commit to memory my first months of mothering, your first months of life. I take dozens of photos, videos to remember. But how do I capture this— the softness of your tiny hairs against my cheek, the sounds of your sleepy sighs, the way you gently lean into my kisses upon your forehead. How will I remember the feel of your cheeks on my lips, the weight of your body on my chest, heart to heart? I want to pause this moment and revisit it a hundred times. My heart is opening so wide—an ocean of love overtaking me. And I know there are thousands of moments like these to come. But I don’t want to forget your little squeaks and grunts, your crinkled nose, the first time you smiled at me. I want to stop time, have your little fingers remain wrapped around my pinky, your soft breath on my neck. This is the most beauty I’ve known. I’ve never been in love like this. I’ve never felt this full, this present.
I feared parenthood would close me in, stifle life. I could not have been more wrong. This is the most expansive thing I’ve ever done, the most wide open path, the greatest journey. I feel more love, more meaning, more possibility, excitement, hope, anticipation. In just two short months I have felt more, grown more, and loved more. I feel blessed, chosen, lucky, and grateful. I feel something sacred and magical. I am in awe of you both. I want to commit it to memory—the feel of your skin, the soft hairs on your back, your breath. I want to remember me and your mom sitting side by side in the love seat in the nursery, each of us holding one of you, giving you your last bottles of the night, tired but adoring. Together in the late night moment, loving you both, loving each other, pointing out to each other the tiny details of your faces, your movements, your sounds- discovering you together. It’s like falling in love again for the first time, with you and with each other. My life just got so much bigger—the love is overflowing, washing over me. And we are just at the beginning of this journey. There are so many moments to come, so many details to try and capture. I know I will fail to remember the way I want—I know it will slip by- through my fingers like sand. But I can only hope to remember the awe, the wonder, the sweetness of this time, and to be open to embrace all that is to come. To stop and breathe in the feelings and say thank you for this life—these blessings, these magical moments.
Everyone’s journey through the many Transitions in Motherhood is so personal and individual. We thank this mom for sharing the wealth of her love and her ability to access the support she needed to lead to such a beautiful love letter. No one should feel alone in their parenting journey. If you are looking to connect with support, you can find it on our website at TransitionsInMotherhood.com.