With all of their intended festive cheer, most of us associate the holidays predominantly with one thing: stress.
The stress of buying the perfect gift for friends, family, co-workers and clients. The stress of one too many holiday party invites, and the expectation that you’ll attend them all. The stress placed on your body by all the rich, sugary foods and alcoholic beverages at said parties. The financial stress caused by all of the above. And most people’s favorite: the stress of possibly a little too much time with the relatives.
Whatever it is that ultimately does you in, December rarely adds up to a relaxing, rejuvenating month.
But the answer to all of this holiday anxiety might surprise you: it’s not about surface-level self care like taking baths and listening to soothing music, it’s not about adhering to a rigid diet, and it’s not even about learning to say no.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your family this holiday season is cultivate one thing: gratitude.
In countless studies conducted under the umbrella of positive psychology, a regular gratitude practice of any kind is associated with an increase in feelings of happiness, a lessening of stress, and improved optimism for the future.
And it’s not just your emotions that stand to benefit: individuals who cultivate gratitude have been shown to exercise more, eat better, and get sick less often.
In a season when many of us feel like we’re being bombarded emotionally and physically, adopting a gratitude practice may actually be the magic bullet for keeping you sane, grounded, and happy.
So then the question becomes obvious: how does one cultivate that attitude of gratitude?
Here are a few holiday-specific solutions.
1. Dust off the old gratitude journal
The classic gratitude practice is one you may have heard of, or even tried a few times: every evening before bed, write down three things that happened during the day that you’re grateful for. This literally takes 5 minutes a day, and studies at Yale show the practice will result in higher alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness, and energy. Everyonehas time for that, even during the holidays.
2. Reframe “presents” as acts of kindness
We all grumble about the number of gifts we “have to” buy at Christmas, but a simple reframe of those two little words can make all the difference. Studies show that writing thank-you cards improves feelings of connection, and has similar benefits to gratitude journalling.
So this year, when picking out gifts, try thinking of at least one thing you want to thank each of your giftees for, and pick out the present from that place. Want to take it one step further? Write them a sweet card sharing the memory to go with the gift.
3. Give back to those truly less fortunate
It’s another cliche, but giving something back, even in times of stress or strain, does wonders for your mental state (not to mention those who you’re helping). This one’s a double whammy: it creates a sense of connection and makes us feel like we’re a part of something larger than our own petty (or not-so-petty) concerns, and it offers a healthy dose of perspective - perhaps our stress isn’t quite so warranted, given that most of us have a place to sleep and food to eat on a daily basis.
Short on time? Try a monetary donation to a cause you support. Better yet, sign up for a monthly giving program for 2018, and give a little bit each month to keep the gratitude flowing.
Short on money? Non-profits and charities all over North America rely on donated time and skill: volunteer at a soup kitchen, coach an at-risk youth sports team, wrap presents at the mall for donations to a charity… the possibilities are endless, and the benefits, numerous.
4. Add a gratitude board to your holiday decorations
Consider this one a family gratitude journal: have each family member write at least one thing they’re grateful for this holiday season on a large whiteboard or chalkboard, decorate it, and hang it somewhere everyone can see it. You’ll not only spark some happiness every time you look at it, remembering the day you spent together making it; you’ll also fire up the gratitude centre in the brain and mitigate some of your stress.
5. Enjoy the holidays, for real
Want to know the best way to show your gratitude during the holidays? Enjoy them! Relish the opportunities you have to connect with friends and family, to get crafty, to eat delicious treats, to find the perfect thank-you gift for someone you love… there’s a wealth of great things to be grateful for this December. It’s just up to you, and in your best interest, to acknowledge them.
Dr. Marita Schauch, Bsc, ND
Tall Tree Integrated Health Centre
5325 Cordova Bay Rd.
Victoria, BC V8Y 2L3