The First Step to Happier Holidays
This is the time of year when it starts. I look at the calendar and think, “Holy ten toes! It’s November and I haven’t even started.” I haven’t started planning Thanksgiving which Bill and I host each year. I haven’t started party planning for my son’s December birthday, which we usually schedule in November since families are so busy mid-December. I haven't started the master list of Christmas gifts, activities, parties ...
This time of year fills me with equal parts anticipation and dread. I look forward to seeing the expressions on my children’s faces when they open their gifts, but worry about buying the right presents, keeping it within budget, and keeping it fair. I enjoy our festive tradition of walking the brilliantly illuminated and decorated Eucalyptus Street in San Carlos but the kids wouldn’t get out of the car last year and we ended up driving up the block which didn't compare to seeing the homes up close, engaging in conversation with other families, and enjoying the sense of community. I love making memories that linger, like the fast-flying snowball fight that ensued around the dining room table on Christmas Eve after we opened an indoor snowball set from my brother and sister-in-law. But sometimes what I remember the most aren’t the good times but the stress that comes with the obligations and additional responsibilities, like staying up super late to assemble, wrap, and scramble to get everything ready by Christmas morning.
As I write this, it’s late October and I’m already feeling overwhelmed. I haven’t been sleeping well lately - staying up until the wee hours to design and sew my son’s Halloween costume (Link from Legends of Zelda), write the blog, and get the monthly newsletter finished and scheduled.
I keep wishing for more time. I find myself falling back into my old habit of believing that I should be able to do it all. I should be able to stay up until 1:00 in the morning, happily flit out of bed at 6:00, easily check off everything on the to do list each day, prepare home cooked meals, manage a well-organized and super clean house, engage my children in creative activities and patiently oversee their homework, be abundantly productive with my baby sign language projects and with coaching clients, work hard and then work harder, and get it all done.
In my BC (before children) life, this is how I rolled; I felt smart, busy, in charge, and in control.
I miss those feelings.
Right now, my life feels like it’s racing off ahead of me and I’m always playing a game of catch up. My life coach, the so very wise Christy Miller of Point Be Coaching, reminds me ever so gently that I can choose to a) stay in the present moment or b) create suffering by launching myself into the future by focusing on everything that needs to be done, isn’t getting done, and will maybe never ever get done.
Those are my only choices?
The answer is yes. Those are the only two choices for all of us, not just around the holidays, but every day. You can choose to be frustrated or you can choose to love what is present in your life right now in all of its imperfections, no matter how overwhelming and out of sync it is with how you imagined your life would be.
This is very simple and very difficult simultaneously. On the one hand, it’s very simple because you are always in the present moment - there’s nowhere else you can be unless you're lucky enough to be a time traveler or have a time turner like Hermione's. It’s only your thoughts that keep you mired in the past or propelled into the future.
On the other hand, it’s very difficult because our minds are always evaluating, thinking, planning, comparing, making up stories, and creating reasons for why things aren't right. How do you turn off your big beautiful brain in order to find peace in the here and now?
Here’s a very easy/very difficult three-step process called Stop, Drop & Roll.
Stop - The mental and physical racing around that you’re doing is changing your physiology by activating your fight, flight or freeze response - increasing your heart rate, shortening your breath, and tightening your muscles. At least once a day, give yourself permission to stop, rest, and calm your mind by taking deep breaths to move out of fight or flight and into peace. “For a minute or more, breathe in such a way that your inhalation and exhalation are equally long; count mentally up to five for each inhalation and each exhalation. This creates small but smooth changes in the interval between heartbeats … which is associated with relaxation and well-being,” suggests Rick Hanson, PhD, in Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time.
It’s only by starting in a place of peace that we find our purpose and power.
Drop - It is okay to say no and focus your time, energy, and attention on what is truly important. To start small, find another version of no that feels more comfortable like “Not right now,” or “My schedule will be more open after the holidays,” or “I can pick up cupcakes from Safeway but I don’t have time to bake.” As long as your answer feels like freedom, lightness, openness, and happiness, you are nourishing your essential self, the part of you that will lead you to your most joyful life. It can be hard to say no and feel like you might disappoint someone else. But continually giving to others when you’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and empty will quickly drain you dry. A month ago I signed up to volunteer at my son’s middle school book fair. Now that I'm heading out of town for an entire week, I'm scrambling to get everything and everyone prepared for my absence and I don’t have that time to spare anymore. Do I feel badly about un-committing myself? Absolutely. Does it stop me from taking care of myself and prioritizing what needs to be done for myself and my family before I leave? Absolutely not.
Only put enough on your plate that you can do your best at everything you do.
Roll - Negative thoughts and obligations can feel like rocks in our shoes - they hurt and make us reluctant to take another step forward. When you notice that you're feeling stuck, overwhelmed, and frustrated, take a break (see Stop above), shake out the negative thought and let it roll away. If your pokey, painful thought (like mine) is that you’re not doing nearly enough, remind yourself that you’re doing quite a bit. Then, use that big brain of yours to list examples of everything that you’ve accomplished. Here's my list from the other day: I responded to a flood of emails, wrote the first draft of the blog, sent handbooks to three classes, created drafts for our monthly newsletters (sign up here), updated the website, cooked dinner, picked up my son from his martial arts class, shared an extremely funny YouTube video with my boys (for all of you Walking Dead fans out there), coached a new client, worked on my son's Halloween costume, and gave back rubs to both boys before they went to sleep.
Stop, Drop and Roll isn’t a one-shot deal, unfortunately. Your thoughts will continually get stuck and will need to be dislodged again and again. Luckily, we humans are creatures of habit; the more frequently we attend to the little stones of negative thoughts that create discomfort, the easier it will be to let go and love what is right here, right now.
If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.
Would you like to create new habits for the holidays and the New Year? I offer a free 30-minute sample session to help moms figure out next steps to creating full, happy lives. I hate to sell so there won’t be a sales pitch anywhere in our conversation. I promise. Start off the holidays by giving yourself a wonderful gift. Fill out this form or send me an email so that we can get started. I hope to talk with you soon.
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I'm a mother of two incredible boys, wife to Bill White of Happy Baby Signs, author of the books The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby, and an intuitive life coach. I like to blog about my adventures with my family and the life lessons I'm learning along the way. I hope you'll join me on this journey.
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