By David Quigley

David originally wrote this blog in 2019, but it has a lot of practical reminders about taking care of ourselves over the holidays, so we are sharing it with you again. Enjoy!

Recently, my wife and I attended the annual “Friends-Giving” celebration at a neighbor’s home. It is a beautiful and delightful evening we enjoy as a kickoff to the holiday season. During the evening we met and engaged in a lively conversation with someone whom we had not previously visited with. While we all acknowledged how beautiful the evening was, we also began discussing some of the less pleasant and difficult aspects of the season.

All three of us shared thoughts about how it can be a time of heightened emotions, increased stress, blown budgets, loads of expectations, and sometimes a dose or two of family drama to top it all off. The conversation sent me to the basement the next day, in search of a copy of the book titled Unplug the Christmas Machine, by Jo Robinson and Jean Copposck Staeheli. It’s an engaging and uplifting read. The authors speak to the desire expressed by many people in their research; “there is a universal wish to end the year with a festival of renewal that rekindles our faith, brings us closer to the people we care about, and brings light and laughter” that helps us enter into the winter season. “We want to ward off the commercial excesses of the season and create an authentic, joyful celebration in tune with our unique needs and desires”. So perhaps it’s time, as the flight attendants say, to “put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others”.

There are numerous online resources that can help us develop our own plan, so we can not only survive the holidays but thrive and find renewal and deepened connections to those around us and to the season itself. Following is a short list of tips to consider. Pick out a few and create your own personal recipe for enriching your holiday experience.

  • Practice self-kindness
    First and foremost, it is a season for fierce discipline around your self-care. Make a list of things that would be “nice to do for myself” and another for those that are “must do for myself”. As cliché as it sounds, maintaining good sleep hygiene, maintaining your exercise regimen, and eating in moderation are even more important when under stress.
  • Build a few sabbath moments into your day
    Even taking one minute 3 times a day, to take a few deep abdominal breaths is valuable to de-stress us. Also, make a point of acknowledging what we call “wins and bright spots”. At work and at home acknowledge what’s going well and give recognition to those around you. Thanking others with the specifics of what they did only takes a moment and it’s a two-way blessing. Even small acknowledgments can produce the release of the positive peptides in the brain that help us be happier, more productive, and more resilient.

    • Brother David Steidle-Rast, OSB is an author, lecturer, and Benedictine monk. In his work, he often talks eloquently about how simply being grateful for the ordinary things in our day can renew and uplift us. One beautiful YouTube video on gratefulness features his voice and beautiful photography,
  • Practice gratitude
    This is one of the most rapidly growing areas of information, how we can live happier and fuller lives. Neuroscientists, psychologists, and an array of other disciplines have demonstrated the science behind the phenomenon of “rewiring the brain”. Gratitude changes the brain, for the better. In the past, it was felt that the brain peaks at about 25-30 years of age, and it’s downhill after that. Now, the research has discovered that the brain’s neuroplasticity can be enhanced throughout life. Practicing gratitude can rewire your brain to help you live a more positive, happier life.

    • Shawn Achor is a Harvard-trained psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage. “Scientifically, happiness is a choice,” Achor says. He explains that research has shown you can rewire your brain to make yourself happy by practicing simple happiness exercises every day for three weeks. He suggests that at the end of the day, you reflect back, and jot down 3 things you are grateful for and why.
    • Achor also has one of the most popular TED Talks which I highly recommend for your holiday viewing pleasure. It is chock-full of fun, yet research-based information on the latest discoveries in this area,
  • Add some mindfulness to your schedule.
    Mindfulness doesn’t take more time, it’s simply about focus. For example, we eat every day, right? Yet is it really mindful? When people practice mindful eating where they pay attention to the flavors in each bite of food, they report eating slower, enjoying the food more, and feeling more satisfied (as compared to wolfing our food down as we eat at our computer). Another easy example is with showering, how many times have you gotten out of the shower and can’t remember if you shampooed your hair or rinsed the conditioner out? Mindfulness is actually simply paying attention from moment to moment, without judgment.
  • Commit Random Acts of Kindness. This is a wonderful season to be kind to one another. Small acts of kindness, whether performed anonymously or not, are a wonderful way to lift the spirits of others as well as ourselves. For instance, leave a dollar on the shelf in the toy section of the store and make a child’s day; or pay for the person behind you in line at the coffee shop or fast food restaurant; bake cookies and take them to your neighbor, or to the teacher’s lounge at your child’s school.

Remember, it is often the little things that mean the most to others and unexpectedly reward you in ways you couldn’t imagine. So, get out that oxygen mask, place it over your nose and mouth, and take a deep breath. Aww, now you’re ready to surTHRIVE this holiday season.