Calming Rituals for the Holidays

Do you think of “calm” and “holidays” in the same sentence? Probably not. In fact, often the holiday season becomes filled with obligations, unmet expectations and stressful demands. The American Psychological Association reports that holiday stress has a particular impact on women, due to their tendency to take on much of the responsibility for preparing meals, decorating the home, putting on the parties, and shopping. In addition, women have a harder time relaxing during the holidays and are more likely to fall into bad habits to manage their stress, like comfort eating.  But, both women and men are affected with increases of stress during this time at 44% and 31% respectively.  

So much for the bad news. Now on to the good. The holidays can also be exciting, connecting, and loving. Being intentional about how you approach them and setting up self-care practices that are non-negotiable can help. These intentional practices can transmute the stress into ease—bringing peace and joy into your life over the holiday season and into the new year.

Here are some ideas to help you get started. Some of these short healing rituals can be done in time set aside for yourself and others you can carry into the party, holiday dinner with family, the shopping mall, as you travel, and wherever you find yourself through the next month. Create a joyful space inside your heart so that you can celebrate the coming holidays without worry, concern, or dread.

1. Breathe

The easiest way to start to counteract the impact of stress on your body is to breathe. Of course, I know you’re already breathing or you couldn’t be reading this blog. But, as in most things, quality matters! Deep, full diaphragmatic breaths can be your free, no-prescription-needed, first responder to your moments of stress. Breathing is not only calming, it’s been scientifically proven to improve mood and attention, as well as dampen production of stress hormones like cortisol.

Sit comfortably and bring your hands to your belly. Notice if the belly is moving in response to the breath. While you don’t actually breath into the belly, when you let your belly expand, you allow the diaphragm to drop down and bring more air into the body. Breathe in and out through your nostrils, slowly deepening your breath over time. Let your belly be soft and expand as you breathe in and pull the belly button in as you breath out. Slowly continue to deepen the breath in this way and notice how you feel. Do this every day, many times a day, and get a natural sense of calm cascading through your body.

2. Strike a Pose

While you’re breathing, add a yoga pose into the mix. Even doing one mindful, slow yoga pose a day can help you feel grounded in your body. Here’s a list of five poses good for helping you relax. Or, you can try one of the yoga videos on my website, go to one of the many resources available online, or come to one of my classes at alleyCat to learn which postures you like the best.

3. Meditate, instead of Medicate!  

Sometimes people will medicate themselves with food and drink (as well as other things) to de-stress, but I recommend short meditations as a much more effective and healthy alternative.  Again, my website has many meditations you can try. Here’s a short Taste of Mindfulness that only takes two minutes to complete. Sprinkle it liberally throughout your day and evening and shower yourself with kindness.

4. Visualizations and Self-Talk

Your mind is very powerful and you often become what you believe and what you tell yourself. See yourself floating through the holidays with ease and you are much more likely to do so. See yourself being anxious and you are much more likely to feel at odds with yourself and others. If you know there is difficult situation coming up, give yourself some positive affirmations and actually see yourself being at your best. It can also help to catch the negative story-telling and shift gears as soon as possible. For instance, instead of saying “I’m too busy!” or “I have too much to do,” try saying “My life is really full right now.” It can make a huge difference in how you feel.

5. Self-massage   

If you don’t have time to get a massage from someone else (which I highly recommend), you can also give yourself a healing massage. I like to use a Vata balancing sesame oil to rub on my feet and legs and anywhere else you feel could use some extra attention. Sesame oil is warming, grounding, and relaxing. You can find out more about Ayurveda products at Banyan Botanicals.

6. Move, Eat, Rest, and Hydrate

The basics for every day are essentials for the holidays. Move your body every day, even if it is just an extra walk around the block. Eat foods that give you energy and help you feel grounded. Try to get plenty of rest. And, drink enough liquids–water and tea (see below) are great options but other liquids count as well.

7. Essential Oils to the Rescue

Spritz a little lavender oil spray on your clothes and you might reduce your stress for up to three to four days, according to study published in International Journal of Nursing Practice. Lavender, bergamot, lemongrass, neroli, lemon, yuzu, orange, ylang ylang, and frankencense have all been shown to have calming effects. Here’s an article that explains more on how to use them.

8. Have a Cup of Tea

Peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm, passion flower, rose, and green teas have all been found to help relieve stress and anxiety so that you can literally drink your way to calmness and relaxation. Create a ritual of making a nice cup of tea and sitting down to drink it while you reflect on your day, write things you have to be grateful for in a journal, or sit and gaze out the window.

9. Light a Candle

I just went to my bedroom to get a candle to light while I’m writing this blog because they bring a me a sense of peace. Funny enough, it is called “Seeking Balance.” Candle light can evoke warmth and a pleasing scent can delight your senses. I light a candle when I’m praying for someone, when I meditate, when I want to be romantic, and when I want to bring a feeling of joy and celebration into a room. The calming effect of candlelight can be a simple, yet sacred, tool to help reduce stress and increase self-awareness.

10. Write a Letter to Yourself

Instead of letting the holidays just happen to you, take a moment now to sit down and set your intentions for the holidays. Write down what would make the holidays special and meaningful to you–what do you want to do for others, what do you want to do for yourself, and what do you want to avoid. You can add more to the letter, but these are some basics that can help you create what you want.

I hope these tips help you have a holiday to remember. And, for a little extra help, you can join me for a Calming Rituals for the Holidays workshop at alleyCat Yoga, 17 N. 4th Street, Columbia, on Saturday, December 7, from 2 – 4 p.m. and practice these techniques in greater depth.  Register Here.  Just click on the Sign Up Button on December 7. Then sail through the rest of your holidays with joy. If you don’t live in Columbia, practice these on your own to help you regulate your nervous system through the end of the year.