A person would have to be living under a rock at the top of the Himalayas or deep in the Amazon jungle, to not know that 2020 is the year the world was under lockdown. The novel virus, Covid-19, appeared in China and quickly morphed into a global pandemic. People had to be taught what to do and how to behave and what to expect.
As I write this December 18th, there have been 75,429,193 million cases and 1.63 million deaths globally, with the mighty USA leading the death toll, with 303 thousand deaths (reports from 12-17-2020). There is no good reason for this. We all know how to stop the spread:
- Wear a mask
- Social distance from others
- No inside gatherings
- Hand hygiene
Many have refused to take these simple steps, and the numbers keep climbing. All of this means that we are entering the month of December, with more stress than usual. Many faiths celebrate sacred holidays at this time of year, from St. Lucia day in Sweden, Christmas in other parts of the world, Omisoka in Japan, to Hanukkah for the Jewish faith. These holidays, with their ensuing traditions, bring added stress.
There Is Good News
The good news is that we all know which holidays fall on which day and we can prepare. It is not unknown like the way the virus spreads.
This year our preparation must begin internally, with taking stock of the stories we are telling ourselves.
Are our stories making us more stressed or less stressed?
One simple way to figure out what story is playing on loop in our head is to tell our best friend.
Saying what we are worried or stressed about, does two things immediately:
1. It gets the thought out of our head, and
2. We hear our own words. Our friend can then offer some empathy or compassion and we can discuss ways to manage.
- If we have less income, we can plan to have a simpler meal and do less gifts, if any. We can instead, have everyone write a favorite story of a loved one and make a swap at the table or around a fire or anywhere else we may safely gather.
Before we can make any plans, we must ground yourself with our breath.
This is easy.
We already know how to breathe. Our body already knows when to inhale, so we can focus on making the exhale slightly slower or longer. By focusing on our breath, we bring calm to our nervous system, and oxygen to our brain. A well–oxygenated brain is the basis for clear thinking and strategic planning, like making less go further.
The pandemic has created chaos and chaos, decreases brain functioning, and decreased brain function is the basis for bad decisions.
Let’s recap our strategies for holiday stress:
- Tell a trusted friend about what is bothering us. Listen to ourselves as we speak the words aloud.
- Discuss some ways to manage.
- Focus on our exhale and make it slower. Imagine bringing more oxygen to all our organs, especially our brains.
- Begin to make a simpler plan for our holidays this year.
In the US we just had Thanksgiving or Indigenous People’s Day and instead of a big turkey, I made two small hens, and we neither wasted food or money.
- The last piece of advice I have is to start a gratitude journal.
There are copious studies to show that writing a daily gratitude journal helps with both mental and physical health. In one such study, Paul Mills, from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, determined that the people who were more grateful (self-reported) for the people, places or things in their lives had “less depressed mood and slept better and had more energy.”
All of the self-care tools shared here, cost nothing to start and the benefits will outweigh the minutes we invest. Building a new habit is hard and writing just one item of gratitude is enough to start the lifelong practice. I have been keeping a gratitude journal for 12 years. It was hard at first, and now, my journal is by my bed with a favorite pen, and it is a treasured nighttime habit.
I wish you all the best the holidays can bring, and I wish us all less stress and slower, longer exhales.
See you in 2021 and stay safe and well.