Tired, angry, anxious, resentful, distracted, withdrawn . . . The adjectives are flowing freely at my December De-Stress Workshop, after I ask the group to describe the ways in which they feel stressed as the year concludes and weeks of merry-making, mall-shopping, and holiday commitments here-there-and-everywhere ensue. I’m delighted and a little shocked at the ease with which the group volunteers their misgivings about the season of giving. Figuring I would need to break the ice, I earlier confessed to having a cheese hangover from the party I was at the night before (there was baked brie; I couldn’t be contained), but it seems these yogis need little prodding.
They’re quick to laugh, happy, for now, not to be racking their brains for a gift for the babysitter/dogwalker/relative-seen-once-a-year, and grateful for a few tips and tricks for staying sane in the midst of this busy time. To mend the physical tweaks and tension, I emphasize meditation and pranayama, along with an asana practice containing ample opportunities for calming forward bends and cleansing twists. I pepper in some inversions and go very light on backbends, which can sometimes exacerbate anxiety.
Of course the mind and spirit, too, benefit from these physical yoga antidotes, especially when they are practiced with intention. However, one need not practice yoga to experience a “December De-Stress.” The most essential tips are perfectly accessible sans yoga mat. Here are my favorites:
Balance Your Energy Budget: Whether we adhere to it or not, we all maintain something resembling a holiday spending budget, ranging from what we deem to be a reasonable number in our heads to elaborate, color-coded spreadsheets. For example, if we have roughly $40 to spend on nephew Johnny, we know better than to think about getting him a Ferrari pedal car, which runs a cool $540.
Think of your energy as another form of currency—because it is, and the end of the year presents plenty of opportunities to overspend. We know this, and, yet, we don’t budget for it, as we do our finances. We overextend ourselves in predictable ways by over-committing our social calendars, overeating and overdrinking at social events, skimping on sleep, and skipping the activities that help restore balance, such as exercise, meditation, or simply taking a walk with a friend. It’s no wonder we feel resentful.
To balance energy deficits, select one healthful, stress-reducing activity each day and adhere to it, as if it were any other commitment on your agenda, where your attendance is predetermined, like an office holiday party or dentist appointment. Besides the obvious stress-busting activities such as exercise or meditation, you could also:
- Shut off your phone (completely) for an hour or more. Don’t worry; we’ll all get along fine without you, and your brain will thank you for the time to reboot.
- Stop being a walking potluck. It’s possible to indulge during the holidays without going overboard. The key is to limit your indulgences to worthwhile experiences. Celebrating among friends and family with festive dishes and sweet treats is worthwhile. Devouring every random Starbucks brownie sample and errant box of holiday cookies in the name of good cheer is not. Remember, just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean you forgot how to cook or visit the fresh produce section.
- Let visions of sugar plums dance in your head. You don’t need a nutritionist to tell you that being sleep deprived increases cravings for sugar to boost energy and carbohydrates to calm frazzled nerves. It also makes us short-tempered and scatterbrained (or, maybe that’s just me?). Getting enough sleep is the simplest way to balance your energy budget. I tend to be a night owl, so this one is hard for me. Let’s make a pact: If you do it, I’ll do it.
- Try something new. New activities require us to think creatively, which can be very fulfilling and freeing after weeks of thinking about the same old task-oriented Hanukah, Christmas, or Kwanza plans. Maybe you planned to try rock climbing, candle-making, or Tai Chi this year but never got around to it. Schedule a lesson. Make it your holiday celebration of self.
- Savor small, sensory pleasures. My workshop featured chilled, lavender-infused towels over the students’ eyes in sivasana and a dose of homemade bath salts to take home. Both cost very little to make and go a long way in terms of de-stressing benefits. Om Mama is keeping the bath salt recipe a secret, but the lavender towel is easy: Soak a small towel in cold or hot water mixed with a few drops of essential oil. (I used lavender for its calming properties). Wring out the towel and place over eyes. Rest for 10 breaths or several minutes. It feels like a spa treatment, in a fraction of the time and virtually no cost.
Give Generously of Spirit: Maybe it sounds hokey and overused, but the giving of material goods pales in comparison to giving generously of spirit. There are endless ways to do this, large and small, so I’ll share just one of my favorites. Each year, I volunteer at Christmas in the City, a local event in Boston that distributes thousands of toys to homeless children in the area. The kids also enjoy a meal, choir and dance performances; activities, such as gingerbread house building and face painting, a visit from Santa, and more. If the materialism and excess of the holidays makes you feel blue, depleted, or resentful, do something that brings the joy of the season to others, preferably children. You will snap out of your rut. Just. Like. That.
Receive the Gift of a Grateful Heart: While attending a weekend retreat at Kripalu with Deepak Chopra last year, he said something that stuck with me. It went like this: Gratitude is the opposite of ego. Therefore, it is impossible to be trapped in your ego when you operate from a place of gratitude. I try to remember this often. Whenever I feel myself overrun with negative thoughts and feelings of not having enough, doing enough, being appreciated enough, and all the rest, I try to stop and notice something, anything, for which I am grateful. Each time you experience gratitude, it is as if you give yourself a great gift. Tell others when you are grateful for them, and they will feel this way, too. It’s the best “return policy” you can find.