It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas? Or overeating, overspending, grief, anxiety, sadness? For some of us holidays mean excitement and joy and for others of us, we might be feeling a little “bah humbug” with the added stressors that arise. Our lives become inundated with gatherings and shopping all pressured by deadlines, responsibilities, and expectations.
Seasonal depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD): Cooler temperatures and shorter days trigger a chemical change in the brain. The body creates more melatonin, a hormone that assists in sleep, and the body receives less Vitamin D from sunlight making us feel fatigued and moody.
Financial Strain: Increased spending on gifts, food, and social gatherings results in less money spent on self-care. Consumption-based society and “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality means we will spend more money during the holidays than any other time of year.
Poor diet and busy schedules: A diet of high fat and sugary foods during the holidays coupled with an increase in social activities means less time at the gym and fewer home-cooked meals.
Family time: Heated conversations over political and religious views can trigger a mental regression that can lead to coping mechanisms like alcohol, drugs or overeating.
Grief and loss: Anyone who has lost someone is challenged during the holidays. Grief has no predictable timeline and the holidays can trigger an onset of overwhelm or depression. There is a lot of pressure to “be happy” despite common feelings of loneliness or isolation. Our energy is depleted trying to put on a happy face to avoid judgement or questions.
As a yoga therapist, I work one-on-one with many clients to overcome these strains on mental health during the holidays and throughout the year. Yoga has an incredible ability to keep our mental health in check during stressful periods of life. While movement is a key component to our mental and physical health it is just one piece of yoga.Yoga in its entirety is an ancient lifestyle of discipline and mindfulness.
The following are skillsets I use to help cope with the stress of the holidays and beyond:
Set Boundaries: Practice the yogic discipline of non-harming. Know your limits. Limit who you spend time with and how much. Just because you are related or love them doesn’t mean you need negativity. It’s ok to say no! You don’t have to say yes to every event, invitation, or volunteer opportunity. Pick the things that mean the most to you and focus your energy there.
Reserve Your Energy: Consider what current tasks are draining your vitality and either delegate by asking for help or let it go completely. Be aware of how your energy feels when doing certain activities and decide how to cultivate a life that isn’t draining.
Feel Your Feelings: Your feelings are meant to be felt. Give yourself ample opportunity to be present with what you are feeling and reach out for help with a trusted person in your life if you need to talk it through.
Maintain Reasonable Expectations: The yogic skill of non-attachment is the ability to enjoy the journey by living in the present moment. Let go of the worry that the meal you are making or the gift you are buying won’t be good enough. Instead remain in the present and enjoy the process of cooking, shopping, and being with loved ones. Free yourself of the expectations. If you have never been able to impress your mother-in-law with your sweet potato pie, you probably never will, so let that go!
Have an Attitude of Gratitude: Very few of us can be unhappy when we think of all the things for which we are grateful. Contentment allows us to accept and appreciate what we have and helps us to resist the habit to focus on what could be better or compare ourselves others.
Practice Self-Care: The skill of self-discipline in yoga is the ability to stick to your routine even when you are busy. That means maintaining your healthy habits like exercise, healthy food choices, time for quiet reflection, or meditation and prayer. Yoga also teaches us to see negativity, old habits or thought patterns for what they are and assists us in releasing those things we no longer want or need in our life.
Just Breathe: Something as simple as breathing practices can be a great way to regulate our nervous system. The next time you feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed try focusing on your breath. One of my favorite breathing techniques is called box breath. Try it: Inhale for a count of 4, retain your breath for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and then remain empty for a count of 4. Repeat.
Take Time to Rest: We live in a busy society and rest is seen as negative or lazy. However, rest is vital to our wellness. The downfall of the holidays is that very few of us find the time for respite. Yoga teaches to focus on the present. In the quiet of the present moment, peace becomes easy.
Surrender to What Is: There are many things outside of our control; relationships, weather, illness, the grocery store sold out of cranberry sauce. We have been programmed to try to control every situation and letting go isn’t easy. The teaching of surrender, is a path to peace and one of the most difficult practices of yoga. Surrendering is not weakness; it is strength in knowing when we need to change course or go with the flow of life. Surrender is knowing when we need to bend, so we don’t break.
You are not alone in the process. For pricing, scheduling, classes, retreats and group events with Waterfall Yoga Therapy: www.waterfallyogallc.com
We have been programmed to try to control every situation and letting go isn’t easy.
Be aware of how your energy feels when doing certain activities and decide how to cultivate a life that isn’t draining.