“The Holidays” is a perplexing statement in the US – on any given day, it can conjure up either warm feelings of family, gratitude, and tradition — or it can cause stress, headache and sleepless nights. And it’s no wonder – the average American spends 42 hours a year on holiday activities. That’s one standard work week spent shopping, wrapping, and returning presents, attending holiday parties, and traveling from place to place, and often these extra activities are squeezed into already busy schedules.
Before holiday stress and depression ruins your holiday, take a mindful minute to consider these great strategies and simple tips from Dr. Charlotte Reznick to keep the joy alive:
(1) Visualize a heart-filled holiday.
You can do this one at the dinner table. Have everyone in the family close their eyes, focus on their heart, and imagine what kind of holiday will bring joy into their hearts. Then share your ideas around the table. This helps kids feel listened to, cared for, and included.
(2) Give the gift of calmness.
Ancient wisdom and modern research point to the calming effects and health benefits of slow, deep breathing. Make a regular practice of taking 1 to 5 minutes each day of relaxing “balloon breathing.” Breathe in to a count of 3 about 2 inches below the navel, imagining there’s a balloon filling up with air, and out to that same slow count. It’ll center and rebalance every family member to face the joys and inevitable disappointments of the holiday season.
(3) Offer distress a voice.
If this is your child’s first holiday without a loved one – grandpa passed away, or big sister is in Afghanistan – younger family members may feel a deep sense of loss. Or maybe your child is feeling the stress of a recent divorce. Give her paper and markers, and ask her to draw whatever is making her sad or mad. Then ask her what the picture wants to say out loud. Often, putting a face on an emotion and letting it “speak” makes a child feel better – and gives a parent a way to understand what’s going on inside.
(4) Sweat is sweet.
Kids (and adults) can get all pent up during holiday time. Surprise little ones by clearing the furniture out of the center of the room, turning on some fun music, and dancing vigorously for 10 minutes. Or bundle up the family and take a wintry walk while playing “I Spy.” Exercise releases feel-good chemical and is one of the fastest ways to chase away holiday blahs and instill a sense of togetherness.
(5) Blow out negativity, light up hope.
Create a family ritual of hope. Have two candles for each family member: one lit, one not. Have each imagine what they’d like to let go of – what no longer serves them – and say, “I’m going to toss this out (anger, worry, meanness to my sister) when I blow this candle out.” Then light a new candle and share, “I hope to bring in (kindness, faith, cleaning my room) as I light anew.” Let go of the old and bring in the new. You can use one candle to symbolize all, or light up your whole home with several.
(6) Be grateful for who you live with.
Avoid some of the little and big jealousies that crop up from comparing who has a bigger present or counting how many gifts go to whom by starting early and giving gifts of appreciation – to each family member. Take the rest of December and every day have each person share something they appreciate about another (big brother allowing younger sister to hang out in his room). Make a running list and post on the fridge or in the family room to remind each other when stresses build that you really do care about and love each other.
(7) Spread the joy around.
The time-honored tradition of helping others can shift priorities. If kids or teens are moping around or showing signs of stress, take them to the local soup kitchen to serve meals. Visit a nursing home with hand-made cards or offer a free concert. Helping others gives kids a feeling of more control and a sense of being both useful and appreciated.
We hope that these strategies will help you and your family have a wonderful, stress-free holiday this Christmas.
Charlotte Reznick Ph.D., is a child educational psychologist, an Associate Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychology at UCLA, and author of The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin). As the creator of Imagery for Kids: Breakthrough for Learning, Creativity, and Empowerment, a positive coping skills program, Dr. Reznick has pioneered therapeutic interventions, combining visualization and meditation techniques to help children realize their full potential. In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation CDs for children, teens, and parents, and teaches workshops internationally on the healing power of children’s imagination.