A Mindful View of Overcoming Holiday Blues

2 Comments December 11, 2008 / Posted in Mindfulness

The holidays are a time of festivity and joy for many. But for some it’s the most stressful time of year. The joy for some (holiday decorating, cards to write, gifts to get, vacation arrangements, family gatherings with in-laws) can produce resentment and anxiety in others. This anxiety can be compounded by confrontations with in-laws and family, sorrow from memories of holidays past, loved ones gone, and even wealth evaporation in retirement savings.


The holiday blues affect our minds and our bodies. When you’re feeling any negative emotion, chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters (which carry signals through the nervous system) run low, limiting your ability to feel good. Stress and anxiety can snowball turning holiday blues into depression, as well as other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. The holiday blues affect our minds and our bodies. When you’re feeling any negative emotion, chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters (which carry signals through the nervous system) run low, limiting your ability to feel good. Stress and anxiety can snowball turning holiday blues into depression, or impacting other health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

Diminishing holiday blues
You can diminish these holiday blues in a number of ways.

1) Accept that change is part of life . Try writing a poem to deepen you acceptance. Robert Frost’s short poem reminds us of what we all know and forget. Our lives are to be lived fully until that moment when we die:

Everything I learned about life
I can sum up in three words:
It goes on.

2) Be with friends and family you enjoy . Focus on what the holiday season is really about – go spend time with the people you like.

3) Let lost loved ones live on fondly in your memories. It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, but don’t get consumed with sadness and longing.

4) Practice forgiveness . Remember that forgiveness is for ourselves, not the other person. Holding anger or an unforgiving heart negatively impacts your attitude and immune system.

5) Spend time in nature . If you’re stuck on childhood memories of “ideal” holidays and thoughts of loved ones who are no longer here, it becomes difficult to enjoy the holidays. Try getting back in to the present moment. A walk through the woods or on a hiking trail can get you back in the moment.

6) Give yourself a gift. Often the best gifts to yourself at Christmas is to get involved in helping others. It allows you to share the true spirit of Christmas. Vistage member, Mike Finch of RCP Block and Brick has, for over 30 years, collected toys and gifts for those in need.

7) Relieve anxiety, anger and irritation with deep breathing. A powerful and easy solution to stress has been developed by a group called HeartMath, they call it “Attitude Breathing.” Here’s how to do it:

* Chose a positive emotion such as appreciation, love, care, gratitude, compassion, thankfulness. Take a few moments to build an attitude of appreciation for someone or something in your life. Imagine you’re breathing that emotion through your heart for several breathes.

* As you breathe, ask yourself, “What is a better attitude to carry…now?” It might be: stay calm; relax; don’t judge; listen peacefully; have more compassion.

* Take that new attitude and with deep breathes imagine that you are breathing it through your heart.

When you’re upset and angry, you don’t realize you’re holding your breathe. If nothing else during this season, practice deep breathing. It stimulates the system that calms the fight/flight survival system. Adding positive thoughts or wishing others well during deep breathing increases the positive impact to you.

8) Be realistic about the things you should and can do. If you don’t have time to do something or can’t do it, just say, “I can’t commit to that.”
If you’ve been preparing the Christmas dinner for 25 years, maybe it’s time to pass the tradition on. Or at least hire a caterer, and/or help to wait on the guests and clean up. Learn to delegate, delegate, delegate. Get everyone involved in the holiday dinner. Let everyone bring their favorite dish or the dish loved by everyone.
Buy gift cards instead of searching for that perfect gift for each person on your list. Shop online instead of dealing with crowded freeways, parking lots and stores—you can get just about anything at amazon.com.

As families change and grow, let them change rituals and traditions to their tastes. My wife got a taste of a changed family tradition this Thanksgiving. Our daughter and her new husband don’t stuff in the turkey. That’s easy and simple if you don’t demand it done your way. Remember hidden in the word “Listen” is the word “Silent.” If you are listening you are silently hearing what is being said…not getting ready to speak.

Finally, one last interesting resource: Vistage Chair Larry Hart introduced me to Brain Rules , a book and Website by molecular biologist, John Medina, which offers 12 rules to survive and thrive in the demands and stresses upon our lives.

2 Comments... What do you think? Subscribe via RSS
  1. Jonathan Kaplan said on January 2nd, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Thanks for your post on making it through the holidays! While it’s a little late for me now, I did appreciate the suggestions–many of which we can bring into the new year, too. Yesterday, I posted some tips on being mindful in 2009, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Best wishes for a mindful 2009! Jon of http://www.UrbanMindfulness.org

  2. word for 2009 « The Misadventures of Kelly and Kelly said on January 10th, 2009 at 11:01 pm

    […] found a great blog post here (on mindfulness) and it has tips on how to avoid holiday blues. I think the tips are good for every day life […]

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