Welcome to the third and final part of my holiday guide that is meant to help you navigate any stress or anxiety you may feel during the holidays. In part 1 we explored the breath and how you can use it to stay grounded and in part 2 we talked about how to be mindful with the physical body during this season to keep you feeling your best. You can find those posts here:
In the third part, we are going to cover the mind and soul. Did you know yoga means union? To unionize the mind and body. We do this by using tools such as asana (the physical practice of yoga), pranayama (breath practice), and 6 other branches of yoga. The physical practice you commonly see online and think of is only 1 of 8 limbs of the yogic path. We will lightly touch on some of those other limbs today as we talk about ways we can support the mind and soul during this time of year.
Hobbies, feed the soul.
One of the most important pieces of advice I got years ago when I was struggling during a particularly anxious time was to get a hobby. I kind of eye rolled it. How would a hobby help me? And better yet, when would I even find time for one? I was a new mom struggling with undiagnosed postpartum depression and was hanging on by a rope as I tried to adapt to my new life. And really, a hobby would not have solved all my issues but I can look back now and see how it would have helped some.
I went full hobby mode this year. Finding new hobbies (gardening and bread baking) and exploring old ones further (writing)! It started out just for fun but it ended up bringing so much light into my life. It became real food for my soul. Hobbies give us an escape from the mundane and a place to go to get away from stress. It also teaches us to look inward and seek what we value and enjoy, it guides us to make time for ourselves, it places us in new communities, and can bring a brand new kind of joy that we have yet to experience.
I challenge you to reflect on what kind of hobby may be fun or interesting to take up and I urge you to make time for it in your life. Your energy, your mental health, your happiness is important. When you make time for yourself, you feed your soul, and when your soul is fed- you feel lighter, happier, less stressed, and more joyful. Having those things will set you up to face stress in a lighter way than you would have had you been in a dark, icky place.
Some hobbies I have seen blossom between myself, friends, and internet strangers this year have been:
- Exercise routines.
- Making new small businesses.
- YOGA (all caps because obviously it’s highly suggested from me).
- Drink crafting.
- Knitting and sewing.
- Making blankets.
- Wood burning.
- Digital animation.
And this is just a short list. Sit and think about an old hobby you may have started or one you have always carried an interest in and make the plunge. Or maybe you have no idea where to start, if that’s the case- google suggestions or quizzes. There are a multitude of hobbies to try out there and a little FYI- you do not have to be talented in these areas to make it a hobby. Just dive in and do your best.
Intentional rest for the mind-
When you google the word intention, which is the root word of intentional, you get two definitions:
a thing intended; an aim or plan.
the healing process of a wound.
I find both definitions to be fitting for what I am going to talk about here, which is intentional rest. How often do you make a plan for something in your life, especially around the holidays (think pre-covid)? Dinner at mom’s Friday at 5pm, see in-laws Sunday at 7pm, teeth cleaning Wednesday at 4pm, gym time M-F 9-11am, etc. We are often scheduling things into our life and just taking rest where we can which means rest gets left out a lot. Especially in western societies where productivity is highly valued and “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a commonly used phrase. Think of all those things you schedule and then compare it to how many times you have actually scheduled a time for rest. Probably a slim comparison.
What happens when we do this? Burn out. We get tired, we enjoy things less, our stress increases, anxiety settles in. But we keep pushing anyways, only to burn out faster. We see this amp up around the holidays as we hang on to our normal schedules but also cram in family dinners, time to shop, time seeing friends, going to holiday themed events and places, wanting to bake/watch/do all the things Christmas related. By the time Christmas comes around, we are wondering why the hell someone calls it the most wonderful time of the year as we feel exhausted and drained. That feeling carries us to the next year or we repeat the cycle and expect a different outcome. The truth is though, we cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome.
The key to avoiding burn out is making time to intentionally rest. See the bold word there? Making. We can’t afford to just take it as it comes. We have to look at our schedule and find a place for it first and then plan everything else around it. It seems impossible to so many, I know. It once did me too.
One way to rest intentionally is to practice meditation. And no, that does not mean you have to sit peacefully in a park with your fingers in a mudra on your knees as you chant OM. It certainly can be that if that’s your jam but it doesn’t have to. It can be you in a chair for 5-10 minutes as you focus on your inhale and exhale, you can meditate in the shower as you imagine the water washing away your stress, yoga asana can be a moving meditation when you sync your movements up with your breath. Meditation, just like everything else, will look different for you. Find what works and go for it. While you’re practicing, note that it’s normal for your mind to wander. This does not mean you are bad at meditation. It happens to us all! Simply notice the thought and come back to your breath or visualization. If you like the idea of a guided meditation, there are lots of YouTube videos and apps out there to help. I personally really like the Headspace app. It checks in with how you’re feeling and guides you to a meditation to best suit your needs. You can find it in your App Store!
Here is a particular meditation I love that is designed for Inner Peace:
Expectations, protect the mind and soul.
Speaking of expectations, the one thing I have learned recently of myself is I am full of them. I have some kind of expectation for most things in my life. Well, I did. I have been learning to let go of them and I cannot tell you what kind of freedom comes when you take expectations and throw them away. It is something you have to experience for yourself. It is life changing.
And just because you don’t have expectations does not mean you don’t have boundaries or standards. In letting go of my expectations I felt anxious as if I was going to throw away my standards and boundaries but no, expectations are not the same. When we have expectations, we are setting ourselves up to be let down. When we wake up and tell ourselves the day is going to be great, and the day does not turn out great- we feel worse than what we would have if we had no expectations and just ended up having a bad day. Which happens, bad days are inevitable. During the holidays a common expectation we carry is finding the perfect gift for everyone on our list. Pressure sets in after that, stress builds, and we are robbed of joy.
This time of year is supposed to be about enjoyment. What you will enjoy is going to be unique to you, your expectations are as well. Shed them. Let them go. Breathe. Try your best. Life is too short and unpredictable for expectations.
Here is a practice to help you curate self love and let go:
I hope so very much that between the three parts of this blog series something will benefit or has benefited you during this time of year. With this guide, I wanted to bring stress relief to those who need it during this time of year- which is most everyone I have spoken to. I know it can be hard during this time of year to think of change or adding in more, but I challenge you to cut things out where you can to make room for one (or many) of these things I have listed over the last couple of weeks. It is hard in general to think of ourselves and put ourselves first but it can be especially hard during the holidays when our mind is so often on others. It can be taboo to think of ourselves or do what makes us happy, but I assure you- it’s not. Take care of you, your happiness matters. Both during the holiday season and after.