Here we are, almost through the holiday season and on the cusp of the new year.
For many of us, the holidays are not an easy time. There are so many stressors coming at us from so many different directions that it can feel overwhelming. There is the pressure of doing it all and getting it all right, being with family and managing all the expectations and personalities, the financial drain and the time constraints. Did I forget anything? Oh, yes—the constant overeating, under-sleeping and lack of any time for yourself.
I could certainly remind you to put yourself first during this hectic time by watching your calories, cutting back on the sweets and finding time to exercise. You might read my advice, nod your head in agreement, and then face the reality head-on: You know what to do, but you just can’t quite figure out how to find the time to do it. How do you prioritize yourself enough to make it through the holidays unscathed? Perhaps it’s time to change your perspective!
Let’s begin by thinking about the attitude you have going into the holidays. What did you do last year? If you spent the last holiday season overindulging and ignoring healthy habits, chances are you will do it (or have already done it) again this year. If you spent the last holiday season worrying more about others than yourself, and taking better care of others than of yourself, then chances are you will do it (or have done it) again this year. If you don’t shift your thinking you can’t shift your behavior.
A shift in perspective usually takes more than just desire. It takes effort. It takes an attitude change. To get something different, you have to do something different. Therefore, I propose a new way to get a LEG up on the holiday season—by Listening, having Empathy, and practicing Gratitude. These three behaviors can change your mind, re-order your priorities and, ultimately, change how you choose to approach this challenging time of year that is supposed to be peaceful and joyful, not stressful and anxious. And it can lay a foundation for a new you in the new year. Let’s go through these strategies one at a time to discover how they could work for you…
Listening: Are you listening? And who are you listening to? Listening is an important skill, but most of us listen selectively. Are you only listening to others who tell you what they need from you? Or are you listening to your own inner voice that is trying to tell you that when you are tired, you should sleep…when you are thirsty, you should drink water…when you are hungry, you might consider eating a bowl of greens rather than fried foods, cheese and sugar.
When I say listen, I mean listen to yourself so you know what you need to do. Maybe when you receive yet another invitation from someone you are not that close with, after being out four nights in a row, your body is telling you that enough is enough. If so, listen. Your inner voice is always communicating with you. It’s time to pay attention to those messages.
Empathy: This is not the season for judgment, criticism or disregard. This is not the season for fighting. Whether it’s a troublesome family member, that friend who always stirs the pot or even you telling yourself you’re not good enough, this is the season for empathy. Open your mind to what people are saying. See if you can sidestep your knee-jerk reactions and put yourself in their shoes so you can better understand a different perspective. See if you can feel what they are feeling behind their words.
When families and friends get together, it can be a truly challenging time when there are divides over differing beliefs (political, religious or just personality clashes). It’s hard not to react and escalate a discussion. But if instead you look for common ground, you may be able to find it. People won’t always agree. Difference is what makes people (and life) interesting. The more people are stressed, the more they may feel separate, but you can choose to go the other way towards connection. Sometimes, it is worth just letting it go. “Agree to disagree,” as the saying goes. Without empathy, this is difficult. With it, connection becomes much easier, and can change the dynamic more than anything, whether with a family member, a friend, a work colleague or even with yourself.
That being said, if someone is truly toxic to you and you are unable to feel anything beyond negativity or anxiety around them, then there is nothing wrong with choosing not to spend time with them this holiday season (or ever).
Gratitude: Finally, it always helps to remember what you are thankful for. With all the stress you may be feeling, it can be easy to forget the good things in your life and how lucky you are in the scheme of things. Try to remember every day how much you have to appreciate and be grateful about. This can completely transform your mood, your interpersonal relationships and even the release of your stress hormones, changing you on a physiologic level. Stress is bad for your health—but gratitude is good for your heart. It has been well studied, and outcomes have shown the profound impact of gratitude on health and well-being.
The holidays may be the high point of your year as well as the low point. They can be filled with happiness, joy, stress and misery. Any survival guide can tell you the basics: Eat well, sleep well, exercise well. This year, take it one step further. Get a LEG up. Listen to yourself and what you need. Empathize with those around you. And find gratitude whenever you can, so those moments of joy can outshine those moments of stress.
I wish you all a joyous holiday season and all the best for the New Year. Let’s all try to live more authentically by seeking our best selves through healthier lives. This year, let’s all seek to live more fully and profoundly from the heart.
Click here to buy Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s book, Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum’s Heart Book: Every Woman’s Guide to a Heart-Healthy Life, or visit her website http://drsuzannesteinbaum.com.