There are all these articles out there about managing holiday stress (I’m pretty sure I’ve even written some of them!) and I started thinking about what a problem this is. Now, yes, for sure the holidays can feel stressful, filled with too much eating and spending, too many obligations and opportunities to be with family members who might not be your favorite. However, if you follow the general theory that what you incline your mind to grows over time, I wonder if maybe part of the stress we experience about the holidays is because we expect them to feel stressful?!
The basic concept of neuroplasticity is that our brains can grow and change over time, even once we have (hopefully) stopped growing and (again, hopefully) become adults. The beauty of this concept is that it has been scientifically proven over and over. Some of my favorite examples are the scans that show a measurable increase in the visual-spatial regions of the brains of London taxi drivers, or the increased compassion centers of monks who meditate on compassion, or the illiterate adults who had previously un-working areas in their brains, that light up after being taught to read.
So what does all this mean to us average people? Well, it means that the average person can improve the functioning of our brains and feel better in the world, simply by leaning in the right direction with our thoughts. We can literally make ourselves feel more joy by, well, practicing feeling joyful. Want to be more productive? Practice being productive even when you don’t feel super motivated. Want to learn a new language? Incline your mind to the learning through daily practice and repetition of the new language. Expose yourself to exactly what you want to do/feel/learn/experience more often.
Therefore, as we approach the holidays, I wonder if we can shift our focus, from the people we are dreaded talking to, or the stress and pressure of buying presents, or the obligations you feel at work, home, school, and in your relationships. So instead of thinking about Uncle Joe and his awful political views, think about Uncle Bob and how much you are looking forward to hearing about his recent trip overseas. Instead of dreading cooking for 20 people, make the menu really simple and spend your day dancing in your kitchen, feeling your food with love. Instead of stressing about presents, set a budget and follow through with only spending what you can afford. Rather than overeat because “its’ just once a year,” enjoy reasonable portions and taste a little of everything, giving yourself permission to make that pumpkin pie more often than once a year.
Rather than stress, enjoy. Actively, deliberately, repetitively, enjoy yourself and the people, places and things around you. After all, it is the season for gratitude!
Best wishes to you and your loved ones for a wonderful holiday season.