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7 (Not So Obvious) Tips For Managing Overwhelm This Holiday Season

Written by Sarah Ezrin

Photography by Bruce and Rebecca Meissner

What is it about that stretch between Halloween to New Year’s that makes life feel as though it’s in overdrive? One minute you’re crawling along, waiting for summer to end (a.k.a. the kids to be back at school) and then suddenly it’s January and everything in between was a blur of orange and black, red and green, and black and gold. Every season, I plant my feet on the floor and declare, “I will be present this holiday!” only to end up whiplashed. I would like to blame capitalism and the patriarchy for this fast forwarded existence. It’s hard to enjoy the moment when you’re haunted by next season’s to-do list everywhere you turn. Stores seemed particularly shameless this year–displaying Christmas stock before my kids had even peeled off their candy-covered costumes.

Dragging out each holiday for weeks and months hasn’t helped us savor them anymore, either. It’s just added more days to be bogged down by parades, concerts, and parties. We are hit doubly hard in my household as most of my family’s birthdays fall in December. It’s overwhelming to try and keep up with it all. But as much as I want to gesture around and blame “them” for making my life so hectic, I have some equally good and bad news for us all: We are the only ones responsible for our internal peace.

Let’s first acknowledge that there are many global challenges that we cannot control, like systemic oppression, war, and injustice. I can’t control things under my own roof at times! Focusing on everything that is happening outside of ourselves is overwhelming. But we can always control where we are focusing our attention and how we show up in the world. This is when I’m grateful to practices like yoga and meditation, which offer myriad tools to connect to the present moment. Presence is the ultimate antidote to overwhelm.

With all of this in mind, here are my top seven tips for staying grounded this holiday season.

Watch the Sunset. There is a beautiful benefit to those shorter, winter nights, and we’re not just referring to kid’s earlier bedtimes. The northern hemisphere experiences some of its most colorful sunsets during late fall and winter. This is because of lower humidity and less air pollution, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Make it a nightly ritual to step outside and admire the sky. This will offer you and your kids a bookmark at the end of that day. If weather doesn’t permit, consider marking sundown by changing the atmosphere in your home through lighting or a moment of pause to acknowledge the passing day.

Touch and Texture. One of my favorite things about the holidays are the fabrics. From sequins to velvet, ‘tis the most texture-full time of the year. Beyond looking sparkly and soft, we can use these sartorial substances as grounding tools. For example, when you are feeling socially drained at your third holiday party that weekend, try rubbing the silk lining of your coat or stroking the velvet of your sleeve. Focusing on the act of touch is a mindfulness practice and self-soothing.

Light all the Candles. In the yoga tradition, there is an ancient candle-gazing meditation called Trataka. There are many science-backed benefits to this practice, including sustained attention and improved cognitive function. In addition to setting the mood, candles also settle our mood. According to a 2016 study, which measured people’s responses to fragrances through electroencephalograph (EEG), the smell of candles positively influences our emotions, behavior, and mood.

Handmade Over Store-Bought. It’s ironic that we outsource everything hoping to lower our stress levels, when the physical act of making and creating is a well-researched stress-reliever. Slow yourself down by DIY-ing whatever you have time for. Cook something from scratch instead of dealing with the packed market. Hand wrap presents with recycled paper, rather than tossing them into a gift bag. Write out the menu and seating arrangements for your family dinner. Keep things simple, and even consider involving your kids. It will keep them occupied and it’s an opportunity for connection.

Indoor Flora. The last thing you may want right now is another mouth to feed, or in this case another pot to water, but indoor plants, even the tiniest ones, have enormous benefits on our physiology and mental health. Studies show that having plants in your home can reduce stress and lower blood pressure. Bringing in flora and fauna specific to the winter season can be especially grounding as it acts like a timestamp.

Warm Beverages. I’m the sort of person who still orders hot lattes during summer, but for most people, winter means welcoming toasty beverages. Whether you are drinking tea, cocoa, apple cider, or a hot toddy, savoring a warm drink is an opportunity to slow down and get present. Turn the drink preparation into a meditation, by mindfully moving through every step. I love pausing to watch the water change color when making tea and taking deep breaths of the steam. Continue that practice of mindfulness by being present for every slow sip.

Movement. As a yoga teacher, I would be remiss if I didn’t share movement as one of my top tools for grounding, but I want to be clear about something. You don’t need to attend an hour-long fitness class. You don’t even need to unroll a yoga mat. Moving your body can be as dynamic as a dance party in the kitchen or pillow fighting with your kids. It can also be as mellow as a long stroll around the neighborhood to admire the lights or just stretching after a long dinner.

Your presence is the best present. We wrap ourselves into not-so-neat-bows trying to make the holidays “special and memorable” for our families, but it’s often the stress of the preparations that lead us to miss out on core moments and connection opportunities. Try to remind yourself that at the end of the day/this season/your life, presence with your family will be way more impactful than any party you throw, dish you cook, or present you can ever purchase.

Sarah Ezrin is the award-winning author of The Yoga of Parenting. Be sure to read her debut article for MOTHER, How I Use The Lessons Of Yoga To Be A Better Parent.

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