This holiday season may be unlike any we've ever had; after all, this whole year has been unlike any other! We have all been through a lot, some of which has helped tune our perspective to embrace and appreciate the things we value even more than we did before!
Perhaps some of us are finally getting to see family and friends for the first time in a while! Or maybe some of us will be without family and friends for the first time this year. Both of these situations bring up their own feelings, perhaps of stress or of sadness. Some of our holiday traditions cannot happen this year under the circumstances — the disappointments may be piling up. Regardless, we all deal with holiday stress and sadness in some form or other, a lot of it stemming from all this outside pressure to enjoy the season. The holiday is advertised as a time of happiness, love, romance, family, gifts, and celebration. It's a time where magic happens and dreams come true. Rarely do we ever see the reality of the holiday stresses of accommodating or organizing family members or being without loved ones. How can we deal with the real life of it and create our own sense of happiness and wellbeing around this time?
Plan. Even if you will be alone this holiday season, try to plan three to five things to look forward to each week. The joy of anticipation is scientifically known to create greater positive feelings than sometimes the actual experience itself or even retrospection on the experience. Anticipation activates the reward center of the brain, along with the memory or prospection area of the brain and the motivation area of the brain. Anticipation can help to carve a new current in the brain and build more positive emotions around the holiday.
Innovate. Sometimes we get into a pattern that may no longer serve us. Think about your holiday traditions. Perhaps some of them are still near and dear to your heart, but maybe some of them are no longer serving you or your family. Give yourself permission to let go of old traditions and create new ones. We can all agree that this season will look a bit different than previous years, so how can we use that to our advantage?
Gretchen Rubin writes in her book Building Better Habits that sometimes the best time to create a new pattern, habit, or tradition is under new circumstances. Attaching a new process to a new setting or time of your life often makes that process easier to implement, complete, or learn. What do you want to change this year to serve you better?
Spice it up. A lot of us love food, especially when we are trying to compensate for feelings of stress and sadness. The holiday season is always filled with delicious treats and goodies as well as yummy goodies. However, instead of reaching for the carbs and sweets, try to find something spicy to eat. Research shows that spicy foods actually produce a response from the brain to release endorphins and dopamine which make us feel happier. Capsaicin is a chemical in spicy foods that our body reacts to as "pain" and therefore the brain is triggered to release these pleasure chemicals in response. How cool is that?
Exercise. We all know it — exercise relieves stress, produces endorphins, and allows us to physically work out some of our thoughts and feelings we store in the body. The nervous system holds so much of our experiences that our brain may not even be aware of. Notice you usually feel happier and more energized after a good workout? That’s the endorphins. Exercise is an investment in your future self's body to be able to continue to move. Also, the movement of the body can be therapeutic to emotions and experiences you may not have fully processed due to your body's fight or flight responses. When the body goes into a guarded state, it stores that rigidity physically and can affect other systems of the body such as the immune system, cardiovascular system, and even the digestive system. Check out September's article on stress and its effects on the body.
Breathe. What else helps the body's nervous system and calms the emotions and mind? Breathwork. According to expert Dr. Stephen Porges (Polyvagal Theory), your breath is an indicator of your emotional state. We know that breathing can have a significant effect on the body's systems. It can tone the vagus nerve which is in charge of your parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest state of the body), and allow us to take back control of stressful situations or their impact on your body.
Try this exercise: Inhale for 3 seconds, Exhale for 4 seconds. Inhale for 4, Exhale for 5. Inhale for 5, Exhale for 6, and etc. The elongated exhale is the important part of breathwork, sending a signal to your brain that you are safe and well.
Some of us can easily sink into the "otherness" or "aloneness” during the holiday season. Plan something for yourself to anticipate. Create a new tradition that serves you and let go of an old one. Enjoy something spicy to lift your mood. And move your body! These are great things to keep in mind to "hack your happiness" this holiday season. So, even if you do have a bright holiday season ahead and are looking forward to activities, food, traditions, etc., how else can you incorporate this information to serve you? My favorite is to remember in any given moment to check in with my body and to breathe how I want to feel. We are wishing you the best and happiest season and rooting for you to try some of these things for yourself. And don't forget you can tune into any of our virtual classes from home this month to move the body to feel and be better!