Holiday stress is an ironic reality for many. The anxiety that such stress produces is a sharp counterpoint to the holiday spirit of joy, peace, goodwill and gratitude! The good news is that instead of being captive to the stress, our mindful choices invite a de-stressing that is life-giving.
Here are four de-stressors that I and those I work with have experienced as transforming practices for holiday get-togethers.
Appreciative Energy. As you prepare for a holiday gathering of friends or family, engage in "appreciative energy." Visualize each person who will be present and then express your appreciation of one quality about her or him to yourself. For some, you will appreciate several qualities. For the challenging or quirky people in your circle, the act of appreciation allows you to step beyond life-draining energy that the relationship causes and instead allow yourself to enter into life-giving energy.
Be present and aware of the thing you are appreciative of in each person as you get ready to attend the holiday gathering. Your stress level decreases as you allow appreciative energy to ground you.
Spiritual Association. At work in my kitchen preparing for a celebratory gathering I realized that tension among a few guests had created a low-level anxiety and stress in me about how this might be played out in public. As I cooked I used a familiar practice of turning to images from a variety of spiritual traditions and associating one or more with each guest.
The images I associated with each guest included the "One who Plays" and the "Flute-Playing God" from the Hindu tradition, the "Nourisher" from Islam, the Sikh "Destroyer of Fear," the Christian "Lover of Souls" and the Jewish "God of the Womb" and "God of the Breasts." These playful, nurturing and tender images created a space in which I could mindfully anticipate each guest. While I could not repair the tension among a few, my stress dissipated in the images revealing something magnificent in each one.
Story Power. If there is a bigoted wildcard among the guests at a gathering, allow your stress to be replaced by the power of your authentic stories. One person I worked with said she was on the verge of withdrawing from family gathering because of the racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic comments of a few. Instead she chose another path. In response to anti-immigrant comments she told a story about the undocumented Latino family she worked with at a local community center. When faced with anti-gay jokes she told the story of attending the wedding of two women colleagues.
Your own story is filled with stories that reveal your joy and delight in the human family. Instead of trying to rebuff the bigot in the family share a story. You will be inviting another person to an unexpected meeting ground of oneness.
Detox Choice. If there is a person whose toxicity is untenable or threatening in some way, make a choice. You are not compelled to attend an event with them or obliged to invite that person to something you are hosting. Remember that in French, the root word for love and courage are the same. If your choice involves invites courage from you it will be an expression of love for yourself and your other guests. And love for yourself and others will be expressed in the courage to choose to detox a gathering.
Holiday stress is an oxymoron. Your choices can de-stress the holidays and allow the spirit of joy, goodwill, gratitude and peace to be present. Along the way seek out those who are grounded in delight, playfulness and wonder. They will become a mirror reflecting those qualities in you.
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