If my own email in box is any indication, I know that, during this holiday season, you need another email, like you need a hole in your glass of eggnog. But read on, as this is not a #cyber Monday, #blackFriday, #smallbusiness Saturday, #willthiseverstop Wednesday (I made that one up!) kind of email.
This email is about holiday presence rather than holiday presents.
Because as greeting card-ish as it may sound, the best gift this holiday season isn’t “on sale for 40% off only if you buy in the next 5 minutes”, the best holiday gift really is your presence.
Last year, in mid-December, I was standing in a rather long line at our local post office. When it was finally my turn, I made a comment to the post man about how busy and stressed he must be trying to process everyone’s annual buying binge. He looked at me and said, “I’m not stressed, I just focus on one person, one package at a time. Now, how can I help you?” I was kind of shocked at how completely present he was, even amidst all kinds of not-so-merry chaos going on around him.
So, if the mailman can find a way to not be stressed this time of year, there’s definitely hope for the rest of us!
Here are a few tips to help you be more present this holiday season.
Do One Thing at a Time
Take a page out of the mailman’s bag and just do one.thing.at.a.time. If you’re writing holiday cards, put your attention on just that task. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. In fact, it reduces our task performance to that of an 8-year old and contributes to our overall stress levels. So put all of your attention on the task at hand until it’s finished, then switch. Make your to do list, but don’t check it twice by ruminating on everything you have to get done while tackling a task. Enjoy each activity fully while you’re doing it, then move on.
Put your “Shoulds” on the Naughty List
If guilting yourself into making gingerbread houses, pinterest-shaming yourself for not being more crafty, or feeling less than because you don’t have clever Elf on the Shelf hiding places like everybody else in your FB feed, then stop that. Put your joy filter on and kick your perfectionism to the curb. Think about everything that you “should” get done this December. Then ask yourself if a particular item is going to enhance your holiday or just add to your overwhelm. If it’s the former, keep it, if it’s the latter, lose it.
Change up your Traditions
Our brains are hardwired to seek out novelty. New experiences give us a joyful dopamine hit, so if your holiday traditions are as stale as your Aunt Betty’s fruitcake, then change them up. Put a playful spin on the old. Host an ugly sweater party rather than a holiday open house. Change the office’s secret santa gift exchange to a hilarious white elephant one. Dare your teenagers to wear their requisite matching holiday jammies from grandma to a busy Starbucks. Make awkward family photos for next year’s card. Be silly and spontaneous! You can always go back to roasting chestnuts, again, next year.
Isn’t it ironic, that we go to great lengths to create a magical holiday experience for our kids, only to end up stressed out, stretched thin and utterly spent? Follow your kids’ example and remember that having fun is part of the holiday season. Instead of watching them sled outside, while you wrap presents, inside, take yourself for a thrill ride alongside of them. If that doesn’t sound fun, then make time for whatever does make you smile, no “should-ing” allowed.
Get yourself on the Nice List
Performing acts of kindness is the secret sauce of holiday stress reduction. Kindness decreases depression, reduces anxiety, boosts oxytocin, makes us feel more connected, and even lowers blood pressure. So buy presents for a family in need, give your UPS delivery driver a thank you gift card, bring hot cocoa to the neighbor kids, tell the management of a company what an amazing customer service experience you had, feed the parking meter of a shopping stranger, have a pizza delivered for the staff of your local boys and girls club, or just let someone go in front of you in line at the shipping store. The acts of kindness don’t need to be big to be effective.
’Tis the season to focus on what matters most to us, not what matters most to our credit card company. As the wise Charlie Brown once said, “It’s not what’s under the tree that matters, it’s who is around it, that matters.”