The holidays are usually billed as a break from the rigors of work and a time to reconnect with loved ones, but many of us unwittingly use this time to exchange professional worries for personal ones. Whether concerns surround stressful relationships or unfulfilled personal goals, the holidays can prompt unsettling feelings that disrupt one of the few times a year we set aside to recharge. It is estimated that over 35 percent of people experience increased levels of stress during the holidays. Those managing depression or anxiety before the holidays may have even greater difficulty recharging. Here are a few tips to ensure you finish the holidays in a better place than you started.
1. Reset expectations for contentment
When our beliefs about life satisfaction are rooted in attaining something in the future or repairing something in the past, it becomes difficult to be content now. Mindfulness practices are an effective tool to re-establish our connection with the present moment. By focusing our attention on how our bodies feel, noticing our thoughts in a non-judgmental manner, and practicing breathing exercises that calm our nervous system we begin to embrace scientifically proven strategies that improve our psychological well-being. Pairing mindfulness exercises with cognitive restructuring techniques, or mental reminders — for example, "everyone experiences challenges" — helps us to focus on aspects of our lives that we can be grateful for.
You have the ability to change how you respond to any situation by learning new skills that will accelerate the process for resetting your expectations in a healthy direction.
2. Re-establish healthy routines
Good health habits are the casualty of busy lives, as our top priority shifts from self-care to other concerns. The holidays are an opportunity to reflect on the priorities that have overshadowed eating healthy, sleeping enough hours, exercising regularly, and leisurely enjoying time with others or alone.
After taking stock of the personal and professional priorities that have demanded our time, identifying one health habit to begin practicing and schedule into your routine can represent a simple step toward building a lifestyle of healthier habits. Research suggests it takes on average 66 days to make a behavior a habit. Taking incremental steps toward a clearly defined goal and changing the environment around you to promote healthier behavior are both key steps in moving toward a healthy lifestyle.
3. Reconnect with something larger than yourself
Often the personal and professional concerns that plague us become overwhelming when we fixate on the day-to-day challenges without acknowledging the big picture. Getting in an argument with a loved one, a bad review from a boss, losing out on an opportunity to attend an important event — these sorts of perceived setbacks can be hard to manage in a healthy way when we focus solely on how it personally hurts and forget the underlying factors that may have caused the setback to occur in the first place.
The holidays are often an opportunity to reconnect with the values that make our actions meaningful. Maybe we want to have a closer relationship with someone, feel like we are contributing at work, or make sure we are taking advantage of opportunities to build memorable moments. When we focus on the bigger picture, it is easier to find healthy ways to achieve those goals despite the obstacles that daily challenges present.
Taking these steps will give you a holiday full of gifts that you will enjoy for a lifetime.
Dr. Isaiah Pickens is a leading clinical psychologist committed to bringing hope through healthy living using the most compelling, scientifically grounded and entertaining tools in mental health. Whether providing a keynote address, workshop, training, or an answer to a simple question, he is here to help you achieve the best version of yourself. Learn more at www.iOpening Enterprises.com.