How to Remain Calm and Cool During the Holidays
By Deepak Chopra, M.D.
Getting through the holidays well is part of being on your own path. What works at this time of year is the same as the rest of the year, except that you need to be more mindful of pitfalls and possible stresses.
Stress over-stimulates the body-mind, throwing off its tendency to remain in dynamic balance. "Dynamic" means that your body-mind is responding from moment to moment. "Balance" refers to a state of homeostasis that functions through many feedback loops to keep dozens of processes in sync.
For most people, the over-stimulation of the holidays is seen as negative—the proverbial drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, the predictable family squabbles, the worrying over extra expenses, and the sudden jammed- packed schedule filled with too much shopping, parties, etc. But to the body-mind, the stress response is equally triggered by over-stimulation on the positive side. Stress experts call this "eu-stress," where "eu" is the Greek word for good. As anyone knows who has organized and cooked a big holiday dinner, it's a stressful job even when the dinner turns out beautifully.
“The proverbial drunk uncle at Thanksgiving” reminds me of a Christmas Eve long past (so grateful). The family is all sitting around the wood stove on a beautiful snowy evening to open a few gifts. We’ve just had a wonderful dinner together and it’s now time to kick back. Well, I also had a few drinks before, during and after dinner. I’m now in a black out.
I don’t remember opening the gifts. I don’t remember that night. It’s shitty. I’m shitty. The next morning I “fish” to find out what happened. My mom said I must have been tired from a full day at work, coming home and prepping dinner, etc. I so wish that were the case.
This Christmas when my family is here to visit I won’t have to be in a black out. As long as I remember that I am an alcoholic in recovery, stay close to the fellowship, my AA toolbox, and my Higher Power, I shall be just fine. I can live in the moment and cherish every moment. I shall be doing my gift-giving by being of service to the newcomer struggling through this holiday season.
Here are some tips to keep calm and cool during the holidays.
1. Avoid an Over-Stimulated Body-Mind State
The first thing you need to do is to avoid putting the body-mind into an over-stimulated state. The key points are: Don't take on more than you can handle.
2. Reduce Self-Created Stress
Next comes psychological stress, which for many people is cumulative. As the holidays approach, there is a worry and expectation that bad events from the past will likely repeat themselves. This is a form of self-created stress. When you see its signs, sit down, take a few minutes to center yourself, breathe deeply, and if possible—meditate. Your goal is to avoid getting into a self-generated state that remains in psychological overdrive.
I shall not worry about bad events from the past. But I shall not forget them either. I shall remember that I never want to go there again and that today I have a choice to not drink. I am not that person anymore! as long as I don’t pick up that first drink! I shall take in extra meetings, do a bit more service, pay a little extra into my recovery insurance policy.
3. Maintain a State of Calm Felt Throughout the Year
You want to maintain the state of calm and control that you enjoy at other times of the year. The key points are:
Take extra down time and inner time rather than less. Aim for at least six small breaks of 5 to 20 minutes a day where you can be alone, quiet, and centered. Know your boundaries and ask others to respect them. When a situation is about to arise that will put a burden on you or stretch your coping skills, speak up and ask for help or support.
I’ve learned through the years how valuable rigorous honesty is in my life. Everything is out in the open and I need not worry about what others think of me. So when I’m in HALT (hungry, angry, lonely or tired) I say it like it is. I need some down time, some “Dee time”. I’ve yet to be criticized or ridiculed for my honesty.
And today I can ask for help. It doesn’t make me “any less than”. In fact, I enjoy helping out in whatever way I can and stress to the recipient to please not take this joy away from me. I no longer feel obligated for asking for help. I no longer feel I must reciprocate. I can allow the giver some joy!
When you find yourself in a stressful situation that you can’t fix, don’t try to force a solution. Step away. You are under no obligation to stress yourself or add to the stress of others.
Make sure you are not the stressor. Whatever you wouldn't want others to inflict on you, don't inflict the same on them.
Avoid the temptation to rehash old battles and open old wounds. If either starts to happen in your presence, walk away.
4. Practice Calming Techniques Beforehand
Now you know the general guidelines for being calm and mindful during the holidays. Since most people forget to follow these guidelines, there's a good chance that they will fall into the category of good advice or "If only I had remembered to..." The key to implementing a better strategy is to practice it beforehand.
Visualization is a considerable help in this regard. Most holiday difficulties are predictable. You, your family, and everyone you know has been through them multiple times. Use this foreknowledge to your advantage. Try this visualization meditation to help:
Sit and visualize a typical holiday situation or predicament.
See it vividly in your mind's eye, and watch the elements play out, whether the circumstances are a crowded grocery store with long lines, an impossible wait at the Post Office, a political disagreement at the dinner table, or anything else that causes you to feel tense just thinking about it. As you visualize, breathe deeply and let the scenario play out while you remain centered.
Repeat this a few times until you feel less sensitized and stressed by what you see in your mind's eye.
Now be pro-active with your visualization. See people moving and acting in a different way according to the outcome you'd like to see. Perhaps you arrive at the grocery store at an off hour, have a pleasant conversation with someone next to you in line, and act cheerfully toward the cashier. At the dinner table when someone touches on a sensitive political (or personal) issue, see yourself excusing yourself from the table and taking time out. Or see yourself asking others if they want to join you in a taking an after-dinner walk.
The point is that the holidays box you into old conditioning and patterns of behavior that may make you feel stuck. Everything discussed in this article, including the visualizations, is about getting unstuck. Until you see and act on new possibilities, they can't unfold. Remember, everyone feels as if they are boxed in during the holidays, so no one else is to blame. When everyone is stuck, to some degree or other, it's your own responsibility to get unstuck. In this way the holidays become part of your own path to renewing yourself and exploring the creative side of your consciousness.
Today I try not to overthink things. I really try not to think at all and to live from my heart in the present moment. If I think about the past or future, I am shitting on this beautiful perfect moment right in front of me.
If I start thinking I begin to put together expectations. I learned early on in recovery, “No expectations, no disappointments.” That’s the way I choose to live my life today and having just had a low-key, spontaneous, “go with the flow” Thanksgiving week with family proves to me that this way of living is perfect for me. Let go and let God.
For those interested in Gifts with a Message of Aloha this season of giving, please visit my website at www.DeesignsByHarris.com. Mahalo and have a great and stress-free holiday season!
About the Author
Deepak Chopra, M.D.
Deepak Chopra, M.D., F.A.C.P. is the co-founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, the founder of the Chopra Foundation (https://www.choprafoundation.org/about/about-the-chopra-foundation/), and a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. He is board certified in internal medicine, endocrinology, and metabolism. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians, a member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and a clinical professor in the Family Medicine and Public Health Department at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of more than 85 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New... Read more (/bios/deepak-chopra)
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