The holidays are here. If you’re like me — if you’re like many people — you’re feeling a combination of excitement and pressure, joy and sadness.

Right after Thanksgiving in the USA, everything around us explodes into green and red lights. There are so many ads, so many shopping deals. So many expectations, so many parties to go to. And so much year-end work to be done.

The holiday time can be sweet. We look forward to sharing food, laughter, and love with family and friends. We experience faith in something bigger — faith in each other.

But the holidays can also weigh us down.  Amid the rush and the twinkling lights, many of us can feel alone, disconnected and unsure.

For many people, this year’s holiday season is laden with sadness, anger, mistrust and disillusion. Recent events in Ferguson and New York — and across the United States — point directly at our long-standing divisions and the injustice that continues to reside in our midst.  The global crisis of Ebola points at our fragility and dependence on each other. Deep in my bones, I am feeling great sadness and anger and loss.

How then do we make it through the holidays? How can we manage not to droop under the grinding challenges at this year’s end?

Three practices are helping to buoy my spirits this month — and you may find them helpful, too:

  • Reflect on what this season mean to you
  • Pace yourself and take smaller bites
  • Do less and notice more

Reflect on what this season mean to you

Two major religious holidays are celebrated this time of year along with many spiritually and culturally significant days. Hanukkah and Christmas both fall in December. These holidays celebrate miracles and represent light being brought into the world.  The winter solstice — often the last big feast before the hard months — represents rebirth and the coming of a new year.

And it may be that these holidays are not yours and have no connection to your beliefs. Even so, you can find personal significance in the season — without the holidays. Ask yourself: what is the deeper meaning people are searching for this time of year? What deeper wish do you have?

Ask yourself: “What meaning do this season hold for me?”

For me, this season is a time to reconnect with dear ones. It’s also a time for reflection: I think about where I have been and where I am going. I reflect on love and how I want to show love to other human beings. I think about the ways I have been showing up and the ways I have not. It is a time to express openly the possibility of miracles while actively acknowledging the sadness, conflict, and injustice in the world around us.

Pace yourself and take smaller bites

This is helpful advice during a holiday meal!  It is also a good practice for the whole season. Taking baby steps and dividing tasks into smaller bites is a healthy way to handle life’s challenges. It’s a big part of what we talk about in my Room Next Door workshops.

Try focusing on one thing at a time. Break down the work, the chores, and the activities into bite-size pieces. Get very clear about the first doable piece of a task. Do that one thing. Then go on the next piece. Give yourself less work in a given amount of time.

Do less and notice more

Take a moment right now to figure out what can come off your plate. Can you change a deadline, eliminate some errands, or drop an expectation you have placed on yourself?  Say “No” once or twice — or even three times — this month. Some projects can wait. Choose the gatherings you’re attending wisely. If you try to do it all you won’t enjoy any of it.

Be mindful. Pay attention. When you’re in final stretch of a work project or preparation for a meal with friends, stop for a moment. Take a deep breath and make everything slow motion (like in a movie).  What do you notice? Is it a connection between people, the click clack of computer keys, the smell of warm pie, a friend’s bright laugh, even a feeling of sorrow blurred around the edges?

When you slow down, you will be reminded why we need each other. We need each other’s support, love, and kindness. Hold onto this fact during December, because this is what the holidays are truly about.

What does this season mean to you?
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