We can all get a little overwhelmed by the events, shopping lists, and tasks of the season. When your body gets tired from the busyness, do you ever notice your mood dropping as well? Do you find that the more tired you get, the more you start to grumble about not getting help or feeling overburdened? As you feel more worn down, does your patience and joy wear a little thin as well?
It's a pretty easy descent from physical exhaustion into depression when our mind starts to ruminate on the ways we are hurting. The stress of the season affects us physically in our body through tight muscles and sore feet; and likewise being physically worn down can pull our mood down as well.
Here are some ideas for a little refresher for both your body and your soul as you head into the final stretch of the holidays.
Treat your senses
Take care of your body. Your body is carrying you through the shopping trips, the special meals, and the holiday parties. Show a little tender kindness to it. Set aside an hour some evening to devote just to caring for your body. You may wonder where you will get an hour, but I guarantee you find time to put gas in your car, so consider this a priority as well. Before you start, check in with your mood. How are you feeling? What parts of your body are feeling worn down? Then choose several ways to show kindness to your body.
Take a warm bubble bath.
While you're soaking in the bath, consider a clay face mask and/or pamper your hair with a deep conditioner.
Exfoliate with a sugar scrub.
Hydrate your skin with a special lotion.
Massage sore muscles and maybe add a heat pack.
Give yourself a foot rub as you get into bed.
Cuddle up in a soft blanket.
Really focus on the way these feel on your skin. Spend time enjoying the moment, and when you are finished, check in again on your mood. What shifts do you notice?
Every fall my grandma would say, "Feast your eyes!" as we drove along tree-lined streets in hues of red, yellow, and orange. Taking time to appreciate beauty in the moment can nourish your spirit just as a feast nourishes your body.
Take a drive around a nearby neighborhood to enjoy the warm glow of Christmas lights. Or dim the lights and watch the flickering of a candle.
Pick up a couple of fresh flowers to add color to your table.
Take artistic photos of beauty you might otherwise have missed.
See if you can find some of the special 3D glasses (sometimes called Holiday Specs) that transform Christmas lights into shapes like snowmen, stars, or dancing gingerbread men. Grocery stores and hardware stores often have them this time of year and they are often available on Amazon as well. If you're like me, you'll giggle like a grade-schooler as you turn everything from lights on your tree to street lights into whimsical characters.
When we are stressed, our body gets ready for fight or flight. Part of the biological changes that occur in that state involve the way our ear muscles tighten. When relaxes, our ear muscles are in "social" mode that allows them us to eliminate background noise and focus on ranges of the normal human voice. When these muscles tighten, we tend to primarily hear the lower ranges (so that we can sense predators). Help your ears come back to that sense of safety by focusing on middle range tones.
Hum or sing along with a familiar Christmas tune or favorite song.
Cue up a playlist of relaxation music with instruments that are close to the range of the human voice (violin, panflute, piano).
Search out sounds that are connected with favorite memories.
Most of our sensory information comes into the brain and is processed by the thalamus, which then sends the information to other regions of the brain that further process the sensory data. The sense of smell, however, is the only sense that has a direct route to our amygdala. The amygdala plays a large role in our stress response, among other things (such as intense emotions and memory). Paying close attention to calming and pleasant scents, then, can send messages of safety straight into the stress center of our brain.
Enjoy a special scent by warming a favorite wax melt/candle.
Use a scented lotion or perfume/cologne.
Boil orange peel, cinnamon, cloves, or other soothing scents on the stove (just don't let it run dry).
Take time to enjoy the scent before eating a favorite food.
Finally, here is my Christmas gift to you. It's a special way to indulge your taste buds while promoting your mental health.
Meditation is the art of focusing your mind, calming the background noise, and being present in the moment. Meditation with chocolate is next-level. ;)
A Chocolate Meditation
Start with a piece of chocolate (or any other treat). I like to use Andes mints because you can focus on separately tasting the two flavors, but you can even use a Hershey's Kiss.
Use your five senses to help you be in the moment. Pay attention to your experience, sensations, and emotions as they happen.
1. Notice where you are.
What textures can you feel?
What colors can you see?
What do you hear?
What can you smell?
Notice any tension or feelings in your body. Take a deep breath, hold it for a moment, and then let it go.
2. Hold a mint, berry, chocolate, or candy and use your senses to take in the experience of holding it.
What color is the wrapper (if it has one)?
What does the wrapper feel like?
Does it make a sound?
3. Unwrap the food. What do you notice?
Do you feel a sense of anticipation?
An urge to place it in your mouth?
Just notice any emotions and sensations without judging them.
4. Examine the food.
Consider its texture, weight, color, etc.
Inhale its scent. Does the smell trigger any other senses?
Where do you notice your sense of smell in your body? Do you feel it in your throat?
5. Place the food in your mouth, and let it sit on your tongue.
Notice the flavors, becoming completely absorbed in what you’re experiencing in this moment. If other thoughts come into your mind, gently refocus your attention to the flavors and sensations you are experiencing.
Focus on your breathing and the sensations in your mouth.
Move the food around your mouth. Does the area of taste, or even the taste itself, change?
6. Swallow. Notice the food as it goes down. What flavor remains?
7. Take a deep breath. When you are ready, focus again on your surroundings. Take another breath, and end your meditation...or repeat as needed.
Need a gift idea? Give the gift of self-care.
Now that you know how to calm and replenish your body, don't keep it all to yourself. A basket of items from the lists above might be just the encouragement a friend or loved one needs to take time to relax and is a pretty easy last-minute gift to pull off.
And the more relaxed your family members are, the easier those family gatherings might be. (It's the gift that keeps on giving, right?)
Self-care baskets work for both men and women, and they don't have to be filled with really expensive items. Grocery stores often carry these items that make a well-rounded gift basket:
Help them set the tone with a scented candle and maybe some fresh flowers.
Dr. Teal's makes an Avocado oil bubble bath to hydrate skin. It foams up into nice, thick bubbles and doesn't have a strong scent, so it works for any gender.
Tree Hut exfoliating sugar scrubs come in a variety of scents.
For a gender-neutral face mask, look for oatmeal, avocado, clay, or charcoal varieties. (Freeman has a variety of these. Viking Revolution sells a brand geared toward men.)
A single-use pouch of deep conditioner for hair
A body wash puff or exfoliating gloves pair well with the above items.
Add a travel size moisturizing lotion, some flavored lip balm, or even a nail cream.
A set of plush socks, hair towel, soft robe, or cozy blanket are nice finishing touches.
Include some fruit, berries, or chocolates along with a print-out of the meditation.
While you're putting these together, don't forget to make one for yourself. Think of it as your emergency self-care kit.
Wishing you peace this season and in the year to come.