Faith Lifestyle Mindfulness

Fight Holiday Hurry and Stress: Reclaim Peace

Saturday morning we paid a visit to Philz (one of our favorite neighborhood coffee spots) in an effort to “caffeinate away” the fog of sleepiness that lingered despite the previous evening’s slumber. We placed our order and made our way to the checkout line, my heart skipping a beat when I noticed one of my favorite coffee baristas manning the cash register.

As Sean settled up the bill, I chatted with the cashier – a gal with whom I have become quite familiar, given the frequency of my visits to this particular coffee shop and my intentional effort to foster connection and fight the “transactional” nature of such visits.

As we briefly recounted various events from the last week, it was quite impossible to overlook the impatient and irritated energy exuding from the customer behind us in line.  Her loud huffing and puffing and incessant toe-tapping communicated I was an obnoxious time obstacle to her day’s very important agenda.  The barista offered me a winced smile that said, “I’m so sorry to cut this short, but I have to attend to this.”  With understanding, I quickly excused myself, allowing the barista to attend to Ms. Impatient’s demands.

I observed the woman frantically pay for her coffee, only to join us amongst other patrons in our waiting while our hand-crafted coffees brewed.  Irritation pricked my spirit, as I noted that the woman’s rushed actions and irritated demeanor accomplished nothing but unnecessary angst.  Not only had her actions abruptly cut short my conversation with the cashier; but the stress she embodied plagued not only her, but  infected those who crossed her path as well.  The perturbed expressions of other third parties touched by her dark storm cloud was a clear indication of such.

My dampened spirit brightened and I was pulled out of the contemplative bubble that had encapsulated my thoughts, as another barista announced “large Ambrosia, splash of almond milk” – my coffee selection of the day (yay!).  I stepped forth to proclaim my prize, soulfully savoring one of my favorite little luxuries in life: that first sip of coffee/milk froth atop a warm, cup of caffeinated goodness.

I took great delight in the way the coffee warmed my insides in particular that December morning; a stark contrast to the stormy mood of the woman I had encountered in line and the gray, cold, cloudiness awaiting outside.

As I assembled a lid on my cup of joe, I verbally applauded my barista’s coffee-making craftsmanship and proceeded to ask how his day was going.  His response was a groaned complaint, “so busy and stressed!” – a sentiment that mirrored those of my fellow coffee guest (who at that very moment, maintained her seemingly well-conditioned, toe-tapping stance…sporadically checking her watch between exhales vocalizing her annoyance…as if her doing so would fast-forward time and expedite the delivery of her coffee).

As I exited the shop, I waved good-bye to my barista pals.  I was lost in my thoughts as we made our way back home, digesting the events that had just transpired.  I observed how my Saturday morning coffee run had highlighted some common vices to which many of us fall victim…vices often emphasized and escalated during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season: hurry and distraction.

Hurry and distraction: the enemies of peace.

It’s no wonder many of us can find ourselves so easily consumed by hurry and distraction: expectations impressed upon us are incredibly high and there is a HUGE demand on our time and energy on a daily basis. And the expectations and demands are seemingly ever-increasing, despite the fact that we are limited by the same number of hours each day.  Sometimes we forget: we’re humans, not machines.

When the holidays arrive, additional resource-suckers are added to our already-too-full daily plates: shopping and buying gifts for various friends/family members, travel and/or food-related expenses, parties to throw or attend, and a number of various holiday extravaganzas, just to name a few. With the added demand on our time and money, it’s hard NOT to be consumed by stress. So, it’s no wonder we can find ourselves exhausted, hurried, and over-stretched…unable to bask in the warm nostalgia and “great cheer” our souls crave to experience during the holiday season.

Despite the added flurry of activities, I love the holidays.

I know holiday festivities aren’t for everyone, but I personally LOVE them.  However, despite my great anticipation and appreciation for such things, if I’m not careful, I can find our myself saying “yes” to too many things, anxiously tackling a never-ending to-do and shopping list, shopping my days away in a flurry of gift-buying (wreaking havoc on my bank account), and mindlessly hopping from one activity to another. Which in turn, can leave me feeling depleted and crazed.  I can find myself “doing” Christmas, rather than “experiencing” Christmas.

Less is often more, and mindfulness is key for peace.

After too many Christmases marked by hurry and stress rather than replenishment and deep connection, Sean and I have been trying to be more intentional around welcoming in mindfulness during the holiday season in an effort to reclaim peace and maintain our focus on what matters most.

I do not claim to be perfect at this – in fact, you may have read about my recent departure from mindfulness in my latest “retail binge” (if you missed this post, you can read about it here: Retail Therapy: an Unhelpful Way to Manage Emotions).

I shared this past lapse in mindfulness to show you: mistakes will happen…even if you’re trying your best to remain mindful and present.  And that’s okay.  Seek progress, not perfection; otherwise, you will only be setting yourself up for failure.

What I’ve found to be helpful is slowing down, though everything within me screams I need to speed up.  When I have a slip-up and find myself caught up in the craze or overly-stress, I simply “push pause” and, without judgment, ask myself “what’s going on?” in an effort to welcome in awareness.  Perhaps I have a been consumed by the hurry around me, maybe I’m running from certain emotions or stress (work, family, or otherwise).  Likely, I’ve taken on too much and need to reassess my “yes’s.”

After spending some time in reflection following the past “retail therapy” session I shared with you in my previous blog post, I stopped to adjust my mindset and bring awareness to: 1) where I wanted my focus to be this Christmas, 2) how I wanted to spend my time, and 3) my main goals/intentions for the holidays.  In doing so, I came up with a list of practical ways I could adopt to encourage more peace and fight against being consumed by the holiday hurry and stress.

Below is the list of “mindfulness intentions” I have decided to implement this December to help encourage a more meaningful, relaxing holiday and avoid being ensnared by the blinding craze of holiday stress and mindless consumerism.  I hope these mindful tidbits will help you bring more mindfulness and experience more peace and calm during your holiday season as well.

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#1 – Remain Present and Maintain a Focus on the “Reason for the Season”

Each year, before the holiday season is upon us, I like to begin thinking about how I’d like to welcome in more mindfulness into my daily routine, so I can do my best to remain focused on what matters most, live in the present moment, and avoid being swept up by the holiday craze.  Sometimes, I fall victim to the craze – like I did this year with my “Black Friday” holiday shopping spree (if you missed this post, you can read about it here: Retail Therapy: an Unhelpful Way to Manage Emotions).

Slip-ups are normal, and perhaps, to be expected. However, instead of beating myself up when I’m sucked into the holiday stress and busyness, I choose to see them as learning opportunities and use them to refocus on my intentions.  My intentions are guiding principles that guide me in my effort to remain anchored in what matters most, despite the flurry of activity surrounding me and multiple holiday events demanding my time and other resources.

My primary intention for the holiday season is to remain focused on the “Reason for the Season.”  Stepping into the holidays with mindfulness and eyes set on what’s most important helps me remember why…and Who…I am truly celebrating.  When my mind is focused in this way, I find it enables me to “be present” and more fully engaged during holiday festivities and time spent with loved ones.

It also helps me filter through and prioritize which obligations I want to allow into my calendar.  To abstain from hurry and distraction, I know from past experience that I need some “down time.”  A calendar filled with back-to-back obligations does not foster peace in my life.  I remind myself it’s more than okay to not “do it all.”

When I’m operating out of a place of mindfulness and am more mindful around how my time is spent, it also helps reduce stress.  While I may still have additional holiday tasks on my plate, I find I’m less stressed and spiteful I accomplishing such tasks since it’s in lieu of events I want to attend and desired quality time with close family and friends.

Mindfulness doesn’t just happen; rather, it’s something one must diligently seek.

As I’m sure you already know from your own life experience, mindfulness isn’t something we can just will into our lives: it takes effort.  It’s a lifestyle, a mindset, a practice.  Yes, mindfulness takes work.  But it is completely attainable for anyone who is willing to put in the effort.  And folks, I encourage you to consider creating some space in your life to welcome in more mindfulness: we all could use some more peace and awareness in our lives!

If you currently don’t have a “mindfulness routine” – no worries, it’s never too late (or early) to start!  And given the holidays can add extra stress, I believe it’s a great time to consider incorporating some mindful exercises to help you find some some zen.

Below I’ve included a few examples of ways I have found helpful in my efforts to be more mindful and present during the holidays.  Hopefully this helps provide some inspiration as you begin to explore possible ways to encourage more mindfulness into your days.

Examples of Mindful Ways to Encourage Peace and Awareness

Daily Meditation and Reflection on What Matters Most

In my experience, I’ve found that I’m very susceptible to the stress and demands of every day life.  It’s easy for me to be swept up in the “daily grind,” tempted to immediately dive right into the list of activities and responsibilities I need to accomplish for the day.  Unless I intently seek out time for silence and solitude to spend time with God and refocus my mind on what matters most, I can find myself a slave to my calendar, the demands of others, and anxiety.

Absent awareness and focused intention, my calendar and daily activities can begin to look much different from the things that matter most to me.

A daily meditation and reflection practice has helped me be more mindful with my days.  In turn, it brings more awareness to my actions, which helps me readjust when my life and daily demands start to deviate from my values and “what matters most.”

Throughout the year, I have a daily routine of activities I like to accomplish first thing in the morning and also right before my head hits the pillow at night.  These daily rituals help me keep my eyes set on what matters most and welcomes more mindfulness into my life.  I find it especially grounding during the holidays (or other stressful times of the year).

What this looks like for me is this:

  • Morning routine:  The timing of my morning routine varies – some days, I have less time than I would like, other days I have more flexibility.  But generally, I like to allot myself around 45 minutes to an hour for my morning quiet time. As soon as I wake up in the morning, my morning routine commences: I make my bed, feed Chloe, and then settle into my comfy chair (with a blanket, of course).  I then enter into a time of prayer, followed by reading from my Bible and various devotion books, writing down 3 gratitudes (which I also share with a small community of friends through my Slack app, and also video chat with one of my close friends and “gratitude partner”), and writing out the goals I want to accomplish for the day. During the holiday season, I also like to add in a short Advent reading in my Bible app.  There are many from which to choose; this year, I’m reading through “Advent – Meet Him At The Manager” by Stuart and Jill Briscoe (a daily reading), as well as a quick 4-day “Advent” journey by the Bible Project (which features animated videos, which are really fun to watch).
  • Evening routine:  At the end of the day, I like to reflect back on my goals for the day, and assess whether I had finished what I had set out to accomplish.  If not, I consider whether I want to carry those forward to tomorrow. I also think back on the events of the previous day, and enter into a time of prayer as I process through the various emotions or feelings that surfaced (also praying for anyone impressed upon my heart). I also like to recount things for which I am grateful (3 is always a good target for me, some days there are plenty more).  Lastly, my favorite thing to do as I prepare to go to sleep is put on my Beats headphones and listen to praise music on a timer (I usually set a timer for 10-15 minutes).  Many times, the Lord speaks to me through the lyrics that flow through my ears. Before I drift off to sleep, I write a quick note to myself in a Google doc or email if there are any thoughts or mindful takeaways from my time of reflection and prayer.

During Christmas, mindfulness is especially important for me.  For Sean and me, our primary focus is Christ and remembering, honoring, and celebrating what He has done for us through his birth and resurrection.  This intention is first and foremost.

If you don’t already have a morning and evening ritual, I encourage you to consider implementing your own.  Each person’s morning and evening rituals will look different: the important thing is creating space to welcome in some quiet in order to have some personal time of reflection.

My two-sense: start small to avoid overwhelm and encourage longevity.  Perhaps what this means is you focus on your morning routine to start, implementing one or two things that will encourage more mindfulness in your own life.  Perhaps you implement one thing in the AM and the same thing later in the PM (such as a 5 minute meditation or 5 minutes of prayer).

Whatever you choose to implement, I think you’ll find a morning and/or evening routine can be a powerful tool to allow you to refocus your mind on that which matters most and welcome more peace and calm into your life.

Maintain a heart of gratitude

For me, spending time to call out specific things for which I am grateful each day not only welcomes in more mindfulness, but also encourages a “less is more” mindset.

The holidays offer a special opportunity to reflect on the many fond memories made and blessings received throughout the year.  Personally, when I operate from a place of gratitude, I find I’m less likely to focus on all the things I “want” (or “need to have”) when marketing messages infiltrate my inbox or attack my senses by way of billboards, commercials, social media, and various other platforms.

Gratitude helps remind me of the many blessings I already have in my life: when my heart is full, it’s harder for to be swayed by the advertisements that prey on feelings of emptiness. I’m likely to seek out “quick hits” of happiness from external sources: such as the thrill of purchasing something new.

A gratitude practice also brings awareness to how happiness can be found in the simple things in life, and causes me to have a mindset geared toward seeking out and finding the “gems” in each day, resulting in an overall more positive mindset.

Invest in Others

The holidays are a time wherein Sean and I like to focus our attention on others.  The holidays are a special time of year wherein people actually push “pause” and things slow down.  We love taking advantage of this break from the usual “grind” of life to spend quality time with our loved ones.  In addition, the holidays provide wonderful opportunities for folks to volunteer and be charitable with time and money. I have personally found that increasing my giving during the holidays or volunteering my time to invest in others helps me remember: this life is not all about me and solely for my consumption and enjoyment. It helps me remember that I am one small part to a much grander story.  It helps me remember we are all connected, and when one of us hurts: we all hurt.

If you haven’t focused on volunteering or giving in years past, that’s okay. There’s always this year.  Consider helping out folks in your own community, nationwide, and/or across the globe by investing your time and/or money in one of the many various volunteer opportunities available out there.

Invest time and energy in things that replenish.  When my soul is full and my emotional life is healthy, I’m less likely to seek comfort through external sources, such as retail shopping or other things that steal from my peace or distract me from remaining fully present.  When I’m fully resourced, I’m less likely to fall victim to mindlessness or become blinded by busyness, even when I’m emotionally triggered or surrounded by hustle.

I know the term “self-care” can carry a negative connotation.  However, before I completely lose you, hear me out.  For me, self-care doesn’t simply look like frothy cappuccinos, bubble baths, and times of meditation (however, those things are amazing!).  It also does not mean one is being self-involved or selfish.

Instead, I believe self-care is part of well-rounded health.  It involves nurturing our emotional, physical, and spiritual needs to ensure we’re fully resourced, recharged, and tuned into our inner-world.  At times, self-care can involve bliss and indulgence; however, at times it can entail things that are perhaps less desirable, but ultimately for our best…such as therapy sessions or times of personal reflection to allow us to process through painful emotions or memories.

In my opinion, self-care is not a luxury, but rather a necessity, to maintain well-rounded health.  During a stressful or busy season, such as during the holidays, I find it helpful to welcome more self-care into my world, which helps replenish me and allows me to refocus on what’s important, seek my Source to center myself, and maintain mindfulness.

Below are a few ideas for self-care I find enjoyable:

  • My AM and PM daily rituals (as noted above)
  • Daily devotions, meeting with my peeps for a weekly Bible study, attending church on Sunday’s
  • Journaling, writing, or other mindfulness activities
  • Therapy sessions
  • Saying “no” to things that aren’t a “heck yes”
  • Times of complete solitude and silence
  • Walks or hikes outside to observe, reflect, and surround myself in nature
  • Listening to podcasts that energize me and honor my values (such as sermons or podcasts that focus on spiritual growth, mindfulness, body positivity, intuitive eating, or Health At Every Size)
  • Travel
  • Listening to music
  • Date nights with Sean, brunch with girlfriends, and good conversations with loved ones
  • Bubble baths, pedicures, massages, or some other kind of “stress relieving” treat

The above are just a handful of examples of various self-care practices I like to incorporate into my life, particularly during times of high stress.  Self-care can look different for each of us: however, it’s important for everyone.  I encourage you to think up your own list of ways to incorporate some self-care into your life and welcome in some more calm this holiday season.

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#2 – Bring Mindfulness into Purchasing Decisions

A theme I’ve found in my life is that I often turn to retail therapy as a means to cope.  There are many ways this coping mechanism is triggered in my life.  Some common reasons: anxiety, overwhelm, procrastination, discontent, wanting to escape current circumstances, or wanting to numb out from uncomfortable feelings or thoughts I’d rather not entertain.

For example, some of the underlying reasons driving me to turn to my most recent “Black Friday” online retail shopping spree entailed:

  • My desire to escape the uncomfortable feelings that surfaced as a result of my most recent trip to WI for my Grandpa’s funeral.
  • The shame and fears that plague me around my weight-gain (regardless of the fact that it is expected and inevitable as I heal my relationship with food/body).  Feelings that were triggered and amplified by others’ self-inflicted fat shaming, diet-talk, and media messages telling us “fat is bad” and praising restriction and the “thin ideal” (which is ever-present and persistent, but is particularly heightened during the holidays).
  • Anxiety around my writing: fears and doubts that continue to surface when I have writer’s block, in addition to the feelings of inadequacy and insignificance when I see other writers who are totally rocking’ it and make it look so easy, while my audience is so small and my writing process is currently quite grueling (often leaving me feeling like a complete sham of a writer).
  • Anxiety unveiled as I look ahead to the future, and the plans God has for me look foggy at best.  I begin to doubt past decisions, question whether my discernment around God’s calling for my current path is/was skewed, and entertain self-doubt.  I anxiously ruminate about what’s ahead, what could be, and how such things could possibly come to pass.
  • The self-doubt that deceptively conditions me to think I am not enough or unqualified when I see others on social media who are much farther along in their own journey and/or more successful/liked than me.  Leaving me questioning and doubting whether I’m having, or will ever have, much of an impact whatsoever.

The above is just a peak into the many anxious thoughts that were rattling around in my mind on repeat this past couple of weeks.  So yeah, I think it’s pretty clear I’m wired for anxiety and it’s something I constantly battle and need to keep in check.  I do my best to “bring my thoughts captive” and filter through the anxiety to understand the source underneath and soothe the uneasiness through healthy, mindful coping strategies.

However, inevitably I have slip-ups.  And a common go-to to escape?

Yup, you guessed it: retail therapy.

Retail therapy is a slippery vice that can sneak its way into my life, amongst other various forms of numbing vices: such as Netflix binges, social media, household tasks (such as cleaning or organizing), and running errands, just to name a few.

All that to say, this recent shopping binge reminded me that it is important to bring more awareness to my purchasing decisions: particularly during the holiday seasoning when stress is high and advertising is fierce.  When I feel “urgency” or “angst” to buy something (“I need this now!!!”)…when I feel an incredible itch to pop into a store or browse online…when I feel a twinge of covetousness when I see someone dawning an item that is “oh so cute”

It’s a good time for me to stop for a moment, take a breather, and ask myself if something’s going on inside driving me to want to swipe that credit card.  And even if not, to bring in some more awareness around my purchasing decisions.

Here are a few examples of things I like to consider to help me be more mindful while shopping:

  • Examine my interior world: How am I doing? Is this shopping purely entertainment, or is there something more than that going on inside? Did something just happen in my exterior world that is causing my interior world anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions I want to escape?
  • Question whether novelty or urgency is the driving motivator: Do I only want this because it’s “new”?  Am I driven by my desire to take advantage of a “deal”?
  • Prioritize my purchases: If I could only have one Christmas present this year – would this make the cut? Will this be something I use a couple of times and then will end up gathering dust or in the donation pile?
  • Question whether this purchase is merely a crutch: Am I making this decision on the basis that I’ll be “happier if/when/with” mindset? Am I looking for a tangible item to fix a problem or make life “better”?
  • Take a breather: I like to put time and space between purchasing decisions.  Urgency is never a good sign. After giving myself some breathing room, I’m able to consider whether I still want to make the purchase.

Mindfulness in purchasing decisions looks different for everyone.  But I encourage you to consider incorporating this aspect into your own holiday shopping, as I think you’ll find it will bring a whole lot more peace this season.  And I think it’s likely your credit card statement will look much friendlier come January. 🙂

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#3 – Be Selective: Honor Simplicity

Something Sean and I have been trying to honor this past year is simplicity.  This mindset and value has been life-giving and has led to some positive changes in our lives.  In particular, simplicity has helped us nurture a “less is more” mindset. Which, in turn, has caused us to be more mindful and less flippant with our purchasing decisions (with certain exceptions and bumps along the way, such as my recent holiday shopping extravaganza!).

For me, bringing simplicity into my purchases looks like this: before clicking the “buy it now” button or heading to the check-out counter, I ask whether the item I’m considering is a need or a want. If it’s a want, I run the purchase through a few more filters, such as considering whether the item will provide a lot of long-term use or enjoyment and various other filters, such as those previously referenced.

Before I make the decision to buy, I like to make sure I’ve given it some thought. At least for me, I find the more I buy, the more I want.  It’s like itching a mosquito bite: the more you scratch it, the more it itches.

Conversely, I find when I buy less stuff, I’m less tempted to want more.

And fewer purchases ultimately brings me longer-lasting happiness.  Because at least for me: I feel more calm and content when I have fewer things in my house.  And while marketing ads love to try to convince us otherwise, let me tell you from personal experience: having fewer options in my closet (focusing on quality, versatility, comfort, and function) welcomes in a WHOLE lost more peace than having a vast array of options and the “latest and greatest” fashions.

So I encourage you to be more selective this holiday season. It’s of course okay to treat yourself to something nice during the holidays.  But consider prioritizing your purchases. I think you may also find there is more peace to be found in a “less is more” lifestyle.

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#4 – Honor Financial Responsibility and Focus on Holiday Experiences (vs. Gifts Beneath the Tree)

Another area wherein Sean and I have been challenging ourselves to be more mindful this past year has been in our finances.  As Jesus wisely said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Financial Responsibility

If you’re like me, you may hear the word “responsibility” and cringe a bit.  Sometimes, “responsibility” makes me feel like there is just one more thing on my plate: one more area wherein I need to exert effort…one more area wherein there is a demand on my resources.  However, I’m starting to reframe the meaning of “responsibility” in my life: instead of it viewing it as a burden or another duty that needs to be performed, I am choosing to see it as opportunity.  An opportunity to use my resources (time, money, gifts, leadership, voice, etc.) to spread love, respect, and justice in this world.

Financial responsibility is an area in particular wherein Sean and I have focused our attention this year, and will continue to do so in the coming 2019 calendar year and years following. We have really been convicted of the fact that we are stewards of our resources.  As a result, we’ve become intentional with our spending habits and have brought more awareness to our expenditures.

Our money, our time, our gifts, and various other blessings are not solely ours.  We have been blessed so that we can show God’s love by blessing others.  Jesus warned against how money is dangerous, as it can easily become an idol in one’s life.  So we like to keep in mind Jesus’ instruction on financial management:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48)

This helps remind us that are entrusted with the resources we’ve been given, and they are not solely our own. It’s easy to lose sight of this, particularly when our society values comfort and convenience, sees no issue with self-indulgence, and often embraces entitlement.  Add in the fact that Sean and I are also human, and we love luxury just as much as pretty much anyone.

That said, we don’t feel right living a life solely seeking after comfort and convenience, when there are so many others in the world who desperately need our help. I also recognize that while Sean and I are not currently struggling financially, we are not immune to unexpected hardships. Unexpected events can cause a strain on various aspects of life: finances being one of them.

So with that in mind, we try to be particularly mindful of where our money is going during the holiday season, as the temptation to be more frivolous is exponentially fierce. To avoid being reckless with our spending, we not only set boundaries and limits, but also consider ways we can be charitable with our money (as well as our time) to serve and help out others who need are in need.

In anticipation of a New Year, we also find it’s a great time to reevaluate our finances.  This past shopping spree enabled me to reconsider our level of giving.

If I was so ready and able to flippantly purchase the items that had previously adorned my doorstep: perhaps that’s an indication that we’re not giving enough.  

Sean and I are reevaluating our giving and finances this year.  Perhaps it’s something you may consider as well as the year comes to a close and you begin reassessing your priorities and making your own goals for the new year.

Presents are incredibly fun, don’t get me wrong.  Please don’t misinterpret our tightening of our financial belts and/or efforts to “up our giving” to mean that we do not “treat” ourselves.  Sean and I most definitely partake in buying thoughtful gifts for each other and loved ones. However, each year, we try to be more selective in our purchases.  The presents are a fun tradition; we just are more careful to number the amount of gifts under the tree.

Holiday Experiences that Encourage Connection and are Happy on the Bank Account

In our efforts to be more financially responsible, we have found that our focus this year has been more about partaking in holiday experiences and creating memories, rather than chasing down the latest deals or accumulating more “stuff” to adorn with pretty boxes and set beneath the tree.

Below are a few Christmas traditions and activities that Sean and I have been enjoying this December.  Not only have these activities helped us avoid spending excessive amounts of money, but it has also helped us connect more deeply and experience more peace.  Perhaps this will inspire you to make your own list of ideas for making peaceful memories with your loved ones.

Fun Holiday Experiences and Thoughtful Gift Ideas:

  • A walk (or drive) through the city to be awed by all the Christmas lights and decorations (listening to Christmas music, of course!)
  • Free (or low-cost) Christmas exhibits.  For example, here in San Francisco, there are many things to do at Christmas that require little to no cost.  Such as, visiting the two-story Gingerbread House (in the Fairmont San Francisco), ice skating at one of the various rinks in the city, gawking at holiday get-up and ginormous tree in Union Square, browsing through the shops at the Ferry Building, visiting Santa at the Mall…just to name a few.  There are also various holiday pop-up markets (with local artists and retailers) – however, enter with caution, as there are likely many tempting purchases to be made.  But these markets are great places to find some wonderful unique gifts for friends and family members.  It’s also a ton of fun to just walk through these markets – and many times, several free samples to be enjoyed! 🙂
  • Host an ugly Christmas sweater party (major props to the ugliest dressed, of course!)
  • A progressive dinner party (i.e., “Round Robin”), wherein successive courses are prepared and eaten at various residences (that way, no one has the sole responsibility of hosting!)
  • Christmas scavenger hunt (be creative, and chase down the latest holiday exhibits or other Christmasy items throughout your city, local mall, etc.)
  • Pink Elephant party (a perfect opportunity to regift those unused presents from last year or unused items laying dormant on your storage shelves)
  • Host a Christmas cookies swap with family or friends.  Each person can bring his/her favorite cookie, and each guest can leave with a large variety of cookies – less baking and more cookie options?  A win in my book!!

Have fun with this, get creative.  I think you will find so much more enjoyment and Christmas cheer (and likely a lot less stress!) by partaking in holiday experiences with others, rather than simply swapping gifts.

#5 – Don’t Fly Blind: Have a Plan for the Holiday Season

As I previously mentioned, before we even enter into the holiday season, Sean and I like to establish a plan so we can prepare ourselves for what’s ahead.  In years past, we have found that when we don’t intentionally enter into the holiday season with mindfulness, we can fall victim to the busyness, distractions, and overall craze that ensues during the holidays, particularly during Christmas and New Year’s.

So our rule of thumb: mindful preparation and planning.  This includes:

  • Defining “What Matters Most”
  • Prioritizing “Yes’s”
  • Determining a Budget

Defining “What Matters Most”  

As I mentioned earlier, setting intentions helps me keep my eyes set on what I want to focus on during the holiday season.  I’m sure you’re more than familiar with the popular saying “remember the Reason for the Season.”  Essentially, it’s exactly that.  Setting intention helps me remember why and Who I am truly celebrating during the holidays.  Refer to intention #1 above for more on that.

For us, the focus and purpose of Christmas is remembering, honoring, and celebrating Christ and what He has done for us through his birth and resurrection.  In addition, the holidays are a time wherein we like to focus our attention on nurturing the things and people closest to our hearts: such as our relationships with loved ones and those in our community.

Setting intentions helps our hearts and minds remain focused on what’s important and the true “reason” behind all the festivities we partake in during the holiday season.

Prioritizing Yes’s

Guarding our time, money, and energy for that which matters most to us is an important practice for all of us.  During the holidays, I find it especially important to be more mindful, as there is a definite “up-tick” in activities and an increased demand on the resources in our bank account.

Prioritizing our “yes’s” and establishing mindful limits and boundaries help Sean and I not only encourages us to keep our minds and hearts focused on the most important things, but also helps us keep our sanity as well.  We set priorities around our time and spending: we select to “opt-in” to activities that are most life-giving and we create a plan for how much we want to spend.

In setting limits, sometimes it means we need to say “no” to certain things: but that’s okay.  I like to remind myself that in order to keep my sanity and make the most out of the time spent with those closest to me, sometimes I need to say “no” to participating in certain things…even things I may truly want to participate.  But that’s okay. I remind myself that I will have plenty of other opportunities to catch up with friends and family with whom I’m not able to spend time during the holidays.

If you’re a people-pleaser, saying “no” may be difficult for you.  Trust me, I know from past experience how hard this can be, as I used to be driven by the goal of keeping everyone happy and meeting the expectations of others. I used to (and sometimes still occasionally) catch myself saying “yes” to a request or invitation, even when it meant it was at the cost of my own happiness or sanity.

If this is you, let me encourage you that this is a lifestyle habit that you can break with practice and repetition…and the holidays are a great time to practice strengthening your “no” muscle. 🙂

People are generally understanding if you need to decline an invitation during the holidays, as most people are extremely busy; they, too, can relate, so many folks don’t often take your “no” as a hit to their ego.

Determining a budget

Budgeting is something that is also necessary for me, as I have a history of over-spending if I am not careful. I LOVE buying presents for other people.  Theres’s something so thrilling about watching someone open up a gift into which you put a lot of thought and from which you know they will receive a lot of happiness.

I still love buying gifts for people…and at times, I do go a bit over-board.  However, having a budget in mind ahead of time helps me to keep tabs on my purchases; and generally, it prevents me from over-spending.

A budget also drives me to be more creative and mindful in my shopping: I end up buying gifts that hold special meaning or gifts that are particularly unique…things that cannot be found just about anywhere, such as local artist creations or gems found at local shops and markets.  It also drives me to put more thought into sentimental “gifts” that don’t cost much (if any) money, such as a card filled with various reasons why I’m thankful for my loved one or a collection of photos encapsulating special memories with a friend or family member.

IN SUM…

Sean and I find having a plan is important; otherwise, we are susceptible to the numbing buzz of the holidays.  Planning ahead helps us prioritize what’s important, avoid over-spending or over-exerting ourselves, and encourages a more peaceful experience during Christmas and the other various holiday celebrations.

I encourage you to take some time to do your own mindful preparation and planning.  Perhaps this means reassessing your calendar to opt-out of certain commitments if you’re completely over-booked and over-stressed.  If you still have some shopping left to do, try setting limits before you enter into that mall, store, or online shop.  Come with a plan and budget to help you from making splurge and/or unintended purchases.  And lastly, as you’re chasing down your last minute “to-do’s” and participating in holiday festivities, I encourage you to do your best to slow down your pace a bit and remind yourself of what matters most.

I wish for you, a very peaceful holiday season. 🙂

* * * * *

Take-away #5 – Bring Awareness to Weaknesses: Avoid Potential Triggers

Knowing oneself and one’s triggers is an excellent way to avoid being swept up by the craze during the holidays.

For me personally, I know there are certain stores, certain products, and certain parts of town where I’m particularly vulnerable to being ensnared by the temptation to spend money or time on things which are, quite frankly, wasteful.  And I know myself well enough to know that once I scratch that itch, it opens up a whole can of worms.

So what have I found helpful?

Here’s a couple of things that help me avoid wasting time or money during the holidays:

  • Expect crafty marketing messages and be prepared to call their bluff and stand your ground.  Oh my goodness, is it just me, or has it been even worse this year than previous years in terms of the “noise” and spam advertisements bombarding our email inboxes?   What I’ve noticed is there’s always a sense of urgency…a sale you don’t want to miss out on and is for a limited time only…a freebie you just can’t live without.  Oh please, let’s be real – we call your bluff, you marketing “geniuses,” you!  Do yourself a favor and avoid buying into the messages that create a sense of urgency, loudly proclaiming: “act now, or you’re never going to see a deal this good again” or “you need to buy this now, or you’re totally going to miss out!”  There will be more sales, and there will always be another “one-day-only-act-fast-or-else” deal on the horizon.  Do yourself a favor and just opt-out of the crazy at the onset of the holiday marketing madness.
  • Avoid certain stores.  For me that means Anthropology, Madewell, JCrew…or any other store wherein I know I’m typically tempted to make a purchase or find something I really love. If I don’t see it or know about it, I don’t have to be tempted to buy it.
  • Simply hit “delete” and don’t open emails ads. I’ve found simply deleting the advertisements removes the temptation, and also gives me back SO much time that could have been wasted by perusing the marketing messages or browsing the sites to see what they have to offer.
  • Plan outings or activities that don’t involve shopping or spending money.  One of Sean’s and my favorite hobbies is to walk the neighborhoods of San Francisco.  During this time of year, we love to check out the Christmas-adorned houses and streets.
  • Host simply.  I love to host.  Is one of my gifts, and I receive such joy from hosting an event or spending time with people.  Hosting can be energy depleting and become a burden, however, if I try to have the “perfect” party, chock-full of all the bells and whistles: a wonderfully crafted menu, decorations, music….you name it.  Over the years, what I have found is throwing elaborate parties is, quite frankly, life-sucking.  And truly, what folks really appreciate is spending time together.  So my go-to?  Host simply.  Let spending time together, making memories, and having intimate conversations be the mark of a good party.
  • Remove myself from diet talk and toxic conversation. Now, I know this last example does not follow the same theme as those above; but I wanted to point it out as it helps me avoid wasting mental and emotional energy.  For various reasons, there is an up-tick in diet talk and body shaming during the holiday season and the beginning of each new year.  It’s unfortunately, the norm.  But what I’ve come to realize is just because some people choose to partake in such conversations, does not mean that I need to be a part of it.  Being involved or around such chatter makes me feel bad, and a lot of times it leads to a lot of wasted mental and emotional exhaustion that can be avoided, simply by removing myself. This goes for not only diet talk, but also other conversations that do not line up with my values.  I don’t want to waste my time talking about your fear of body fat, your contempt for Obama’s political legacy, or Trump’s most recent off-color tweet.  So excuse me…thank you, but no thank you…I opt out. 🙂

There are many potential “triggers” that can cause a person to spiral into uneasiness and steal one’s zen.  The potential pitfalls are different for each of us.  I know myself, you know yourself.

Let’s take care of ourselves this holiday season by keeping tabs on our weaknesses, bringing light to areas wherein we are most vulnerable, and avoiding potential triggers.

* * * * *

Well peeps, there you have it.  

I hope the above list provides you with some motivation to start thinking about how you want to mindfully spend the remainder of the holiday season this year.  Let’s do our best to embrace and enjoy the holidays this year, shall we?  Let’s welcoming in some mindfulness to help us encourage peace, rather than allowing the holiday stress and distractions overtake us.

I wish you much peace.  I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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