- Mental Health
Less Stress For The Holidays; Seeking Spirituality
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That’s what commercials and Christmas songs portray. For many, however, the holiday season starts off as stressful, and as the days shorten, the air grows colder, and expectations soar, this stress can lead to sadness and depression: also known as the holiday blues.
Many people suffer from some form of depression during the holidays. The commercialism of the season leaves many feeling empty and lonely. The constant barrage of “Buy this for the perfect holiday… Make that for the perfect meal… Give this for the perfect gift…” becomes an incessant droning in the backdrop of conscious thought. Where does one turn to replace stress and depression with peace?
This article will discuss several ways to overcome holiday stress and depression, and increase your own spirituality and appreciation in the process.
How do you handle stress during the holidays?
According to one recent study, it is possible to overcome depression with spirituality. A report by the You Family Clinic suggests that the body and mind can heal faster when one is peaceful, relaxed, and connected to a higher power than the body and mind alone. So what does spirituality mean? Spirituality is not necessarily synonymous with religion. It is the basic idea that all living things have a spirit, unique and separate from the physical body.
One way to develop spirituality is through service to others. During the holiday season, it is important to turn the focus outward. Looking at the needs of others and serving them in some capacity gives renewed meaning to giving. Serving can mean anything from donating food to a food bank, buying gifts for a Christmas angel at Wal-mart, or visiting an elderly neighbor. There are many opportunities to serve others. Service not only develops spirituality, it connects the community, making it stronger for everyone.
My children and I make an annual tradition of serving meals at the local senior citizens center on Thanksgiving day. It has taught us that to serve people means to reach out and share love with them. It isn't necessarily about bringing pumpkin pie to a man with a cane, or refilling countless cups of coffee. Although that is certainly part of the experience, the more important part comes when we share love with others.
Serving means sharing yourself. Sitting down to listen to a lonely grandma talk about her distant family. It means helping an old man walk across the floor, giving an arm to lean on, and a hug. Serving means letting go of your own expectations and hoping only to make a positive difference in the life of someone else.
Another way we choose to serve is by choosing a child from the local youth home, to purchase presents for. It is a good reminder for everyone in my family, that no matter how bad we think we have it, or how hard things are, there is always someone who is having a harder time.
I am trying to teach my children and myself that we can always give something, and when we have the love of family, we have more than enough. There is always enough, and we always have enough to share.
Serving others is a way to get outside yourself, get beyond your own problems and expand your spirit. It is never to late to reach out in love and share what you have with someone else.
Service to Others Starts at Home
Box Breathing Meditation
- Sit Comfortably
- Deeply inhale, counting to five. Imagine drawing a vertical line.
- Hold the full breath, counting to five. Imagine drawing a horizontal line.
- Exhale completely, counting to five. Imagine drawing another vertical line. (Imagine a U or n shape)
- Hold the emptiness, counting to five. Imagine closing the box with another horizontal line.
- Repeat as necessary to calm the mind and relax the body.
Spirituality Through Meditation
Another way to lower stress while increasing spirituality is meditation. Meditating will lead to a peaceful mind, a relaxed body and a connectedness to something greater. Meditation takes many forms. For some, it takes the form of praying. Others chant. A Zen meditation instructs one to, “sit quietly doing nothing.” The important thing is to empty the mind. Let go of lists, problems, worries, and fears. Sit quietly and relax. Breathe deeply for a few minutes and allow the body to rest. According to the Mayo Clinic, just a few minutes of meditation can restore calm and inner peace.
Meditation is not just for monks. Everyone can benefit from repeating a comforting or uplifting mantra. Some suggestions: "I accept myself completely, right now."; "All will be well"; "Breathing in I am strong, grounded, and peaceful, breathing out I release fear, tension and anger".
Of course you can tailor a mantra to soothe whatever mental angst you are currently facing. That is the beauty of meditation. It is fluid, flexible and adaptable. It is not a rigid thing, but something uniquely suited to each person. Using a mantra can calm your nerves, settle anxiety, dispel fear and calm anger. The important thing to remember is to just do it.
When you are feeling stressed and don't know where to turn, try turning inward. Examine the nature and source of your stress. Feel how it affects your body, where it causes tension, pain and anxiety. Spend some time feeling the sensation. Now, breathe deeply and accept the feelings you are experiencing, good or bad. Accept them as a part of who you are. Now, as you exhale, breathe peace, forgiveness and love over yourself and your situation. Do this a few times, and hopefully you will find the feelings begin to dissolve.
You can also perform walking meditation. Walking meditation requires only that you walk and release your mind from worry. Breathe deeply, pay attention to the feel of the ground beneath your feet, and let go of your mental machinations. This is not a time to listen to music. Instead, listen to the sound of nature. Listen to the sounds around you. Listen to the sound of your own body as you walk. In walking meditation, it is easy to repeat a mantra with each step. "I am safe. I am strong. I am peaceful."
Meditation is only effective when you do it. Thinking about doing it is a step in the right direction. The only other thing to do is release your mind and breathe.
Take your own gratitude challenge
As we head toward the holiday season, I'd like to challenge each of you to practice gratitude for 21 days. Notice the little things around you. Notice the people who have been placed in your life. Notice the tiny blessings and tender mercies as they appear each day.
As you make a mental note of these blessings, take a moment to give thanks. And, before you go to bed each night, write down at least one blessing from your day. By the end of three weeks, you'll be astounded by the blessings pouring into your life.
Write it down, make it happen
Spirituality Through Gratitude
Finally, expressing gratitude leads to less stress, greater feelings of connectedness and deeper spirituality. Gratitude is one of the most important practices to develop, to help turn your thoughts from stress to peace. A practice of gratitude will not only help you appreciate what you have, it will refect in how you treat yourself and others, and lead to more respect for what you do have.
In this day and time, in this place, blessings and abundance flow. The generosity of the community and the natural beauty of the area are just two things to be thankful for everyday. Even if the day doesn’t go as planned, find something to be grateful for. There is always something to be thankful for.
While everyone does not have everything they want in every moment, it is possible to pause, just for a moment and say thanks. Thanks for life. Thanks for snow. Thanks for sun. Thanks for family. Thanks for friends. And as the thanks pour forth, stress reduces and peace grows. Nothing calms the heart like a moment of gratitude. Gratitude also helps increase appreciation by awakening us to our abundant blessings.
In this season of giving, being grateful for what you already have helps you feel abundant and peaceful. Developing gratitude will help you realize that you have an abundance of blessings in your life. As you see others seeking to have more and more, you can pause for a moment and reflect on the goodness that surrounds you.
Meister Eckhardt, the German mystic, philosopher and theologian, said, "If the only prayer you ever said was, 'Thank-you,' it would be enough." Let your gratitude for what you have shine through this year, and as you appreciate the blessings in your life, may you notice abundance flow.
Small steps toward seeking an individual expression of spirituality will not only reduce stress and decrease depression, but the feeling of peace will transcend understanding. Ultimately, we are here to share love, kindness and forgiveness. Releasing fear, anxiety and stress will ultimately leave us with more energy and desire to express our true purpose.