As a performing arts kid, the holidays were a time when my entire extended family would travel to my grandmother’s house, I would be asked on the spot to sing something, or perform something for everyone. One year, I had just finished playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and my cousin had just finished playing Tybalt. We were gathered in the living room eating hors d'oeuvres before Christmas dinner, and my grandmother excitedly exclaimed: “Do the show! Do it!”
As a teenager it was embarrassing and annoying. With retrospect, and I can see that all this was coming from a place of love and admiration. And I appreciate that. But unlike most professions, there is a perception that artists can, and should, “whip out” their art whenever the public feels like it.
“You’re a comedian?” says the stranger on the street. “Tell me a joke!”
You don’t hear folks asking software engineers to write them some code on the sidewalk. But it’s socially acceptable to demand artists to perform their craft at the whim of passerby.
My view on this has softened as I’ve gotten older, and I can see now that in my situation, I just had a grandma who was really, really proud of her grandkids and just wanted to cheer for us all the time. Love you, Nana.
But holiday stress is still real. Whatever your relationship to the holidays, whether it’s your favorite time of year or your least, you’ve definitely experienced some amount of stress as it approaches.
How do you navigate it? Start with an anchor.
An anchor is anything that connects you to the present moment. It could be your breath, or the sensation of rubbing your fingers together, or the feel of your feet on the ground. It can be an outside force too -- maybe you decide that every time walk up or down stairs, you’ll pause a moment and check in with yourself.
Anchors work best when you practice them regularly. You can do this by having a regular mindfulness practice, or you can leave yourself reminders to use your anchor throughout your day. I’ve been known to put post-it’s on my bathroom mirror, on my steering wheel, and in my fridge, that just say: “Breathe.”
Take a moment to imagine your upcoming holiday plans, from beginning to end. Try to be realistic about what you expect. Take note of any moments that you’re worried about, or situations that might cause stress. Imagine yourself coming back, gently, to your anchor in that moment.
Mom’s yelling again about the bread rolls? Breathe in, breathe out.
Sister’s bringing up that old argument from ten years ago? Feel your feet on the floor.
Relax your muscles. Try not to attach to the words coming at you. Hear them, notice what emotions are arising in you, see what’s arising in them. Make a mental note to take care of these emotions later -- maybe a bath, or a long walk.
And then -- redirect. It could be as simple as “Hey, I hear you, but I’m not in a place to talk about that right now. Can you help me get the pie out of the oven?” Or maybe you need to leave the room -- “Hey, give me a moment, I just need to get some air.”
Deciding to act, rather than react, starts with an anchor. The anchor creates space between whatever has just happened, and your reaction. It gives you time to think about how you would like to respond.
Let me know if you give this exercise a try! Or, if you’ve done something else to stay present during the holidays.
I hope very much that you find moments of peace, warmth, and love this holiday season.