Can you really do things to lift your spirits? When you feel sad and troubled or nervous and anxious, you cannot just will yourself to be happy and lighthearted. On the other hand, your actions really do affect your mood and feelings. You may not be able instantly to banish the blues or abolish anxiety, but the positive things you can choose to do really do help. The holidays are supposed to be joyful, but they can also be difficult and trying, and at times exhausting. Here are some things that might help you center yourself in the light and joy that are at the heart of the holidays.
Too much is too much
Can you imagine the holidays without the temptation to over-indulge? And who has not done it? But think about it. Do you feel light-hearted, upbeat, energetic, ready, and raring to go after eating too much? Probably not. You feel heavy and slow. So avoid overeating or binging -- on cookies, candy, turkey and the trimmings, or anything else that is delicious and tempting.
Watch that sweet tooth
That goes for sugar too. Pay attention to your sugar intake. Lots of sugar can lead to an energy peak followed by a crash. When you do eat sugary foods, combine them with foods high in fiber, fat, or protein, thus making sure all that sugar isn't released into the bloodstream all at once.
The pleasures of generosity
Give yourself time to enjoy buying gifts. Think about your family members and what might be special to them, and then enjoy the moment if you guessed right and found just the perfect present. Surprise your friends with small, but thoughtful gifts. If your finances don't allow for gift giving, a thoughtful note can be just as special as -- or even more special than -- a physical gift.
Yes to coffee and chocolate
If you want a pick-me-up, you can actually turn to coffee and chocolate. Not too much, but just enough to get a little lift.
The aesthetics of decorations
Spend time decorating your house or apartment. Enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of hanging wreaths and ribbons, putting out poinsettias, festooning the tree. Especially the tree. Let it fill the room with magic. But don't overdo it. Don't make decorating a burdensome task.
The virtues of light
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder? Almost everyone can feel a bit down during the long dark days of winter. Spend some time outside in the light to counteract the winter blues. Or sit under a light therapy lamp.
This is obvious advice. Being cold is no one's choice. But remember - spirits go up as one warms up.
Of course, exercise
Ah, here's one that makes eminent sense. Exercise regularly. Of course. Do this because you need to work off all that food. Do it because you will feel more energetic. Do it because it is good to do at any time and all times and maybe especially at the holidays when there is more stress.
Don't do what Santa does
Now here's a tough one. Late night snacks are always a temptation, but especially during the holidays. After all, we have Santa and his cookies and milk as an example. But don't do it. Or if you have to eat late at night, try a protein bar or a cheese stick or put peanut butter or hummus on a celery stalk.
There are carbs and then there are carbs
Stick with complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs like the ones in cookies and candy lead to energy spikes and dips. Complex carbs from legumes, starchy veggies, and whole grains can be a source of sustained energy.
We all know that doing something good for others makes you feel better. Doing volunteer work or just helping around the house can release endorphins and lift spirits.
Who can argue against sleep?
Who wants to sleep when there are things to do and people to enjoy, gifts to play with and children to entertain, holiday shows to attend, movies to watch? Still, stick to a regular sleep schedule and get plenty of rest. This is a sure way of keeping your spirits strong and positive.
Sometimes being alone is good
Now here's an idea that is counterintuitive. Aren't the holidays a time for being together with family and friends? So why would it be a good thing to take some alone time? Because you really can get "people overload." Don't be afraid to go off by yourself for a while. Go window shopping, go for a drive, read a book, take a walk.
The power of red
Take time to look at the Christmas tree, at ribbons, at poinsettias, at Santa Claus. Believe it or not, research suggests the color red can boost energy levels.
Did you know that romance stimulates brain function and relieves stress? People in love are people in good spirits. Love lifts spirits. So be sure to lavish lots of love on your spouse or significant other.
Cards for the eye and heart
If you like beautiful holiday scenes and cheerful words, send Christmas cards. You will enjoy finding cards that catch the eye and words that warm the heart, and you will like thinking about what the recipients might feel when they open the card, read it, and think about the person who sent it. And for those of you who don't want to send Christmas cards the old-fashioned way, send e-cards.
Find the joy in Christmas shopping
Enjoy the color and variety when you do your holiday shopping, but if you cannot get out to the stores, enjoy the variety and convenience of online shopping, or give gift certificates.
Know how to say no
Spending the holidays dashing from one festive thing to another can wear you out and steal your joy. Don't be afraid to say no. Don't crowd your days with frenetic activity.
Watch your favorite holiday movies. If you like sentimental films, this is a no-brainer. There are dozens of Christmas movies and even a good number of Thanksgiving movies. Even if you aren't so sentimental, holiday movies will lift your spirit and make you feel good about being a human being.
Classics on stage
Go see a Christmas stage classic like The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol. What's not to love about this idea? Who can resist a holiday play or musical? This goes even for the amateur Christmas pageant at your church, which is usually filled with innocent energy and unexpected moments.
Cocoa and cookies
Keep a supply of hot chocolate and cookies on hand, though don't forget the advice about sweets and over-indulgence.
Pie and cake power
Cook or bake something special and share it with family and co-workers. Make it a creative experience. Sharing it keeps your calorie intake under control.
Reach out beyond your comfort zone.
Volunteer at the local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. This is, of course, a good thing to do all year long, but Christmas is an especially hard time for those who are poor or disabled or deeply disadvantaged. So when you volunteer, do more than attend to people's physical needs. Show interest in them and see if there are things you can say or do to bring Christmas cheer. Do this not because it makes you feel good, but because it lifts their spirits. In the process it will lift yours.
Enjoy the Story
Read the Christmas story in Matthew and Luke with fresh eyes. It's a magnificent story. Read it not as you have heard it so many times, but as if for the first time. Think about it. There are angels. There are people on journeys. There is an evil king. There are rough-hewn shepherds. There are rich and mysterious travelers from afar. There is a brilliant star. There is a young mother and a young father far from home. And there is a newborn child.
Gather your family and house guests and do something different and unexpected, even adventurous. If you live in a cold climate, go ice skating or cross-country skiing or hiking. If you live in a warm climate, go to the beach or go parasailing.
The magic of lights
Pile everyone in the car and drive around to look at the Christmas lights of the houses in your town.
Keep your expectations in check. Enjoy whatever happens. Don't pine for what might not be. Stay relaxed enough to be open to the unexpected.
Experiment with change
Switch out your routine. Serve something different for the holiday feast. Change your decorations.
In the midst of all the things you are doing for others, take a moment to treat yourself to something really nice. Stop and have a latte or a piece of fudge from a specialty candy store, or maybe a quiet moment in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed.
What is better than candlelight!
Go to a Christmas Eve candle lighting service. Sing the old carols and think about what Christmas means.
Firelight and candles -- irresistible
Put candles around your house, light the fireplace, turn off all but the Christmas lights and let the soft, warm glow of firelight and inviting shadows lift your spirits.
Ease up on yourself
Keep the to-do list short. Give yourself time and space. Don't ask too much of yourself or others. This is vacation and rest time. Banish your inner critic. Do not be demanding on yourself.
Take time to breathe -- literally. Breathe deeply to oxygenate your brain cells.
Be ready for trouble
Think ahead and be prepared for the troublesome people in your life and family. We all have people who are not our favorites. How can you be good to them when they annoy you? Give yourself room to have your feelings, so that when you have to be with them during the holidays, you are not pushed over the edge into sharp words or internal anguish.
Don't miss the chance to laugh
As much as you are able, let yourself be light of heart. Look for the humorous in the holiday moments. Encourage the witty ones of your family and friends.
When you are around the table or sitting in the living room around the fireplace, invite people to tell stories -- about the family, about times past, about the little everyday things that amuse or annoy you, about the large things that inspire and uplift you.
Dust off old memories
Pull out old albums and videos and take a stroll down memory lane.
Make space for people who are down
Spot negative "fear the holidays" thinking in others and listen to their anxieties or accounts of what happened to sour them on the holidays. Don't try to talk them out of their feelings. Listen and empathize.
Pay attention to others
Think about each member of your family and what they most need for the holidays. Then see if you can help them find it.
You don't need a lot of money to do most of the things on this list. You don't have to spend lavishly to be generous. Don't burden your holidays with financial anxiety.
Pamper the people you work with
Do something nice for your coworkers. If you are the boss, create a celebration.
Write it down
Keep a holiday journal. It will be fun to look back on in future years.
Start early in the season and put aside a certain amount of money each week in a small box or jar, and add your pocket change. Give the accumulated money anonymously to a family who is in need.
Make travel a pleasure
If you are planning to travel over the holidays, make it an excursion instead of a trek. Give yourself and your family enough time to enjoy the trip. Notice and appreciate the bustle and the seasonal decorations in the airport or train station or interstate rest stop. Notice the anticipation and pleasure of your fellow travelers. Tip the wait staff well when eating in a restaurant. Greet clerks and servers with friendly words. If you spread holiday cheer, your own heart will be cheered.
The blessings of gratitude
If you have the kind of bad day that makes the whole holiday business feel burdensome, take time before going to bed to think of five things you are grateful for and why. When your family and guests are together, around the table or around the fireplace, ask everyone to tell what they are grateful for.
Carols, folksongs, hymns, and oldies-but-goodies
Music always lifts spirits, and the holidays present a profusion of choices ranging from the lovely to the lively.
You can never have too much music. So when people are gathered, sing some carols. Don't worry about getting all the words right or having song sheets. Most people remember a verse or two of the old favorites. Ask people to hum when they don't know the words. If there are some good singers in the group, ask them to lead out on their favorite carols. Often there is a pianist or guitar player in the group who is happy to play.
One day at a time
When New Year's Day rolls around and it is time to make resolutions, don't burden yourself with high expectations for the year ahead. Think of small things you can do each day. Actually, this is a good approach for the whole holiday season. Take it one day at a time.
Relish the beauty
In the midst of all the activity, the food, the commercialism, the stress, the decorations in shops and stores, the sentimentality -- there is great beauty - in the color and light and in the people, especially the people. Look and see that God's reality is deeply incarnated in human reality. Look into faces, see the beauty of Christmas, and rejoice.