It’s officially November and you know what that means: The Holidays.
A quick glance at almost any retail location in the US will show you that the holiday season has begun. Though Thanksgiving isn’t until next week, most businesses have already started letting us know how they can meet our holiday shopping, entertaining, and gift-giving needs. And every year, when the decorations come out, the Christmas music starts playing, and the commercials start… part of me just wants to run and hide.
Don’t get me wrong… I generally enjoy this time of year. I truly take pleasure in spending more time with my kids, creating memories through family traditions, and getting together with extended family. The overall spirit of what this season can mean, brings me joy. Yet after 12 years of working in shopping malls, part of me still associates “the holidays” with familiar feelings of fatigue, stress, and overwhelm. Add to that the cultural expectations to always be busy, busy, busy and the capitalist pressure to buy, buy, buy, and it’s no wonder so many of us end up burned out by the end of the year.
So today, I am reminding self to S L O W D O W N and REFLECT.
If you’re a regular reader, you may notice this is a familiar theme for me and I don’t mean to sound like a broken record. In all honesty, slowing down is hard for me. And because it goes against the very nature of popular culture, I need regular reminders that it’s okay to pause and tune in to what I really need and want. This is at the heart of my mindfulness self-care practice.
This month, part of that practice is consciously focusing on thankfulness or gratitude. Gratitude lists are commonly suggested as a technique for positive thinking, and for good reason. It’s because our brains are naturally hardwired to focus on the negative; it’s a survival instinct known as Negativity Bias. Taking the time to purposely focus our attention on the positive aspects of our lives can actively combat the Negativity Bias. And because I’m a parent, I also create family traditions that give my children time to reflect on their own lives and shift their focus to thankfulness.
We do this through a family activity called the Gratitude Tree. I like this activity for several reasons:
- It’s an easy way to get the whole family involved; every year, it becomes more apparent how my husband and I benefit from this practice even more than the kids.
- It creates a beautiful piece of artwork we can display in our home all year long.
- The final product is a quick visual reminder of how much positive we truly have in our lives.
Creating a Gratitude Tree can be very simple. I choose to cut leaves out of construction paper and add thread; then we take turns writing on the leaves things for which we are thankful and hang them from an old branch placed in a vase.
If you want to create your own Gratitude Tree but that sounds like too much work, simplify it. You can draw a trunk and branches on poster board and tape your cut out leaves onto it, or just print a copy of a tree and take turns writing/drawing directly onto it.
Of course, the simple act of listing the things for which you are thankful can be enough, and it’s a simple activity that can be done alone or in a group. If you feel like getting artistic with it, you can use a circle or turkey design (see below). You can even break out pretty colored pencils or buy yourself some fancy gel pens. If you’re in a hurry, you can simply write a bullet list of what comes to mind. However you choose to do it, there is evidence that the physical act of “thinking on paper” (writing your thoughts down instead of typing or using an app) changes the mindfulness of the activity significantly.
Rethink the Value of Busy
I realize that writing a post on thankfulness at Thanksgiving can seem really cliché, and I suppose it is somewhat. But it’s also authentic. For so many years, I mindlessly bought into the predominate “culture of freneticism” (valuing being busy over anything else). Now that I’m starting to find my way towards valuing connection, I’m seeing the benefits of tuning in, reflecting, and taking loving action. This is what fuels my passion for yoga and meditation, both in my personal practice and when sharing this path with others.
P.S. – For more on stress management and self-care during the holidays, check out this great post by One Happy Disaster! If you’re recovering from trauma and are struggling with self-care basics, take a look at these suggestions from The Body Is Not An Apology.