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Unwrapping Peace – Gift #1

November 30, 2023

What is so great about the Holiday Season?

The cookies, family, friends, the bright lights, or giving gifts? These are all wonderful parts of this time of year, yet why do so many people report an increase in stress, depression, and anxiety? 

Stress is a normal part of our lives. The stressors in our lives help us overcome challenges, learn new things, and keep us safe. However, when the stressors in our lives come at us, one right after another, and we don’t take the time to recover. That can move you into feeling overwhelmed. 

According to the researcher Brené Brown in her book Atlas of the Heart, “Overwhelm means an extreme level of stress, an emotional and/ or cognitive intensity to the point of feeling unable to function.” Many people are feeling this emotion during this time of the year. 

I am fully aware of how stress that moves into overwhelm can affect your health. In 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had just finalized our adoption of our four children in August, and then in September, I was diagnosed with cancer. This is not how I had pictured our first Christmas with the kids. I had no hair, plus felt weak, nauseous, and tired. I could barely get the Christmas presents bought and wrapped. 

There had been a number of stressors leading up to my cancer diagnosis. I had family loss, challenging events, and then adopted four children all at once; most days, I was overwhelmed! I also wasn’t taking good care of myself. I lost 20 pounds just from the stress. My behaviors caught up with me in the form of cancer.

As a parent and teacher, I knew there was only one thing I had control over: myself. I needed mindsets and skills to nurture within myself to build my resilience. I need this resilience- especially during the holidays!

Over the next four weeks, I’ll share with you four gifts to nurture within yourself that can help you reduce your stress and create a holiday season filled with peace.

What can you do when the busyness of the holiday season throws you off your game?

Stop and Notice

Stopping and noticing the thoughts filling your head and the emotions flooding your body throughout the day. 

When you look at your to-do list for the day, what kind of thoughts do you have about the items on the list? How is your body reacting? Is your jaw clenched? Does your heart start racing? Or do you feel a smile and lightness as you move through your day, checking things off the list?

The process of recognizing thoughts and emotions might be new and challenging to you. I understand! I grew up on a farm in rural southern Minnesota. My father’s side of the family was of stoic German heritage. Feelings were NOT part of our family’s vocabulary. When I was a child, I thought feelings were the things I stuffed down, along with all the cookies I ate! I had to learn a whole new language when recognizing and talking about my emotions. 

The holiday season can bring times of joy, grief, loss, and calm. So many emotions spring up, and sometimes it seems like they come from out of nowhere. Try to sit with the discomfort, cry if you need to, or be sad. 

My father passed away nine years ago in December after a long illness. The holidays always bring back a bit of sadness for me because of those who are not sitting around the table with me.

Holidays can bring up a whole range of emotions for us, our clients, and the children and families we serve. Give a gift to yourself and others by stopping and noticing the thoughts and feelings that arise throughout this season. 

Try This:

  • Feeling and Need lists are a great resource to help you notice what is coming up during a difficult time. Print off the lists; they can be found here. Then, when you are having a difficult time, look at the lists. See if you can name the feeling and then the need connected with the feeling. 
  • “Name It to Tame It” is a process that you can use with children (and adults) to help them recognize challenging emotions. Here is a video by Dr. Tina Payne Bryson explaining the process.

Next week, I will bring you another gift for the holiday season!