One of my favorite Christmas movies is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Everything goes wrong and no one seems to have a good time but they all grin through it. I love that movie because it’s funny, it’s real and probably because that’s what my holidays tend to be like—a total mess but we have fun anyway.
But the holidays are also portrayed as magical, full of love and light, and beautiful peaceful moments. Sure, the holidays are picturesque when you’re scrolling through Instagram or watching a Hallmark movie. Maybe you have that one neighbor who goes all-out on decorations and their family members all look like models and they wear matching sweaters every year. Or maybe your family is like that.
But for some, the reality is that the holidays are stressful AF. There are about a million things to do, from decorating, cooking, buying the right gifts, wearing the proper outfit, getting quality time in with family and friends—even that one cousin who you haven’t seen in five years. And it all has to be perfect. It has to look from the outside like it was effortless and everything all came together with no trouble at all.
Maybe some of that resonates with you, or maybe your holidays land somewhere in between “magical” and “stressful AF.” Either way, there’s a lot going on between now and the new year, so here are my tips on how to slow down so you can actually enjoy the holiday season.
Take Deep Breaths
You may not pay much attention to your breath because it’s automatic. But during the holidays the breath can become shallow and hurried as we get swept up in the whirlwind of activities and obligations.
When you’re caught up in the go-go-go of trying to coordinate holiday dinners with family, shopping for the perfect gift, then wrapping those carefully selected gifts, and dealing with everyday life stuff on top of all of that, try tuning into your breath.
When you take a deep breath, you send a message to your brain to slow down, activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Not only does intentional breathing have immediate physiological benefits, like lowering blood pressure and reducing stress, but it also creates a momentary gap in the endless stream of thoughts that often take over, especially during the holiday season.
Making time for a short breathwork practice can help ground you in the present moment and help you forget about the holiday chaos, even if for just a few moments.
It’s so easy to get swept up in the idea of giving and receiving during the holidays and whether or not you’ve selected the right gifts. This can be especially difficult if you’re comparing what your holidays are like to what the holidays are “supposed to be” or “should look like.”
If you feel like you’re getting lost in the consumerism of the holidays or having negative thoughts about what your holidays are missing, try a short gratitude practice to help you slow down and bring your focus back toward what truly matters.
When you practice gratitude, you're redirecting your thoughts and energy toward what you already have, what’s going well and what makes you happy. This can help put the holidays into perspective, and there’s scientific evidence that gratitude can increase your happiness and reduce stress.
Consider keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down three things you're grateful for each day. This can be part of your morning or bedtime routine. The act of writing it down not only forces you to slow down but it also reinforces the positive benefits.
Literally, Slow Down
I know this entire article is about slowing down but literally slowing down can make a big difference. The holiday season tends to come with a rush—a rush to shop, to decorate, to attend social gatherings. If you’re rushing through everything, the whole point of the season can be lost.
Whether you’re decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies or playing Monopoly with that cousin (and maybe asking him what he’s been up to the past five years) try slowing down your actions, your thoughts and even your words.
When you’re more intentional about what you’re doing, you’re able to fully be present. This may be because we’re so used to doing things on autopilot. When you slow down, you naturally become aware of every sensation, thought and feeling that accompanies an activity, whether it's the ice skates gliding across the rink or the sensation of your favorite holiday sweater against your skin.
And if you’re so amped up that you need a little reset in order to be able to slow down, try some non-sleep deep rest. This type of practice will help you re-engage with the world in a more mindful, deliberate way so you can focus on being instead of doing. When you slow down, you may find that you enjoy the holidays more, remember them better, and actually experience the joy and peace they’re all about.
Find Time For Yourself
Yes, the holidays are about family—family gatherings, family commitments, family dinners—and it’s easy to forget that you too need nurturing. Don’t forget that in order to fully show up for others, you need to show up for yourself first.
In between watching the parade and posing for holiday photos, find a few minutes for yourself. This practice doesn't have to be elaborate or time-consuming. It can be as simple as taking a short walk, reading a book, or spending ten minutes in the morning sipping your MUD\WTR latte in silence.
There’s actually scientific evidence that simply drinking a hot beverage will help you relax. These moments of solitude allow you to reconnect with yourself, making you better equipped to handle the demands of the holiday season.
Remember that self-care isn't selfish, it’s necessary.
Let Go of Expectations
The holiday season comes with its own special set of societal and personal expectations that can be overwhelming—the picture-perfect family gatherings, the flawless gift selections, the impeccably decorated home, and the gourmet-level holiday meals.
When reality doesn't meet these lofty (and completely unrealistic) expectations, it's easy to feel like a failure. The truth is that no holiday season is "perfect," and holding on to these expectations only sets us up for disappointment.
Acknowledge that it’s OK to not have a "perfect" holiday season and keep your expectations realistic to avoid unnecessary stress and disappointment. Whenever you feel those expectations creeping in, just quiet that inner critic and move on.
That doesn’t mean you can’t have a perfectly joyous and amazing holiday season, it just means that things may not go as planned and that's alright. Relationships are messy, recipes can fail and gifts can miss the mark. It’s all good—let it all happen. Remember that everything is unfolding exactly as it should, and your only job is to sit back and savor each moment.
It’s a lot easier said than done, but slowing down during the holidays will help you appreciate them more, let go of some of the stress and just plain have a good time.
Our society often sets these unrealistic expectations on us—to cook a Top Chef-level Thanksgiving dinner or decorate the Christmas tree as if it’s in Rockefeller Center—and that’s just not what the holidays are about.
The holidays are a time to remember the beauty of life, find some gratitude for all the abundance you have, and connect with family and friends. Forget everything else.
Rae Repanshek is MUD\WTR's copywriter.
Read More: Can Breathwork Improve Your Mental Health?