Even as we are admiring the glorious colors of fall, holiday music and Black Friday are a jarring reminder of stressful times ahead. How can such a happy season become so filled with tension that even gratitude becomes elusive?
Two things happen at the holidays. Our minds become a jumble of thoughts that can make us very anxious and even sad. And our bodies often become physically drained by too much to do in a too-busy world of sleepless nights and frantic shopping.
Expections: Hanukkah and Christmas miracles
Before the holidays, time that should be one of happiness and reflection becomes one of expectations. And yet, if we reflect just a bit, Christmas and Hanukkah are really a celebration of miracles. However, the significance of little miracles in our own lives seems to become lost in gift-giving madness. Shopping anxiety has smothered the time when individuals might reestablish their relationship to tradition and belief within their hearts and with family and friends.
Remembering joy and sadness
James M. Ellison, M.D., M.P.H., is a former associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who explained what happens with holiday stress and sadness. “We build magical expectations of the holidays in our minds. When experience fails to match our hopes, as it often does, we become stressed and even depressed.”
“Each holiday season resonates with past holidays,” Dr. Ellison says. “If we have a history of happy holidays, the current ones benefit. But if loss, sadness, or disappointment were prominent in the past, these feelings color our present experience.”
Hanukkah miracles and two Cincinnati Rabbis
Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of light. It signifies how a small bit of pure olive oil for the Menorah miraculously kept a sacred Temple lit for eight days and nights after it had been reclaimed from invaders. However, according to Professor Dianne Ashton of Temple University, two Rabbis in Cincinnati developed this “new celebration for children at Hanukkah that was held in the synagogue and included giving presents.”
It was a way of being part of an American tradition similar to Christmas gift-giving. In the Christian tradition, gifts were brought by the Three Kings to welcome “the newborn king.”
Eventually Saint Nicholas entered the picture and a new world of shopping usurped the religious aspect of the holiday.
7 ways to reclaim serenity and joy
Here are seven steps that will alleviate stress by helping you change the focus from holiday frenzy to patience, gratitude, and love.
1. Practice time management realistically and remember that very little takes a minute or even an hour.
2. Set priorities. Decide what is most important for you to accomplish in an eight-hour period.
3. Take minute vacations. Stop throughout the day to smell the roses, take a walk, or gaze at the sunshine and clouds.
4. Clear your mind of negative thoughts that weigh you down, especially past hurts — these are millstones around your neck.
5. Express gratitude in a note, a phone call, a visit. Think of one person who deserves a note from you and jot it off immediately. If you decide to send an e-mail follow it up with with a real note.
6. Search through photos that bring a smile to your face.
7. Stop and think about someone you love and wish that person blessings and happiness. It will help to build up a reserve of joy.
In the world of holiday giving: “Remember to treat yourself as well,” says Dr. Ellison.
One way to treat ourselves is to keep our own gratitude list as a reminder that each day we experience little blessings. We simply need to stop a minute to embrace them.
Copyright 2012 Rita Watson/ All Rights Reserved
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