Giving Yourself The Gift Of A Stress-Free Holiday Season

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From Baltimore OUTLoud, Dec. 6, 2019:

The holidays aren’t always a joyous and restful time of the year, especially for LGBT elders. From dealing with their families or families of choice to budgeting their time, energy and finances, the year’s end can be a hard time for many.

Tips for managing holiday stress and avoiding its negative health effects will be presented at an upcoming workshop hosted by the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care. The workshop is scheduled for Thursday, December 12th from noon to 1:30 pm in the community rooms at Chase Brexton’s Mount Vernon Center (1111 North Charles Street, Baltimore). Anyone interested in attending or receiving more info on this upcoming Lunch and Learn workshop may RSVP to lgbt@chasebrexton.org or call 410-837-2050 x1049.

We asked the workshop’s presenter, Stephannie Weikert, a certified yoga therapist and creator of “Make Peace with Stress,” for a few tips to reduce holiday stress.

Why are the holidays so hard for many people, both mentally and physically?

In a word, stress. The American Psychological Association reports that 38% of people have increased stress during the holidays. It’s no surprise when you consider what can come with this time of year: shopping, crowds, lines, cleaning, cooking, decorating, wrapping, parties, visitors, drinking, overeating, incessant Christmas carols. All of this comes with financial burdens, being overstimulated and overcommitted, and family. The holidays can also bring up unhappy memories, expose toxic relationships, remind you of what’s changed that you didn’t want or what hasn’t changed. 

Physically, you can lose sleep, be tense, experience digestive issues. Mentally, you can feel overwhelmed, disappointed, sad, and angry.

What can individuals do to manage the mental challenges of the holiday season?

Your mindset is the key. The adage about the glass being half full or half empty is relevant, and there’s more to it. Both perspectives are true, and whatever you focus on increases in your life. Trade your stress for appreciation and your whole experience changes.

For example, instead of “I can’t handle all of this responsibility,” or “My sister is so critical,” or “I’m still stuck in this job that I hate,” choose to harness these challenges as sacred opportunities for growth. As in, “I appreciate the opportunity to set boundaries,” “I’m grateful for the chance to be compassionate when others are judgmental,” “I’m thankful that this job is showing me how to make change happen for myself.”

What can people do to maintain their physical well-being during the next few weeks?

Pay attention. Your body gives you signals about what you need. Lower back hurt? You’ve probably been sitting for too long. Stomach bothering you? Your digestive system is likely out of sorts. Low on energy? Tense? Struggling to sleep? These are all signs your body needs attention. When you have a cold, you go to the drug store to get medicine and you pay attention to the symptoms You have to know what to choose. Take time to notice what your physical experience is trying to tell you. And listen.

This time of year, we’re meant to be slowing down, making space for paying attention and taking care of ourselves.

How can yoga and similar practices assist with this maintenance?

Yoga is an incredibly effective practice for physical, mental, and spiritual self-care. This mind-body system has been evolving for thousands of years but has always been about becoming who you really are. 

Physically, movement relieves aches and pains, improves digestion, and relaxes the body. In fact, breathing slowly, which is a key component of yoga, is how to invoke the relaxation response. Meditation helps with your mindset. Stress can often be attributed to adverse thoughts and when your mind gets caught up in negative thinking, the stress response is activated. Shifting your thoughts from opposition to appreciation shifts the nervous system from stressed to relaxed. With practice, you recognize adverse thoughts and can train your mind to be less reactive and more calm and open. 

During this busy holiday season, what is the most important gift people can give themselves?

Being yourself. We all get caught up in fulfilling roles, thinking we’re supposed to do things a certain way or meet others’ expectations, but working through these issues, which are often self-imposed, and becoming who we really are is the purpose of life. 

Yoga continually deepens your connection to your potential and your ability to master the patterns, choices, and obstacles that are holding you back. Here’s a practical method to do this. First, notice your experience. Check-in with your body, mind, and heart. Second, be open to the opportunity to be true to yourself, whether it’s giving your body what it needs, adjusting your attitude, or expressing authentically. And third, welcome the experience that you really want. Simply believing in yourself is the greatest gift. 

For more about the LGBT Health Resource Center’s LGBT elder programs and services, please visit Chasebrexton.org/LGBTElders.