I’ve got this memory from last Christmas, the evening of the 25th, kids asleep, commotion stopped, and me sitting with this feeling of complete exhaustion.
Not the welcomed type of tired that you sometimes get after too much of a good time. The weary kind that ushers in overwhelm.
Looking for an outlet for my angst, I grabbed my nearby phone and put together an Instagram post. I channeled all my frustration into my message. The magnitude and speed of the post’s response caught me off guard—clearly, I wasn’t alone in my post-Christmas sentiments.
I’ve been reflecting on this memory lately—it’s not a place I plan to go this year. But what happened last year?
We already live minimally, I don’t overcommit myself, and I’ve mastered the art of choosing experiences over stuff.
So why the holiday overwhelm? And what needed to change this year?
Instead of honing in on a couple of things that were truly meaningful, I was scattered, trying to check off all the boxes that had to accompany Christmas.
Gingerbread house making—even though it turned into an epic battle over which child could stuff their cheeks with the most gumdrops before I ended up hiding them all. Check.
Christmas card mass mailing—even though we weren’t regularly in touch with many of the recipients, so many cards were probably jettisoned days after opening. Check.
Christmas dinner planning and prep—even though I knew cooking all day plain wore me out. Check.
Not to mention the obligatory pictures with Santa, the town Christmas tree lighting ceremony, and hours of baking to fill plates with goodies for the neighbors.
Check. Check. Check.
Yes, I was certainly focused on experiences. On leaving no tradition unchecked.
But in all this outward focus, I forgot about something incredibly important. Me.
What was my goal in all this doing?
Was it a connection with family? Wearing myself ragged didn’t leave me space to do that. Was it creating memories? The more we did, the less an experience stood out as important or memorable.
Author and brain scientist Dr. Daniel Amen says, “Where you bring your attention always determines how you feel.” Focus on what you’re thankful for and you’ll feel grateful. Focus on what you wish was different in your life and you’ll feel restless and stressed. Focus on taking good care of yourself and you’ll feel energized to serve others.
With intentional focus, we can choose how we feel.
What if, this holiday season, I turned my attention and focus inward? What if I used words as anchors to predict my feelings and actions?
Smack in the middle of the word holiday, there is an “I.” It’s that “I” that glues the whole word together. Remembering the “I” during the holidays means I’ll pour from a cup that is overflowing, which will tremendously benefit everyone around me.
So what will “I” feel during this season?
Since I now realize the choice is mine, here are some examples of words I’m considering.
Here are five words to focus on for a more meaningful, less stressful holiday season:
This holiday season I will feel grounded.
To me, being grounded means being rooted in what matters. It’s the opposite of scattered. You know what is essential and you don’t let the hustle of the holidays pull you away from that. By grounding your nervous system you also steady your mind and center your energy.
Ways to feel more grounded include:
Take time to pray or meditate in the morning
Walk barefoot outside
Use a grounding essential oil like Patchouli
Practice deep breathing
Spend time in nature
Focus in on your five senses (mindfully taste the food you’re eating, savor a scent)
Submerge yourself in water (end the day with a bath)
Sip an herbal tea (hold the mug in both hands)
This year I will feel like the holidays are simple.
Creating a simple feel around your holidays means identifying everything that truly matters and then eliminating everything that isn’t that. Change your mindset to subtracting things instead of adding.
Make a list of everything you usually do during the holidays. Then cross off half of what is on your list.
This year, I’ve crossed off exchanging gifts with any extended family (except for grandparents), photos with Santa, and the gingerbread house battle. I’m definitely keeping our family outing to get hot chocolate and drive around admiring Christmas lights. What will you cross off? What will you keep? Think of it as an experiment in simplicity this year. You can always add more back on next year if needed. When you focus on what matters most, your holidays become more meaningful.
This holiday season I will feel nourished.
Feeling nourished means feeling that your needs are met. It’s the opposite of feeling spread too thin. We can nourish ourselves physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. And often it takes some intentional planning to make this feeling happen.
Here are some ideas:
Move your body – dance, go for a walk, stretch
Plan and prepare nourishing meals
Rest more – take naps, go to bed earlier
Spend time in prayer
Spend time outside, marvel at the creation around you
Read a spiritual book
Spend time with friends who lift you up
Talk to a counselor
Take time to journal
Write something meaningful
Read a book or listen to a podcast that is mentally stimulating
Learn something new
When nourishing yourself is a priority, you have more to give others and everyone around you benefits.
This holiday season I will feel connected.
Connection is something that must be cultivated. If we’re caught up in the hustle of the holiday season, spending intentional, unhurried time with loved ones becomes improbable.
One thing I’ve started doing to feel more connected to my husband and children is aiming to spend 10 minutes of uninterrupted time with them a day. During this time, I don’t ask questions, I just listen and reflect to them that I’m present. This reminds them of their importance to me and strengthens our relationship.
This holiday season I will feel present.
You, fully present, are better than any material gift you can give those around you this year. It’s also better than any gift you can receive. When you’re present, you’re relaxed, and fully taking in the gifts of each moment. You’re living deeply and fully.
To practice being more present you can:
Limit distractions – delete social media apps on your phone; put your phone out of reach when you’re around loved ones.
Invoke your curiosity – focus on asking genuine questions during family gatherings; try to learn two new things about each person in the room.
Describe your surroundings – create an inner dialogue of what’s occurring around you; be as detailed as possible.
Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Looking inward and focusing on self-care isn’t selfish. It’s the first step toward genuinely serving others and choosing actions that will show them their dignity and importance.
So ask yourself, “How do I want to feel this holiday season?” “How do I want to make others feel?”
Then, take some time today to begin rewriting your holiday script and make space for the “I.”
Choose two of these words above (or a different word you have in mind) and write them down somewhere you’ll see them daily. Let these words be your reminder that you get to decide where your focus will land and, ultimately, how you’ll feel this holiday season.
Personally, I’m done with the scattered and stressed feelings. They didn’t serve me or my family last year and won’t this year.
Let’s take action and shift our focus inward this holiday season so we’ll know, without a doubt, that we spent our holidays focused on what and who mattered most.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband, two extremely lively young daughters, and one-year-old son.