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"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."  
-John F. Kennedy
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Keeping Peace This Holiday Season

Christmas cards and commercials are created to make us feel as if every waking hour from Thanksgiving to January 1 should be filled with magical moments with family and friends. We're socialized to appear "happy" during these celebratory times of year. We know this isn't always the situation. Rather, the last two months of the year tend to make people feel guilty and ashamed if you don't feel happy and joyful. Instead of trying to muster up the "happy" of the holidays, consider spending your energy mindfully approaching the season: 

1. Validate your feelings. Experience the range of feelings, and remind yourself you need not react. Instead of telling yourself, "I shouldn't be feeling this way because..." remind yourself that, as a human, feelings are a normal part of a healthy life. Allow yourself to feel and find a response that will be more helpful to move you toward how you want to feel. 

2. Cope ahead. Rather than resorting to reactions in the midst of the hustle and bustle, consider taking action before the frenzy begins. Remind yourself of the challenges of previous holidays and plan a potential response. For example, if holiday parties tend to tempt you into engaging in more festive eating and drinking than you are comfortable with, make sure you pack your can of Sprite or give yourself some parameters to follow at the buffet line ("at least two vegetables before a dessert!"). Then when you arrive you can choose to follow what you already know to be best, rather than making decisions with social pressure or emotion involved. 

3. Feel it. If you notice your body or mind shifting toward frustration, anger, or grief, name the feeling. Remind yourself that you are allowed to feel. Find a safe place to share the feelings - a close friend or a loved one who will hold space for you. After this, you may feel more freedom to move on to the next feeling.  

4. Simplify. Choose wisely how you will spend your precious time and eliminate the parts that are beyond your capacity. No one else gets to dictate how you celebrate a holiday. Consider ordering the holiday dinner, traveling during the holidays or donating to a charity rather than spending money on gifts.

Though the holiday season comes with challenges, give yourself the space to experience the wide range of feelings - joy, grief, love, temptation - as a whole person. 

Intentional Gifting

by Holly Schweitzer Dunn, LISW
As we move into a season of exchanging gifts, it's easy to confuse the spirit of generosity with the act of shopping. Before buying your first present, consider naming your intention for this year's gifting. Perhaps that's a monetary intention - staying within a budget - or the emotional space you want to give to each person on your list. Maybe you simply decide to set your intention on giving an experience instead of a tangible thing. Whatever you decide to use as a focus, the act of intentionally pausing will help you to mindfully move about the shopping experience. 

Keep in mind the person for which you are shopping, and make the gift a reflection of how you see him or her. Conversely, you can give as a reflection of you with your talents and natural gifts, and allow the giving to be centered on creation rather than consumerism. 

Want to give more thought to mindful gifting this holiday season? Here are a few resources that goes beyond the giver and recipient: 

Mindful Eating

by Landon Dunn, LISW, LICDC
It may seem as if the holiday season is a non-stop buffet, be it an office party, family gatherings, or dinner with friends. For those of us who like to remain conscious about what we allow into our body and how it affects our mind and personhood, these settings can get tricky. We often leave gatherings either unsatisfied with our abstinence or laden with guilt over our indulgence. How can we allow ourselves room to celebrate the joy of the season without treating our bodies and minds as garbage cans? 
1. It's how you eat as much as what you eat. In order to fully digest your food, your body needs to shift into the parasympathetic nervous response ("rest and digest") and a rushed or stressed meal will only keep you moving in "fight or flight" mode. Avoid standing, driving and rushing through the meal. If you decide to join people you love in a meal, be fully present to the food, the company and the feeling of sharing the moment.

2. Check in with your body to make sure food or drink is what it's really craving. Stop and listen to the cues your body offers. Ask your body if, instead of hunger, perhaps it feels an emotion, boredom or tiredness? If so, give the body what it needs: attention, sleep or even meditation. 

3. Practice moderation. My grandfather used to enjoy ONE square of Hershey's chocolate as a practice of discipline. Use all the senses to engage with this small treat, and then you might find that it's all you really need. 

Respond to Holiday Stress with Yoga

The stress of the holidays doesn’t evaporate when the ball drops on January 1; science tells us we retain experiences in our body as much as our mind. “We all are biologically and neurologically programmed to deal with emergencies, but time stops in people who suffer from PTSD. That makes it hard to take pleasure in the present because the body keeps replaying the past. If you practice Yoga and can develop a body that is strong and feels comfortable, this can contribute substantially to help you to come into the here and now rather than staying stuck in the past.” (Bessel Van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score). 

The good news: you don’t have to carry the frustrations of this season with you. You can teach your body to respond to stress using mindful breathing and movement. By arranging our bodies in particular ways, we train the nervous system how to approach challenges with openness. The process of exerting effort and relaxing throughout the body helps dissolve tension, which is stress manifested in your body tissues. 

While this time of year often seems too busy, perhaps it’s even more important to establish a yoga practice so you can move through the hustle and bustle with strength and ease. Avoid the additional stress of venturing to a class by scheduling your private yoga session with Michele Minehart, Mind Body Health Associates' in-house yoga instructor. Michele will work with you personally to address any challenges and help develop a sequence of postures for home practice. Individualized yoga introduces you to postures and concepts, a great starting point for those interested in eventually taking classes in a group setting from any of the fabulous yoga studios in town. 

You can call the office to schedule your one-hour session, or consider a gift certificate for someone you think would appreciate it.  
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