So it’s Thanksgiving again, and the entire family is over for dinner. Uncle Phil has had a little too much wine. Your teenage daughter is fighting with you over seeing her boyfriend, who you can’t stand. Grandpa is on a rant over the Republicans (or is it the Democrats?). And there’s a wild herd of kids upstairs, their thundering shoes carrying them from one room to the other and back again.
Is it New Year’s yet?
As much as we love the holidays and our families, this time of year can be tremendously stressful. More than ever, this is a period when we need to stop, breath and take care of ourselves. So says Barb Schmidt, spiritual coach, businesswoman, philanthropist and author of The Practice: Simple Tools for Managing Stress, Finding Inner Peace, and Uncovering Happiness (Health Communications Inc., 2014).
“It’s true that holidays and stress go hand-in-hand. It’s difficult today to separate the two,” Schmidt recently told BookTrib. Her book describes simple yet effective ways we can all reduce stress, both during the holidays and all year ‘round.
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“Each of us has to be our own first priority,” she said, “and I don’t mean that in a selfish way; I mean that in a very earnest way, a way in which we’re really making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves in a very loving and nurturing way.”
Schmidt’s book describes in detail strategies on dealing with stress and finding peace. Her “practice” begins with taking five minutes each morning to meditate—to be calm, quiet, and focused on oneself. “Starting your day in stillness and peace is setting the tone for your whole day,” she said. “In a five-minute meditation, you’re training your mind by placing your attention on your breath, not engaging the thoughts, practicing being patient, and spending time with yourself, connecting with that deep place of calmness and strength.
“For me, happiness is feeling strong; feeling connected inside,” she said. “It means that I’m loving and compassionate, and that I can’t be thrown off balance for very long. I know that I will thrive in my life and not just survive, hanging on with white knuckles. That’s happiness. It’s not that euphoric, sitting-on-a-cloud thing. It’s really about strength and having an underlying sense of joy, that I love my life and I love the people that are in it.”
Being connected to that sense of calmness “helps us be present to the holidays, and to our families and friends and communities, and helps us remember why we’re doing all this to begin with so that we can bring it back to the highest ideal,” Schmidt said. “It brings it back to what really matters. We can have gratitude over the things that we have, and find some humor along the way.”
Schmidt refers often to a quote from Shakespeare: “Expectation is the root of heartache.” She said that high expectations of how we think the holidays should go often lead to undue stress.
“I try not to have any expectations,” she said. “I try not to think that I have to have things a certain way; if I don’t have my meal cooked in the right way, it’s going to be a disaster; if I don’t have this done right, people are going to hate me.
“I try to go in doing the best I can, taking care of myself, and knowing that however it happens, it’s going to be just right,” she said.