How To Turn The Holidays Into A Stress-Free Spiritual Experience

Does the prospect of returning to your parents’ home for the holidays fill you with a combination of delight and trepidation?

You’re not alone. Most people I know are eager to reunite with their (or their partner’s) family of origin in the spirit of celebration. But they also dread the inevitable drunken political debates, nitpicking over fashion and dating choices, unintended and deliberate slights, annoying siblings, and troubling remarks from the ever-present inappropriate uncle.

The consensus seems to be:

Multiple generations + too little personal space + loads of booze and sugar = STRESS

The good news is you can prepare yourself for the upcoming holiday hassles by doing more than stuffing an extra suitcase full of gifts. You can choose to put yourself in a frame of mind where insults slide off you like bad mojo off Santa’s sleigh. You can be the bearer of the goodwill that this season supposedly exemplifies. And who knows? You may even end up enjoying yourself!

1. Look at this time as a spiritual practice.

The first and most important step in getting through this season with more joy is to embrace it as a spiritual practice. We know from yoga and meditation that often the most fulfilling activities in life require sacrifice and self-discipline. You may not always feel like plopping down on that cushion for some quiet time, but you do it because you believe it will benefit you over the long term.

So why not look at your “home for the holidays” trip in a similar way? Instead of expecting it to go smoothly, or poorly, accept that it is what it is. Whatever happens will teach you a lesson. Annoyed? Breathe into a more relaxed state. Bored? Take a moment to meditate. Insulted? Let … it … go ….

Look at this experience as one that will take some spiritual work, but ultimately will help you build patience, compassion, tolerance, and forgiveness — all of which will serve you for a lifetime.

2. View your relatives as spiritual teachers.

Spiritual leaders often say that those we love are the ultimate mirrors for ourselves: they show us our flaws, shortcomings, and triggers. What greater opportunity for person growth, in that case, than a long weekend in a house full of relatives?

Your grandmother says you’ve gotten fat? Laugh. Your mom wants to fix you up with her colleague’s “dependable” (read “boring!”) son? Give her a big hug and tell her you’re lucky she cares about you so much. Your cousin says climate change is a myth? Listen, even if it grates. Ask yourself, “What is this person here to teach me?”

If you can overcome your automatic, emotional reactions to your relatives, you're modeling the kind of behavior you’d like to see in them. I can’t think of a better way to help your family become more evolved.

3. Take frequent breaks.

It seems so obvious. Yet when we’re crowded together celebrating with our family, it’s so easy to forget. Take breaks.

I’m a big believer in self-care. Some people may view this as selfish. But I see it as just the opposite. Only when I’m grounded in myself can I be the best me for the world.

When I’m home for the holidays, I go for an hour walk every morning. Throughout the day, I take five minutes now and then to step outside and breathe. This gets me centered so that the irritating remarks that otherwise might cause my temper to flare don’t get to me.

4. Make your presence the best present of all.

What if, in addition to the wrapped packages, you viewed yourself, your presence, as the most important present of all? I find this reframing of the holidays exceptionally powerful, because it makes your time at home about them rather than about you.

Yes, this may seem contradictory to the previous point about taking breaks. But that’s about getting centered. The rest of the time you’re home, show up fully. Be authentic and engaged. Pay attention. Express your love.

This will also help you let go when things don’t go your way — like going to the religious service you feel forced to attend. Instead of getting bent out of shape and thinking, “Why do I have to put up with this?” you might instead ask yourself, “How can I best be of service?” Suddenly that thing you didn’t want to do is something you can do to make someone else happy.

That energy, that intention, that level of devotion to your loved ones, will have a more lasting and profound positive impact on them than any gift you could possibly procure. And isn’t that what the holidays are truly about?

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