It’s the most wonderful time of the year… or is it?
Well, in many ways, it’s up to you to decide.
Most of us have high hopes for the Christmas season. We all long to be connected with people that we love. We plan special meals. We give presents that spark joy.
But when things are extra busy and you’ve got travels, shopping, parties, cooking, and family matters on your mind, you have to be intentional about your mindset. Stress can derail your attitude and make this time of year feel less like a miracle and more like a nightmare.
It’s important to set aside time for yourself in the midst of the rush to take care of your mental health. Getting your mind in the right space will allow you to truly enjoy the holidays and focus on the people you love.
Here are seven habits to get you started!
1. Take Time to Reflect
We live in a culture of connectivity and constant distraction. We’re always expected to be “on,” we’re always moving to the next big thing, and too many of us tie our self-worth to our to-do list.
Our brains need time to unwind and play in order to process events, feelings, and thoughts. Unfortunately, very few of us allow time to be still and cultivate reflection. You need to get alone, turn off your devices, and just think.
Here are three practical ways to make reflection a habit. Even just five minutes a day will make a huge difference!
- Meditate. There are so many health benefits to meditation. You can check out the post we’ve already written about how to start meditating!
- Journal. Journaling is a healthy habit that allows you to get in touch with your inner world. You don’t have to be a great writer, or even make a whole lot of sense, to journal. Start writing a few lines or paragraphs about your day—the highs, the lows, the people you talked to, and the things you accomplished. You can also free-write, as quickly as possible, about any subject that comes to mind. Let loose on those emotions. There’s nothing to be afraid of.
- Review Your Year. Look over your calendar or your pictures and think about the past year. Make a note about your wins and losses, the big moments of change and transition. Write it out on a simple timeline from January to December. Just taking the time to review all that happened this year will help you focus your thoughts on the things that matter.
2. Say Goodbye to Negative Self-Talk
As you pay attention to your thoughts, you might notice some bad patterns developing. You can choose to leave negative self-talk behind in 2019 and start the New Year with a fresh mindset. Replace destructive and critical self-talk with positive affirmations. Let go of the drive to be perfect and perform all of the time.
Research shows that our brains have a “negativity bias,” meaning that we filter out the good and focus on the bad. We interpret events in a bad light, we hang on to bad memories, and we ruminate on hurtful things that people have said or done.1 Since we tend toward negativity, we have to work intentionally to identify and get rid of the negative dialogue that’s happening in our heads.
3. Get Ready for the Hard Moments
The holidays bring their fair share of stress. One of the biggest headaches can come from spending time with family. Love them or hate them, they’re here to stay! You might have some serious tension or disagreements with family members. Instead of running away from those challenges, shift your mindset and see them as opportunities for growth. Recognize how you can grow as a person by speaking your mind, and how you can make progress to improve your relationships, instead of damaging them, by having honest conversations.
In their book Crucial Conversations, authors Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan make the argument that you can have difficult conversations with people that are both honest and kind. It’s possible! It takes a sincere commitment to be mutually respectful and a desire to accomplish a common good. You can learn more about how to have a hard conversation in this video.
4. Give Thanks
Thanksgiving doesn’t have to end when the turkey and the stuffing are gone. Carry the spirit of gratitude throughout Christmas and into the New Year. Practicing gratitude changes your mindset from one of fear to one of abundance.
There are plenty of good things in our lives—we just have to be intentional about looking for them. We have this incredible neurological program called the Reticular Activation System (RAS). It’s a way for our brains to process the overwhelming amount of stimuli we get every single second. It helps us decide what’s important and what we should give our attention to. It’s the reason you can hear someone say your name across a crowded room, or the reason you notice other people driving the same car that you have.2
You can get your RAS to work in your favor. When you practice gratitude, you’re training your brain to look for good things. Here are three simple ways to make thanksgiving a habit:
- Write down five to ten things that you’re grateful for every night before going to bed.
- Carry around a small gratitude journal or make a note in your phone every time you give thanks for something.
- Write a sticky note to a co-worker, a card to a friend or family member, or send a text to someone important that expresses how grateful you are for that person.
5. Spend Time With People Who Lift You Up
Motivational speaker and personal development coach Jim Rohn famously said that “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who you are with has a direct impact on who you are. Be intentional about the people you see over the holidays. You don’t have to say yes to every party invitation. There’s no way you can keep up with it all! Focus on the people who bring positivity and encouragement and say NO to the rest.
And by the way, if you want to attract and keep those kinds of friends, you have to be that kind of friend. It’s a two-way street.
6. Serve Your Community
Nothing will give you joy like being connected with a great purpose. If you’re having a tough time getting out of a negative mental mindset, then get your focus off yourself and give back to your community.
Here are a few ways you could serve this holiday season:
- Help kids in the foster care system. It’s a sad reality that on any given day, there are 443,000 children in the foster care system in the U.S.3 Many of those kids might not get Christmas gifts this year—unless someone like you decides to donate something. Get in touch with your local foster care system and see what you can do!
- Serve a meal in a homeless shelter. Spending time with the poor and the marginalized will help you get your eyes off yourself. You can volunteer in a soup kitchen or offer to bring a meal to a family in need.
- Clean up some trash. If you’re passionate about stewarding the earth, then organize a group of friends to do a local trash-walk and clean up a certain part of the city. Also, think about ways that you can promote thoughtful consuming this year, such as wrapping Christmas presents with recycled materials.
- Give back to your church or a local non-profit. December is a popular time for all sorts of service projects, toy drives, and opportunities to spend time with people in need. Find an organization you’re passionate about and check out their website or give them a call. Ask how you can help. They’ll find something for you to do!
7. Laugh, Sing, and be Merry
Brené Brown, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Houston, speaks about the importance of cultivating a lifestyle of fun. As adults, we have to fight to maintain the sense of childlike wonder that keeps the world fresh and exciting. But the psychological benefits are worth it! Your mindset will move into an incredibly positive and joyful state. Whether it’s having a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen while decorating cookies, or throwing together some family “winter Olympic” competitions, look for ways to have fun and unwind during the holiday season.
Take care of yourself so you can truly enjoy the holidays. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when you need to focus on re-adjusting your mindset. Your thoughts shape your reality, so make sure it’s the reality you want to live.
Here at Alleviant, we’re wishing you the happiest holiday season ever!
And if you are in Little Rock and would like to learn more about mindset and its connection to your mental health and overall happiness, join us for a free workshop on January 4th, 2020.