How do you feel about Christmas and the holiday season? If you follow the social media narrative, you should be happy, replete, surrounded by friends and family, and poised for January first and a “New Year, New You!” Yes, that’s right. And if not, your narrative can go something like: you’re stressed but committed to practicing self care and mindfulness and, in so doing, your virtue will be rewarded with cool yoga pants and righteous enlightenment. If you’re painfully lonely, well, there’s an answer for that, too. You can overcome your challenges by doing something productive, like volunteering at a local homeless shelter on Christmas day. Right? Bottom line: if it’s not perfect, there’s always something that you can do to make it Instagram-worthy if you so choose. Up to you, sweetie!
That’s what it looks like on a lot of the current social media, anyhow.
But in my office? I hear a different story. Walking around and observing those around me with compassionate eyes? I’ve seen a lot of tight facial muscles and signs of fatigue. Not everyone is Instagram-ready this Christmas. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Not everyone has the resources to be perky and holistically flawless in their regimen. And even if you love-love-LOVE the holiday season, there will be times during it that you feel frizzled or demoralized or just plain wiped out. In other words: you are human and you get tired. Don’t we all?
I have a question for you if any of the above describes how you experience the holiday season. Keep reading….you’ll see!
I’m not anti-Christmas or against the holidays as a rule. And as a health coach, I do concur with the notion of “New Year, New You” because the first day of a brand-new year does feel like a wonderful chance to start fresh. What I don’t like much is the way we are culturally programmed to feel that there is one way to be during the season (happy, and with friends and family and delicious food and and and…) because that tableau isn’t available to all of us. You may have no family, or you have a dreadful one. It could be that Christmas coincides with the anniversary of a terrible loss. You may be one of the many who belong to the rare disease community and you’re in the hospital or otherwise disabled. You might be so worn out by current events that you have no holiday spirit at all by now. There are many scenarios that pertain to the season and you can fill in the blank with your own since I’ve surely skipped something here. But any way you slice it, you are wondering how to make the best of what you’ve got and even make things actually even better when all is said and done.
So what to do? Well, I promised myself I would keep this one short because I’m in the category of “Christmas is making me nuts because I have a looming board exam” and when I finish this essay, I need to get in some studying. So please allow me to suggest some resources. Then, to conclude, allow me to offer you a question that might change your life (and it’s good for not just the holiday season). [On edit & update: If you are reading this as of summer 2018…the board exams are well and long since over and I am now a licensed acupuncturist]
~~~You’re Not Alone & Resources Are Available~~~
One thing that I have learned over the past couple years is that vulnerable and lonely people do not want to admit their loneliness. And even introverts who prefer to be alone can struggle with a need for human contact that conflicts with their preference for solitude. It can also be challenging to enjoy being alone AND have a wish to be around others on occasion AND resist the narrative that we all need to be jolly and en masse at holidays. Or what if you are ill and don’t have the emotional energy, no matter how much you would like to be social?
All of these things hurt and they weigh on a body. This I know from what my patients tell me during office visits and I also know it from experience. I’m not being too jolly and outgoing this year, to be honest. I want to finish my last board exam and, just like that one grueling Christmas before my Ph.D. qualifying exams, my focus this year is on my studies. When I got my Christmas tree this year, I asked the lot attendant to help me find a perfect tree. I said, “It has to be just right because I’ll be spending the entire month of December sitting next to it and reviewing my herbs.” I felt like an idiot when, as soon as those words left my mouth, my eyes started to prickle with tears. The tree attendant helped me find my perfect tree and after he put it in my car for me, he gave me a hug and told me that I have beautiful energy and that he felt sure I’d do wonderfully on my exams. So then I cried all the way home because the Wheatsville tree attendant was so nice to me. (Note: my perfect tree has brought me immense joy over the course of this rather tiring month and I am indeed most grateful to have it)
Too long, didn’t read? Point being: you are not alone. If you feel lonely or as though you have nobody who understands you in your immediate surroundings, though, there are some wonderful resources online. A great website that is replete with support and encouragement is The Mighty. Therein, you can find blog articles about mental and physical challenges and ways to love yourself, care for yourself, and even thrive just as you are. I highly recommend this web site. Another good one, if you are on twitter, is the account A Chronic Voice. This is run by a lovely woman who is thriving despite her lifelong illness and it aggregates a range of informative and uplifting blog posts and other like content. If you are in the caregiving profession, you might want to check out this nice article, “11 Brilliant Ways that Therapists Control Their Holiday Stress,” here, that give great tips from therapists for therapists. Yes, even those who care for others as a vocation need to practice self care or risk burnout too. We’re all human under the surface no matter our job title or social role. We all need a rest and to feel safe and comfortable. We all deserve these things; don’t you agree?
~~~Don’t Just Sit There; Do Something~~~
Easy to say and harder to do, but if you do the exact same thing–as the cliché goes–you are crazy if you don’t expect the same results. Even if you just move around a bit in your own home, that’s something. The journey of a thousand steps begins with that first one, right? And though yoga is really wonderful (I’m a certified yoga instructor and I love yoga) it may make you want to scream when a well-meaning person suggests it to you. And that’s ok. You might also consider trying the Chinese forms of moving meditation, qi gong or tai chi, respectively (if you need a good online resource, scroll to the bottom of the page and check out Tai Chi Colorado’s online lessons, here).
Whatever you do, moving your body can help. Even if it’s a small movement, or a movement within your meditative mind, you can benefit from shifting your focus. Other ways to shift your mindset can include dedicated practice. If you’ve ever thought of trying a health coach, either me or another professional, you might want to look at my blog post in which I describe what a coach can do for you, here, or where I outline what it means to actually work with one, here. If your health coach is a good one, he or she will help you to get out of your own way so that you can identify your roadblocks, unpack your repetitive stories, and find new ways to approach your health and wellbeing.
If it’s available to you, I strongly urge you to try traditional Chinese bodywork in the form of tui na (pronounced “twee nah”). I go on and on about it, but even after I am licensed to practice acupuncture I will still and always maintain a tui na practice. A stressed and anxious mind produces a stressed and anxious body. Grief makes for careworn muscles. Sadness marks the face and stays there. If you’ve never tried it, look at my essay on the subject, here. I also wrote an essay about Botox, aesthetic tui na, and mood, here. Research studies show that botox can help to relieve depression. My own clinical experience has borne the theory behind this assertion. As you will see in my essay, the argument that a calm face can translate to a calm and happier mind works for not just botox. You can potentially get the results via non-invasive tui na treatments too.
(Update 12/18: I am a licensed acupuncturist and I do still maintain my tui na practice).
Tui na can also help with injuries or other functional issues that have left you feeling less than your best. If you aren’t too keen on a full bodywork session, you might consider getting ear seeds for stress or any number of conditions. Check this blog post, here, if you want to learn more about this easy and simple yet very effective self-care tool.
Too long/didn’t read? In sum, then: pay attention to your body and tend to it as best you can. Move if you can. Commit to your health and take action, either with a health coach or without, and try–if it’s available to you–acupuncture, traditional Chinese bodywork, and/or mindfulness practices. You’ll be so glad that you did!
~~~Just One Question~~~
If there is one piece of wisdom I can impart through this essay, it’s in sharing the question “Does this belong to me?” A simple question, but it is a potent one. Try it the next time you are in a crowded department store. Try it when you are in a meeting. Try it when you are walking down the street. Try it when you are ready to set your boundaries and when you try it, be sure to pause and really pay attention to the answer(s) you get from this exercise.
When you are around others you are part of a collective energy. Even if you aren’t aware of it, you (just like everyone around you) scan, constantly, for threat or opportunity. If there is a lot around you and you, for your part, are vulnerable in any way, you are open to whatever is the most potent energy around you at that time. If you are in a department store and everyone around you is intense and the anxiety level is high, you might just be soaking it up. When sirens are blaring and lights are flashing and frustrated drivers are swearing, you feel it in your bones. When your buttons get pushed, you react without even noticing it any more. That’s just what people do and it’s pretty normal.
But you can do something about it. Really, you can!
Pause for a moment. Feel your feet on the ground or your butt in the chair. Pay attention to your own self for a moment. Notice and register your mood. And then ask yourself, “Does this belong to me?” And maybe, the revved up anxious depressed stressed overwhelmed feeling that is about to drag you under is not yours, not yours at all. Maybe it’s the collective. And maybe, then, just maybe, you can take a deep breath, shrug it off, and keep moving forward with your day. Maybe you really do have it available to feed what nourishes you and reject the collective energy that right now maybe does not. Maybe you can identify what is yours and what is not yours, and maybe you can set your boundary and not let the external becomes yours.
When I was an undergraduate I worked retail. All during the holiday season, the musical soundtrack included three variations of the heinous Christmas staple “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” To this day, I cringe at the part about Parson Brown and the snowman. UGH, I WANT TO KICK PARSON BROWN! No kidding. I associate waiting in horror for people to run up the escalator the day after Thanksgiving with this song. It resonates with little children being unattended and breaking things (I worked in the China/Crystal/Silver Department at a Broadway if you must know) and angry, tired moms who feel badly and take it out on the shop clerks, then, or–worse–on the child. I hear this song and am immediately transported to an open cash register and long lines of people in front of me. Oh, does this song ring my chimes and not in a good way, either.
We all have things that make us nuts at the holidays and they may have deep roots. The obvious stuff relates to one’s own family history but there is a lot of baggage that comes from the outside world too. Knowing what sets you off and being able to step back and ask yourself, “Does this belong to me?” can do a lot to ameliorate hair-trigger reflexive reactions. Being able to recognize if and when you are picking up a collective energy that doesn’t belong to you is also a good skill to cultivate, especially during the holidays. It helps to be able to unplug yourself from these jolts, and knowing the question to ask can really make a difference. Ask it often. Ask it and listen to the answer. Act, then, accordingly.
Too long/didn’t read: “Does this belong to me?”
The holiday season can be stressful for any number of reasons. It can also be a wonderful time of the year. It can be both, for within us we contain multitudes. Self-awareness, though, a few good resources, and–ultimately–the willingness to question and pause before reacting can do wonders for you. Try it and see!
No matter which holiday you celebrate, or if you celebrate none at all, I wish you all the very best. Onward and upward (in your favorite black lizard cowboy boots if that’s your jam), and let’s see what the new year brings us!
Paula Bruno, Ph.D., L.Ac., is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, an AOBTA-CP traditional Chinese bodywork therapist, and a wellness educator. She maintains an active and growing practice at her Austin, TX offices. Dr. Bruno is also available for distance appointments for wellness consultation or coaching.
In her first career, she was a Spanish professor.
Dr. Bruno’s specialties as a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner include: • Musculoskeletal health (acute or chronic pain relief; Ehlers Danlos syndrome & hypermobility support) • Digestive support, gut health, and weight loss • Aesthetic treatment, including scar revision • Men’s health • General preventative care and immune support for all persons.
When you are ready to discover what traditional medicine plus a vibrant and engaged approach to holistic health can do for you, either contact Dr. Bruno or book an appointment online.
Note: Material on this web site is not intended to replace your treatment or care provided by an MD. It is for educational/entertainment purposes only. A TCM practitioner in Texas identifies syndrome patterns but does not diagnose illness. Always consult your primary care doctor for health concerns.