Breathing Through the Holidays

Breathing Through the Holidays

By Brenda Marshall, EdD, APN, ANEF, FAANP

Holidays can be the best of times or the worst of times, depending on each person’s individual experience. Yes, I am referring to that time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day — and for some of us, Valentine’s Day is also included. Somewhere, somehow, the yearly recurrence of this holiday time can bring out our best and worst selves. What is amazing is that we know it is going to happen, and yet every year, we set ourselves up for disappointment. The holiday season brings with it an expectation of great family love, gatherings of friends, exchanging gifts and eating until we fall into a food coma. Then making resolutions that add enormous stress — accentuating what we didn’t accomplish last year and forcing us to promise to try harder this year.

What if enjoying the holiday season is not about trying harder? What if it is not about going into debt to demonstrate how much we care about each other? What if our families will never be like the happy ones on TV — and that’s okay? What if our past holiday traditions were not something to smile about? What if November through February were just months in which we loved ourselves, we paid attention to what makes us happy and healthy and we let go of some of the stress and unattainable expectations that are relentlessly marketed to us 24/7 starting after Halloween? What if we started some new holiday traditions?

In truth, we are emerging from some of the most difficult times any of us have ever endured — from COVID-19, to losing loved ones and experiencing a level of loneliness and fear previously only imagined in horror stories. We are wondering if we are safe in our cities, towns and homes; forgetting how to love someone who has different political views; and worrying about where the money will come from for our children’s education, to pay our bills and for our retirement.

Breathe. Take a moment and breathe. Each of the holidays that erupt during these colder months have deeper stories behind them — stories of light, life, strength and perseverance. Some may be stories of forgiveness — not only for others, but also for ourselves. They may be stories of how people did not give in to the difficulties of their times, but rather came together to celebrate life in the moment —to breathe, to be and to accept that although life may not be perfect, it is good.

There are some things we can all remember to do that can help raise our spirits and remind us that, just as the days grow shorter and colder, before we know it, they will be getting longer and warmer.

We can take time to be kind to ourselves and to the people we care about. No matter what celebration you partake in, let moderation be your guide. If you belong to a group who you can gather, sing, laugh and clean up with — do those things together. If you don’t belong to a group yet, reach out to a friend and spend time pampering yourself. You deserve to be happy. If sadness has become your companion lately, reach out for help — seeking help is a sign of enormous character strength. This holiday season, consider seeing your nurse practitioner or other health provider to support your mental or physical well-being.

Create new holidays and new traditions, and remember, you are not alone. There is a world waiting to know you. It all starts with a nice, deep breath. I wish you lovely moments of happiness during this season and health in the new year.

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