Serenity shortcuts for the holidays

To each person you focus on, say or think something like, “I wish you happy holidays,” or “I hope you find some joy during this season.”

by Ashley Davis Bush — 

Oh, the hustle and bustle of the holidays — the music, the lights, the festivities. It is the most wonderful time of the year. Or is it? Is it not also the busiest, most harried and possibly the most stressful time?

Well, not this year. Six simple shortcuts will help you to chill out, open your heart, cultivate gratitude and remind you what the season is really about. These are well-being exercises that are triggered by ordinary daily events and activities. These easy tools will naturally integrate themselves into your holiday rhythm, creating more space for joy.

Take five

Trigger: Wrapping presents

Tool: Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Hold your breath to the count of five. Exhale through your mouth to the count of at least five (longer is better). Repeat several times.

Purpose: Breath work is universally considered grounding and relaxing. Deep exhalations stimulate calming mechanisms in your body. When you redirect your mind to an awareness of breath, you create a moment of calm in which inner peace can bloom.


Trigger: Feeling overwhelmed by too many visitors, too many parties and too much mayhem with kids in the house

Tool: Rub your hands vigorously together to create heat and friction in your palms. Then cup your hands over your eyes. Let your eyes and face relax. After several seconds (up to a minute) remove your hands, open your eyes and imagine seeing your world afresh, as if you had just returned from a long and difficult journey. Remember that this year is unique, never to be repeated. See the scene around you as the once-in-a-lifetime event that it is.

Purpose: This exercise anchors you in the moment. By visualizing the world this way, you will create perspective and stimulate gratitude.

Remember this

Trigger: Waiting in a check-out line at the mall, being put on hold during catalog shopping or navigating your way through online gift-buying

Tool: Ask out loud, “What do I need to remember?” Listen to your heart for substantial answers like, “I need to remember that I love my husband and I am committed to our relationship,” “I need to remember how lucky I am to have healthy children,” “I need to remember how grateful I am for the gift of life,” “I need to remember that the spirit of the holiday is about giving,” or “I need to remember that this too shall pass.” When the answer comes to you, feel the emotions behind the remembrances and let them flood your body.

Purpose: By focusing on positive emotions and redirecting your thoughts to life’s important priorities, you can easily snap out of stressful thinking patterns.

Who is your mother?

Trigger: The stressed-out cashier at the mall or grocery store

Tool: Look at the person before you and reflect on the question: Who is (or was) your mother? Mentally shrink this person to a small child and imagine her relationship with her mother. Consider whether it was a happy or strained relationship. Imagine that relationship today: full of joys, struggles, expectations and lessons in letting go. Recognize that this person, like you, has a history, a family and a mother (whom she is still connected to, even if her mother has passed away). Breathe in the relationship between this stranger and her mother, and breathe out compassion to them both.

Purpose: When you connect with the human condition, you get outside of your own little sphere, thus generating compassion. You dissolve the barriers between yourself and others, and wake up to your interconnectedness.


Trigger: Coming home at the end of the day — perhaps after work or holiday shopping — before you enter into the sanctuary of home Tool: Before you walk through the door, spend a moment shaking down your body, as if you are shaking off water. Shake your right leg and foot, then your left leg and foot. Shake your right arm and hand, and shake your left arm and hand. Gently shake your head and let your shoulders relax. Finish with a little twist of your torso to shake off any remaining tension. Finally, take a deep breath and heave a long hearty sigh (a prolonged exhalation).

Purpose: Relaxing your limbs sends a ripple effect of calm through your body. When you clear or shake off energy from a hectic outing, you restore yourself to a place of calm so that you can be present as you transition to home.

Joy to the world

Trigger: Being stuck in holiday traffic

Tool: Take a moment to look at the people in the cars around you. Just like you, they have joys and struggles, hopes and dreams. Just like you, they are planning for holidays with their loved ones. To each person you focus on, say or think something like, “I wish you happy holidays,” or “I hope you find some joy during this season.”

Purpose: Spreading positive and loving energy out into the world makes you feel better inside. By opening your heart and creating momentum for compassion and goodwill, you break out of your own world and broaden your connection to something more. Weave these simple shortcuts into your days this season and you will go from “humbug” to “ho ho ho” in no time flat. Guaranteed, this year will be your most peaceful holiday ever.

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in southern New Hampshire and a self-help author. Her most recent book is Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity.


Reprinted from AZNetNews, Volume 30, Number 6, Dec/Jan 2012.

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