Picture it – all your family gathered around the impeccably decorated table, laughing and eating the delicious food that everyone helped prepare from recipes that have been a tradition for years. Everyone is filled with gratitude and being kind to one another. No stress, no drama, just the pure joy of being together.
Although that’s how many of us imagine the holiday or wish it could be, the reality is often far different. Even in ideal situations, the holidays are often filled with stress, busyness, and overwhelm. And as we all have experienced at some point in time, this usually leads to less-than-ideal choices and actions. Often by the time we’ve made it through Christmas and the New Year, the result is burnout.
So how can you choose to be intentional with your holiday? And what exactly does it mean to be intentional?
Intentional is defined as being done on purpose; deliberate. When you chose to be intentional, whether it is for the holidays or every day, you are deliberately making choices and taking action based on what is important to you. Once you identify what is important, as long as you stay true to your values with all that you do, you are being intentional.
Stress management is always a key factor in remaining focused and intentional. When you get overwhelmed and flustered because something goes wrong (as it always will - who forgot to set the turkey out to thaw?!), you start reacting rather than responding to the situation. And when in a reaction state, you are more likely to act out of emotion or instinct, and no longer choose your response deliberately. This is often where everything starts to roll downhill.
There are several ways that you can lower stress levels and be more intentional - both before the big day and the day of.
Movement – taking walks, practicing yoga, hiking, exercising, or whatever it is that makes you happy. A good base level of movement helps lower your levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a walk to refocus on your intention.
Gratitude – being thankful for all the good things in your life. It has been shown that having a gratitude practice can improve many areas of your life like improving mental, physical, and emotional health and reducing stress. Try writing down three things every day that you are thankful for, and reflect on them if you find yourself becoming flustered or annoyed.
Stay Centered – when you find yourself worrying or stressing out, you become less aware of the things that are going on around you. This leads to missing out on the very experience that you are trying to enjoy. If this happens, find a quiet spot and take a few deep breaths, focusing on how the air feels going into your lungs and then being fully released. You can remind yourself of what you are grateful for, or look around you and find five things of a specific color in your surroundings. Doing this for a few minutes brings your mind back into focus on the present moment.
Stay hydrated – make sure to drink some water! Often people are so busy preparing for the festivities that they forget to drink water. Even low levels of dehydration can cause cognitive and mood issues, so be sure to drink up!
Set boundaries – say no to the things that don’t align with your values. Of course, other people will have expectations and their own values, but you shouldn’t agree to do things that make you uncomfortable. This can also manifest as being manipulated by family members. You can be kind but firm in your refusal.
Fuel your body – don’t forget to eat! This can look different based on what your normal eating pattern is. While most people stuff themselves at the Thanksgiving table, what does your nourishment look like in the week and hours before dinner? Proper nutrition leading up to the holidays is a great way to help stay calm and balanced.
Eat the pie – (or whatever your favorite treat is) and allow yourself to enjoy every single bite of your sensibly-sized portion! This may not apply if you have specific dietary restrictions or manage chronic illness with diet, but there is something to be said about the mental benefits that the joy of sharing food with family and friends can bring. Sometimes the positive emotional benefits can outweigh any lasting physical harm. If you do follow a specific diet like AIP, SCD, GAPS, keto, or other, make a special recipe that you can eat. That way you can still have the experience and continue to eat in the way that best supports your body.
Above all else, give yourself grace. This time of year is stressful, and the past few years have been incredibly hard. The best thing you can do to enjoy an intentional Thanksgiving is to stay calm and stay in the moment – because we can all use a little more focus on the good things in our lives, and often they are right in front of us.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday week full of love and gratitude.