The winter holidays are after a time of great joy—and stress, too. I use “winter holidays” to include Christmas, New Year’s, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa. Regardless of your religion, though, in the United States you are going to be immersed in the commercial onslaught of Christmas. Some people love this, some hate it, and very few remain impartial. Regardless of your position, we are all going to be bombarded with the message that this year should be the best, most sparkly, and most magical winter holiday. It’s almost enough to get lost in.
There are always so many things we “should” be doing to be good parents, children, friends, co-workers, students, aunts or uncles, grandparents, and lovers. It’s a sneaky way that companies get us to buy the things they’re selling—if we buy them, we will be good. This “should,” however, is tricky. “Shoulds” in general are a red flag, a time to take a deep breath, step back, and examine what’s going on a little more closely. “Shoulds” are never from inside us; they are always messages that come from outside. The “should” might be the voice of a parent, a person you admire, a celebrity, or a person you love.
For example, let’s say you are feeling stressed out and tired but know you “should” be writing Christmas cards. When you hear that “should,” it’s a great to time explore what’s really going on. Maybe your mom always wrote Christmas cards and you feel like you would disappoint her if you don’t. Or maybe you noticed that your best friend did them this year and you don’t want anyone to think you’re lazy, so you “should” be doing them, too. In both of these scenarios, there’s a lot more going on than just Christmas cards. And both are fueled by outside sources. An example of an inside source might be thinking to yourself, “Oh, good, I have a few minutes to write my Christmas cards. I love getting a chance each year to share what’s going on with me with my friends and family.”
It’s also amazing how these “shoulds” can be so intertwined with our identities. We each have an idea of what we want our identity to be, how we want others to see us. What if you’re the friend who doesn’t send Christmas cards? What does that mean about you? Could that be OK? These are the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves when we want to slow down and explore what’s really going on behind the stress and worry.
One way to approach these “shoulds,” our identity, and the holiday season differently is from a mindfulness perspective. Mindfulness, which comes from Buddhism, invites us to focus on what’s going on right now, in this moment. Often, our moments are filled with the past and future. Stress and worry are almost always connected to something that could possibly happen—not what is actually happening right now.
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