I’m usually a Deck the Halls, Walking in a Winter Wonderland type of girl. But this year I’m more of a Christmas Wrapping type of girl–you know that song that begins with “Bah humbug, now that’s too strong! ‘Cause it is my favorite holiday but all this year’s been a busy blur, don’t think I have the energy….Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, but I think I’ll miss this one this year!” Yeah, that’s where my heart has been residing this winter, how about you? Have you been feeling the winter blues lately? If so, read on as I share five tips that have helped me make peace with this winter season and hopefully they can give your mood a little boost or simply a little peace with where you’re at right now. You’re not alone.
#1) Netflix, Popcorn and Anything Chocolate Peppermint
Those of you who know me well know that my old 35″ TV screen isn’t exactly a visual entertaining paradise. But lately I’ve found myself in front of that TV with a bowl of popcorn, chew toys for Jasper, a cup of something comforting along with a sweet treat for my soul and a remote control full of possibilities. In the past few weeks I think I’ve seen every Netflix Christmas Romance original: the Holidate, A Castle for Christmas, Holiday in the Wild, and even LoveHard (where they have the great debate over if Die Hard is really a Christmas movie…your input is welcome in the comments below!). I’ve also watched some traditional Christmas romance movie greats like The Holiday and It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m going to be totally real and admit that these movies allow me to escape from my world into the fantastical lives that only exist in the realm of fiction, and for a few moments I’m swept away from my blues. I realize that not everyone has the gift of an empty house this time of the year (be careful what you wish for!), but I firmly believe that we can all take part in this escapism if just for a half hour locked away in your room (be sure you escape with the necessary cup of good cheer, popcorn and chocolate peppermint). And if romantic Christmas Hallmark-esque movies aren’t your thing, you’re not alone. Friends of mine (who are concerned about my Christmas romance movie binge) have suggested stand-up comedy like Aly Wong or Brian Regan on Netflix or shows like the Great British Baking Show or any Holiday baking competition–those always bring me a little holiday cheer! And if you can’t get through it all in one sitting, that’s ok. It’ll be there the next day too. The point is to allow yourself to do NOTHING but be entertained for a few minutes to a few hours. Let your thinking brain and your bustling body unwind. It’s ok to rest this holiday season. Allow Netflix to show you the way!
Tip #2) Sing the blues away
I just recently wrote about the therapeutic Karaoke session I had with my friends last Tuesday night, but it’s worth another mention. Let me start by saying that in Boise we have a really cool Karaoke venue called the Voice Box where you can reserve a private room ($12 Tuesdays) that’s complete with a disco ball, lights and an endless list of singing options. What I realized while I was there with my two girlfriends last week was that when we allow ourselves to sing out they lyrics to well loved songs, something powerful escapes (and I’m not talking about a high C note…in fact, hitting the notes is just a bonus, this is about emotion and feeling, not perfection and performing). I can only imagine how musicians feel at a live concert based on how I felt after singing Air Supply’s “Making Love out of Nothing at All” in a spontaneous duet with my dear friend. In case you forgot, that song is pure drama all the way through. And it felt so so good to sing it with someone who recognized the powerful emotion of the song in the same way I do! We weren’t concerned about our pitch or what anyone else was thinking about our performance (because there was just one more friend there, who’s a bit younger and was the lucky enough to get her first introduction to Air Supply that night). At any rate, the bottom line here is that it feels damn good to sing a song that speaks to your soul. Music releases feelings that our thinking brains cannot comprehend. A friend of mine gave me a t-shirt that says “when words fail, music speaks” and that is so true. I cannot recommend a private karaoke room enough, but if you don’t have a private karaoke room near where you live, remember these awesome venues for singing unabashedly aloud: the shower, the car, in front of any mirror with a hairbrush, and if you’re bold enough, while taking a walk. I’ve recently started to sing aloud on my walks around the neighborhood with Jasper. With my earbuds in, I sound amazing! (no passerby has confirmed that I actually sound amazing, however). There’s something beautifully powerful in music that I still cannot quite put into words; it’s something that you simply feel. So tip #2 is to emote a little with music and see if your soul feels a little lighter afterwards. ]
“The very best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” –Elf
#3) Hindsight is 2021
For the past 15 years my family has hosted a New Year’s Eve bash called the Jammy Jam. It’s a whole family celebration where guests arrive in their PJs (of course there’s a best of prize) and while we await the clock to strike midnight we participate in hourly competitions and activities. At the end of the night, guests leave with a CD compilation of songs that hold significance to our family for that year and this music is the soundtrack to our midnight dance party. Compiling our Jammy Jam playlist has always served as an intentional way to revisit the events of the previous year: concerts we attended, life events that happened, hit songs that made it to the top of our Spotify charts, musicians who passed on, etc. We included it all in the Jammy Jam playlist and we now have 15 years of memories through music. This year, however, there will be no Jammy Jam. It just doesn’t feel right; too much has changed and the intention behind the party is no longer there. So instead, this year my oldest son (who is currently living away at a therapeutic boarding school) threw out a challenge to our family and I’m going to offer you that same challenge right now. Ozzie’s challenge: Create a 12-song playlist that chronicles your year, one song per month. That’s it. Think back to January 2021: what was happening in your world? What song were you listening to? What memories come up? You can pick any song, from any year and any artist. There’s no right or wrong pick, just one song that ties you to your memory of last January, February, March, etc. You may be wondering how this can help you through the winter blues if your January was as rough as mine was. What I’ve come to understand is that the events of the past serve as reminders of what we’ve been through, what we’ve overcome, what we’ve survived, what we’ve learned. And when you can look back in hindsight and see your growth, that deserves to be honored, don’t you think? After Christmas I’ll be sharing my complete playlist here (called Hindsight is 2021) and the reasons why I chose each song. If you accept Ozzie’s challenge, I would recommend taking it one step further and sharing your playlist with your family members, or a close friend. Walk through the song choices and their meanings together, and listen to each other’s stories. It’s my hope that it will bring you closer to the person you share it with and that the process will highlight the powerful lessons of this year.
#4) Rituals of self-care
This next tip falls under the category of Captain Obvious, with the sub-category of easier said than done. I’m talking about making time to take care of yourself in the midst of all the extra activities that are required at this time of year. Particularly for women, December is a fatiguing month due to demands that are above and beyond the norm of our already overfilled lives: Christmas shopping, Christmas cards, school events, Christmas parties, prepping the house for guests and on and on. It is so easy for our tank to become depleted, which brings on feelings of exhaustion and resentment instead of the tidings of comfort and joy. And if I were to guess, I don’t think there’s one woman out there who intentionally tries to create an atmosphere of resentment at the holidays, but that’s often what happens when Mamma doesn’t take care of herself. I speak from experience. When I was talking with my therapist last week (my real therapist, not the karaoke bar), he asked me to consider the positive and negative stressors in my life. I found this question interesting because I have always considered ALL stressors to be negative, but when I thought about it, that’s not the case. Take Jasper for example. My 4-month old puppy is exasperating and requires so much time and attention, but he is so full of love and joy that the benefits he brings into my life outweighs the moments of stress. At the end of the day, I enjoy the time that I’m pouring into training him. He’s a positive stressor. My kids and teaching fall into the same category. Paying bills, however, falls into the negative stressor category for me (but that’s another post for another day I suppose). When I think about how I want to spend my precious 24 hours per day during this hectic time of year, I need to choose things that will fill my bucket instead of deplete it. This is different from tip #1, which was more of a permission slip to do nothing and let the worries melt away. Self care is all about making time for the activities that you truly enjoy doing at this time of year; it’s about having a mindset of love and attention for the present moment. Years ago, I used to get tremendous joy from making my own Christmas cards with my Mom and friends up at her mountain Sanctuary. We would make a weekend out of it, and amidst the laughter, camaraderie and great food prepared by my Step Dad, we managed to create the most beautifully unique cards for loved one. This year, however, I just don’t have it in me. First of all, there’s no Sanctuary to go to anymore, and even if there were, it still feels like it would take too much out of me this year. It’s been a rough year and I’m tired. I need to protect my time and sanity, which brings me back to rituals of self care. For me, self care means scheduling time every day to do yoga. I simply feel better physically and mentally when I do. I also prioritize taking walks with Jasper, listening to music, and reading at the end of each day. One of my favorite things to do at this time of year, is sitting down with a cozy blanket, a cup of coffee and my journal and reflecting on all that has been and all that I’m looking forward to in the new year. These are simple things, but they are the rituals that keep me centered. When I’m feeling the winter blues, it’s time to turn towards these cherished acts of self love instead of pushing them aside for “should do’s” and stressors that I simply don’t have the bandwidth for this year. I honestly hope that I’ll be in the spirit to send holiday cards next year, but I never want to send another card out of obligation. I want it to be sent with the intention of the season, which is hope and love. So I hope that you and your family have a blessed time together this Holiday Season and please know that I love you and appreciate your presence in my life more than you know. Just don’t look expectantly in your mailbox for a letter from me this year. In fact, I hope that fact will make you smile, knowing that I’m probably on the yoga mat our singing out loud as I take Jasper for a walk, and I’m taking care of myself this year instead.
#5) Have something to look forward to
The last tip can be something big or small; what matters here is that you intentionally put something on your calendar to look forward to. It could be lunch with a friend, a yoga class, theater, concert or movie tickets, a Zoom call with friends (yes, there’s still a place for that) or a date night with yourself and a bowl of popcorn, dark chocolate covered peppermint Joe Joe’s and some silly rom-com on Netflix. Perhaps your calendar is packed and the idea of putting one more thing on your calendar stresses you out, but ask yourself, are those events things you’re looking forward to? And if not, do you have to attend? Seriously, do you? Says who???? (special shout out to Bad Moms Christmas!) This isn’t about doing, it’s about enjoying. I have found that looking forward to a trip or a visit with a friend can bring me as much joy as the trip or the visit themselves. Look at what you have going on from today to December 31. What are you excited about? For me, I get the best Christmas gift ever this year–my oldest son has earned the privilege of coming home for a 10-day family visit! That’s right, this Christmas I’ll have five magical nights with all three kids under the roof of my new home. I really don’t care about the gifts this year, all my attention and love is being directed into the feeling that I want to create during this first home visit. Which means that I’ll be leaning into all the tips from above. We’ll be watching movies together, and singing together (in fact, Santa is brining Ozzie a gift card to the Voice Box with me and his siblings this Christmas). We’ll be listening to each other’s playlists, beginning on our road trip home from Utah. And we’ll all need to carve out time to tend to our own self-care, which will look different for each of us, but will be necessary for all of us. I could not be more excited than to have my son home for Christmas. But then he’ll go back and finish out his senior year far away again, and the kids will go to their dads and I’ll be alone again. So I know that I have to get something on my calendar between the week of December 26-31 to keep me afloat. I need to have something to look forward to. I’ve been thinking about how I can re-work my favorite rituals of the Jammy Jam into a ladies lunch or something like that, but haven’t got it all figured out just yet. What’s essential is putting that date on the calendar (just like it’s important to schedule in self care), because if we don’t, it’s easy to let the days pass by into a series of unintentional moments, and I have no interest in living that way. So what are you looking forward to in these next few weeks? What can you add in and maybe take away from your winter calendar?
Final thoughts for the final week before Christmas
Remember my song for this winter? Christmas Wrapping by the waitresses. Even though it’s been a holiday hit since my childhood, I never really listened to the lyrics until this year, and here’s what astounded me: it has a happy ending! Yup, in the end love wins. I’ve included it here for your to enjoy and stick it out to the end when the lyrics change to “Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, I couldn’t miss this one this year!” And that’s my hope for you as we move into the final days leading up to Christmas: I hope that you will take time to recharge your batteries, to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us this time of year, to sing through it and all about it, to ruminate on the good things in life and most of all, to thank the winter darkness for holding us in a tight embrace until the light emerges again. Namaste. And Merry Christmas.