The Freedom Experiment

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Do you get Triggered around the Holidays? 11 tips for a Happier Christmas


Holiday time.

It's time for family, traditions, food, happiness, perfection, coziness, warmth, love. The most wonderful time of the year!

...If you're lucky.

For most of us – I believe it's trigger time.

It's amazing how much stuff that comes up around Christmas. Family issues, food and weight issues, drama, loneliness, broken dreams and unexplainable sadness. Maybe you have lost someone dear to you. Maybe you don't have family. Maybe you're uninvited.

We all have our challenges around Christmas and I don't think I'm alone feeling this way.

Which is why I've run away from Christmas this year. I am still in Los Angeles – and although I will be joining my family in Thailand for new years – I have quite deliberately bailed out on Christmas. Let me explain.

This Christmas will be my first Christmas as single in 8 years. It will be the the first Christmas in a long time that I'm not expecting a gift from him under the tree. It will be the first Christmas I don't watch Disney on Christmas eve anymore (because it's his favourite – not mine). And quite frankly, I don't really know how to deal with a Christmas without him in a normal setting. The emptiness would just be too much to handle.

And then there's everything else. You know, every single year I fall into the same trap. I expect this Christmas to be perfect. I expect the family gathering to be lovely and argument-free, I expect to feel amazing, I expect to give gifts people love and I expect to receive something I'm excited about. I expect to feel relaxed and calm and nostalgic – in the good way.

And then of course it all goes wrong. We argue over something stupid on Christmas eve. I eat too much candy and panic about my weight. The gifts I thought people would love are met with a polite "thank you" and I end up with socks and gift cards and money. And on Christmas eve I go to bed with a hole in my heart. Because I just wished things were different. Not perfect. Just different.

Sounds familiar?

Well, if you (like me) struggle with the holiday – here are my tips for a stress free and joyful holiday celebration:


How to have a Happy Holiday


Take time out

Holiday season can be intensive, especially if you are staying with family that you no longer live with. Make sure you get some breathing space by either taking some quiet time in a separate room, volunteer to pick up something from the store  – or just declare that you need some me-time and head to the nearest coffee shop for a few hours. Alone time will help keep you centered and not too involved in any drama or action that might take place.

Stay in your business

One of the amazing books I have read lately is Loving What Is by Byron Katie. I recently had the opportunity to attend one of her workshops, and I'm so amazed. Her work is so powerful! One of Byron Katie's key concepts is that there are three different sorts of business: My business, your business and God's business. My business is everything that goes on inside me. Like for instance what I think about a Christmas gift I was given – that's my business. Your business is everything that goes on in other people's minds. A good example here is what other people might think about how you received the present you were given. And God's business is everything that we can't control – like opening a present and realize you've received an item that is faulty from the factory.

The only business you should stay in, according to Byron Katie, is your own business. Don't care about what other people think – care about what you think. Don't care about blaming others, wondering why and thinking about what if's – care about how you feel about the situation that is.

Create your own meaningful rituals and traditions

If your family's traditions are not working for you – or if you feel like you are missing something – create your own traditions! This works well if you are celebrating with somebody else than you normally do too (like your spouse's family). Take responsibility over your own traditions! If you don't like traditional carols – make sure you play some Sufjan Stevens too. If you're not comfortable with lots of candy – bring in your favourite fruit. If you can't have a happy Christmas without watching Cinderella, Love Actually or A Christmas Carol – bring it on!

Consider going alternative

If Christmas just ain't working for you – consider to not celebrate this year. Just think through your decision wisely, you might experience some feelings coming up even though this is your decision. A good option is to volunteer or spend the day with friends who don't celebrate. Another option is to go away for Christmas. Whatever you choose, make sure you plan carefully. If you struggle with feelings of loneliness or grief – it can be wise to avoid spending the day alone.

Be gentle with yourself

Part of being gentle is to not set too high expectations for yourself. It is okay to eat unhealthy for a few days a year. It is okay if you get angry, irritated or sad. What makes the difference is how you choose to act on the feelings that come up. A good tip is to stay away from extremes – don't expect to completely stay off sugar, be polite to everybody and make everybody happy – all at once.

Stay mindful

The best way to enjoy the holiday spirit is to enjoy it right there and then. Breathe in the scents of Christmas – the tree, the pine cones and the cookies. Taste the food you eat, and take your time to savour the look of the decorations and the texture of the wrapping paper. Feast on the look of your beautiful family and feel the warmth and softness of a hug, a smile, a compliment. Living in the now takes away a lot of the stress you might experience around the holidays – the burdens of the past and the fear of disappointment in the future. If you find yourself overwhelmed by the past or the future – always know that you can return to yourself by focusing on your breath.

Keep reminders of who you really are

When we go back to our parents' house – or the town where we grew up – it is so easy to fall back into the role of who you used to be back then. You go back into child's role, or the lonely girl role, or the "I can never do anything right"-role. Or any other role you used to take on as a child. I don't think I need to explain why this can cause a lot of internal stress, confusion and trouble!

A good way to combat this is to bring along some reminders of who you really are – now. Take something significant from your current life – like a vision board, a journal, something that symbolizes a big achievement or something that will remind you of the people who are currently important in your life – like friends or a boyfriend. Reminding yourself of who you are – now – will help you stay present, focused and calm.

Decide to bury the battle axe

Forgiveness is a choice. It might not feel that way, at first, but you actually have the power to say to yourself and others –I forgive. And mean it! Let forgiveness be the gift you give to yourself this Christmas.

Even if you are not ready to fully forgive (which is okay – as long as it's your choice) – I suggest that you bury the battle axe for the holiday time. You can even tell the other person something along the lines of "I believe in a peaceful holiday. I haven't forgiven you yet, but I'm willing to let this argument go for this holiday period."

Nourish yourself

Especially if you struggle with food and nutrition – but important for everybody – make sure you nourish yourself this Christmas. This means getting your proper serve of greens, even when you feel stuffed with cookies and sweets. Another way to keep yourself nourished during a stressful time is to do yoga or meditation in the morning (or evening). I can also recommend hot baths, long showers, slow walks and curling up with a novel. Make sure you do something that nourishes YOU.

Set boundaries

Boundaries are always important, but they are especially important when you are going through an intense period of holiday parties, family gatherings and when you're a guest in someone's house. Boundaries are both physical and emotional – and it can mean anything from not letting uncle weird and drunk get too close to your physical space, not having another serving of grandma's cookies even though she insists and not taking sides in your sister's argument with your parents.

A good, intentional, way of setting boundaries is to sit down in a comfortable chair. Pay attention to your body. Feel your feet, your fingers, the top of your head. Imagine there's a shield of light surrounding you - a few inces away from your skin. You can make this circle of light as big or as small as you like. Then take a look at what's inside of this space. Is it anything on the inside that is not yours? Something physical? An emotion? A worry? Set an intention of only letting things come in to your circle if you invite it in. You are in charge of this space, these areyour boundaries.

Be curious

 I truly believe that curiosity will be family survival super-power number one. Instead of letting them push all your buttons (because they will, eventually!), be curious. Why did your sister get angry at you? Why do you all pretend like there are no problems among you? Why do you take it on as your responsibility to make sure everybody is happy? Why do your mum always work so hard with the cooking that she forgets to ask you how you are? Curiosity will lead you down the path of compassion, understanding and love.


How do you really feel about this holiday? And how do you plan to handle it?