“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing… Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.”
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
My anxiety barometer is rising as my body and soul signal that the holidays are fast approaching. Flashbacks from years past–angry baking, endless wrapping, sweaty shopping–are haunting me. Despite all I have learned about striving to harvest each moment’s joy, we all know the holidays are a test to any spirit.
It got so bad one year that my memories of it more closely resemble Halloween than Christmas, as my manic effort to perfect my family’s holiday experience turned into a sort of horror movie. There was a “Santa Brunch” taking place at our town’s country club and I stuffed my two daughters into the reds and greens of fancy, uncomfortable holiday garb and hurried us off. My girls in the backseat, I sped the snowy roads, racing to make it in time for our reservation.
We hurried from the car, bustled through the doors, rushed to get our coats and hats off and onto hangers, only to wait in a long and winding buffet line. I had the girls stuffing down their eggs and French toast, intent on getting them on Santa’s lap for pictures and gifts.
We had barely wiped our faces clean before pushing through to this next line and my girls were growing restless. But it had to get done–what’s a “perfect holiday experience” without pictures to prove that it happened?
After that, we stood in another line for face-painting. Then yet another for balloon animals. For two little girls in itchy dresses (and a mom in the wrong shoes), all this waiting was hardly worth the reward. When we finally sat down again, I couldn’t get my mimosa down fast enough. I wiped the sweat from my forehead (ordered a second drink) and thought to myself, “This is not fun at all.”
Intent as I was on “enjoying” Santa’s brunch, I had hurried us through all of it and was present for none of it. Strangers at the brunch were greeted with my put-on smile and my daughters received only the leftovers–curt answers and tired eyes. I lay in bed that night replaying the day’s scenes and realized how disconnected I had become. I prayed for guidance.
Ultimately, the experience became my guide. Oprah has her “Aha Moments” and I have my “Santa Brunch” moment. I am even grateful for it now. Every time I feel my body sweating in that particular way–the anxiety barometer rising–it is a signal that I need to breathe and bring myself back to the present. It’s a lesson that has taken years to stick and the cultivation of yoga and meditation practices have been integral parts of this for me.
Even though I’ve learned to stay more present, I am aware that it takes constant practice–we are always just a “Santa Brunch” away from losing ourselves.
When the sweaty forehead returns and the fake smile leaves my face sore, I know it’s time to find my way back. I then hit the yoga mat or wrap my fingers around a warm mug of tea or hug my girls and pay special attention to the warmth and weight of their chins on my shoulder.
When you find your barometer rising in these next months, try to take these simple pleasures and use them to reconnect to the present.
When your feet ache from waiting in lines and you realize that none of this feels fun, let yourself sit down for a second.
Give yourself a moment’s rest. All that waiting, all those lines, all the things of “after” and “next” are shadows cast upon the now. Buy yourself a cup of cocoa with extra whip cream.
Take a few minutes to burn a scented candle and listen to “Silent Night.” Look into your children’s eyes the moment you light your Christmas tree–it might just be the “perfect holiday experience.”
Shelley Cooper is a clinical psychotherapist, certified personal trainer, certified yoga instructor and founder of Yoga Core Fitness LLC. She works with a diverse group of clients and therapy formats with a concentration in mind-body integration. Her physical training and yoga philosophies are based on cultivating self care, confidence and mindfulness. Her clinical specialties include treatment of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, stress management and in the adjustment issues of adolescents and women. Her office is located in Wilton, CT and includes a 2300 square foot fitness studio where Shelley provides personal training for clients and facilitates private and group yoga classes.
Shelley received a BA in Psychology from Salve Regina in 1995 and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a specialization in children and families from Fordham University in 2000. She studied Exercise Physiology at the National Personal Training Institute. She is a mother of two and has been working in the wellness field for over fifteen years.