It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. No, not because there’s snow on the ground. But because there’s hordes of uber-stressed people anxiously roaming shopping malls trying to find the perfect gifts while simultaneously remaining six feet apart. Christmas is a mental health nuisance every year, but 2020 is taking it to an entirely different level with the pandemic forcing statewide social distancing and all-time high unemployment. Beth Kempton has a simple solution: remain calm. While that may be easier said than done, the author of Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A little book of festive joy, has a bag full of tips on how to chill this holiday. She recently spoke to WellWell to give us a few of them, while discussing why Christmas should always be a calm experience.
What’re some mistakes people make that often lead to a chaotic holiday season? What tools can they use to help avoid these to create a calmer more enjoyable experience?
I think one of the reasons that the holiday season is so stressful is that people want to make it perfect for everyone. This intention comes from a good place but it is an impossible task, because we all have different views of what the perfect Christmas should be like. Also, there are so many factors at play at this time of year, stresses people have been carrying all year, seasonal illness, worries about money or about an unknown future and so on that are out of our control.
Instead of trying to create the perfect Christmas, how about thinking what kind of Christmas you want and need this year and focus on that. For example, you might want a quiet Christmas, or a meaningful Christmas, or an inexpensive but magical Christmas, or simply a calm Christmas. You can then use that as a filter for all the decisions you make about the festive season, from invitations you send and accept, or decline, to what you spend your money on, and to where you put your energy and attention.
What is the importance and benefit of slowing down, not only during the holidays but throughout daily life?
Life is short and precious, and when we are busy all the time, we miss the moment-to-moment experience of it. Slowing down, and practicing mindfulness during the holiday season, can be a real tonic, as well as reconnecting us to the magic of the season. At its most simple, mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention to the present moment and focusing on the breath is a powerful way to connect to that present moment.
What’re some practical methods to connect?
There are many ways we can employ mindfulness techniques over the holidays, from taking a walk in nature and being aware of our senses and the experience of the season, to giving our full attention to cooking and preparing food with love; from keeping up our yoga and meditation classes to setting a mindfulness prompt, such as taking three deep breaths every time we use our favorite mug. Additionally, minimizing screen time and giving our full attention to conversation can heighten a sense of connection.
You’ve mentioned that Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year is at its core about belonging, connection and self-care. How can focus on these principals translate to a calmer Christmas?
As the pandemic stripped away so much of what we had taken for granted, job security, our children attending school, catch ups with friends in cafes and so on, it taught so many of us what really matters. We realized how much we need and care for other people, and the importance of our health came into stark focus. Focusing on belonging and connection, even if we cannot gather with loved ones, can make it possible for us to share the festivities even at a distance.
For example, I cannot share Christmas with my parents this year, so I sent them a box full of small gifts, simple things, many of them made by my children. Each gift had a tag featuring a photo of my children and a time stamp, showing at what time on Christmas Day they can open that gift. So even though we can’t physically be together on the day, we will be sharing the whole day with them through the box of timed gifts. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get creative with how you remind those you love that you really appreciate them.
You trained in Tokyo as a Reiki Master, what physical and mental advantages has the form afforded you? How have you been able to utilize these advantages during the holidays and in quarantine?
I have found it to be a powerful reminder of the infinite potentiality of human beings, when we really tune in to the universe, and of the fact that we are part of nature, not separate to it. There are also lovely daily practices in reiki which are grounding and centering. I love the five principles of Usui Reiki, which are as follows in my own translation; Just for today, Don’t be angry, Don’t worry, Be grateful, Work hard, and Be kind to others.
All these principles are gentle, simple reminders but perhaps the most important is the first line; Just for today. When times are challenging, it can help to shrink the vast expanse of the future back to today, and only today. It makes things seem a lot more doable. We can cope with almost anything ‘just for today’.
On your podcast, the Calm Christmas Podcast, you mention that during a hectic 2020, Christmas is one of the few constants we can trust in. Why is the holiday even more significant this year than ever and what’re some ways people can look to ensure they’re getting the most out of its benefits?
2020 has been a succession of unexpected changes, and we have been battered from all directions. Christmas can be a beacon of hope and connection in the darkness of winter at the end of this long and challenging year. I think the simplest way to ensure it is nourishing, restorative and memorable is to keep it simple, and be intentional about what kind of holiday season they want and need this year.
About Beth Kempton
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