Five Ways to Turn Down the Volume on the Holiday Noise

by Janet Arnold-Grych

Briskly jogging through the aisles of my local sprawling building-supplies store recently, I was mildly amused and mostly horrified to come upon a full winter wonderland of holiday decorations on display. It was mid-October. The trees adjacent to the parking lot hadn’t even turned color.

While I love the whole cookies-family-hot-chocolate-goodwill treats of year-end, those joys are immediately coupled with the more stressful activities of sending holiday cards, figuring out gifts (seriously, what to get the parents?), planning big dinners, finishing up the never-ending basement clean-up—the usual litany of well-worn holiday stressors. In that store aisle, surrounded by twinkling lights and fake pines, I felt the weight of the holiday and of the fact that I was already behind in preparing for it.

I have friends who’ve assumed a simpler approach to the holidays—no traveling, no cards, no gifts for non-family members, etc. That’s not for me. I actually like the decorations and detail. I like trying to think of just the right gift. It’s the volume and the freneticism of it all that chips away at my cheer. To enjoy the holiday, rather than feeling afflicted by its trappings, I turn down the volume on the caroling, so to speak, so I can savor it all even more.

Do one thing at a time.
The holidays do not naturally lend themselves to the one-thing-at-a-time rule. But paying attention on purpose can streamline the amount of information processed, sharpen focus, and lessen the busyness of the mind. The switch to do that is always accessible, because we are always breathing. “The breath is one of the most powerful resources we have,” says Bhavani Lorraine Nelson, a senior Kripalu teacher who leads programs and Kripalu R&R workshops on meditation, mindfulness, stress reduction, and the power of voice. “There are breath techniques that can soothe your nervous system right in the midst of a hectic moment, and those that can give you more energy during an afternoon slump. Just taking a deep breath and sighing it out can move you on to a fresh thought or action.” 

Identify the rituals you value most, and focus on those.
At the end of the day, we don’t remember the flurry of activities we ticked through, we remember the most meaningful moments of the season—watching the movie Elf for the millionth time with the family, baking treats with friends, a nighttime drive to see holiday lights. For the past decade, my family has walked six blocks to a small community lot, purchased a tree, and walked it home—with a lot of laughter every time. Rituals magically allow the peripheral craziness to settle, sort of like the flakes in a snow globe. Prioritize the ones that matter and let go of the ones that don’t, like finding the perfect gift for your neighbor or baking grandma's original fruit cake recipe yet again.

Find quiet—literal, physical quiet.
Whether you do it on your meditation cushion or walking in the woods or creatively doodling or any of a hundred other ways, resetting with silence is tremendously powerful. Carve out time to recalibrate, or the buzz of the season will drown out the calm. “Stay faithful to the practices you've cultivated over the year, whether that’s yoga or journaling or meditation or whatever,” says Bhavani. “Jealously maintain your practice during stressful times. Remember, the length of time you devote to each session is not as important as making the practice rhythmic in your life. Like brushing your teeth, do it every day. If you regularly support your centering practice in the beginning, it will support you when you need it most.”

Give the gift of gratitude.
Years ago, I received a simple handmade bracelet from a friend, along with a note explaining that this holiday, she wanted to thank all the women who had meaningfully impacted her life over the past year. It was such a kind surprise and left me so thankful for my friend and for the people who stand tall in my life. It reminded me, too, that a sincere gesture is so much more important than what it’s wrapped in. Reframing a gift as gratitude, and infusing that into the bracelet or note or cookies, draws focus to the heart, muffling the things that are less important.

Press the de-stress button.
If there’s one thing this season freely offers, it’s the opportunity to be jolly and silly. Wear an elf hat or some sparkly snowman earrings. Give out candy canes. Leave a totally anonymous gift for someone. Join a caroling group. Bhavani says that humming and singing produce more healthy nitric oxide in the body than just breathing or speaking. “The more you sing, the more relaxed you’ll be, while producing endorphins that make you happier and more cheerful (and cheer-full),” she says.

It's easy to put pressure on ourselves to produce an elaborate version of a picture-perfect holiday. But the most important pieces of the season are the most basic: time, gratitude, compassion, joy. Being intentional with our focus and our energy can help us to keep the good stuff and let the rest fall away—regardless of when we officially start the season.    

Janet Arnold-Grych is a yoga teacher and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets.