5 Things to Simplify this Holiday Season

Trying to navigate the Holiday Season with celiac disease can be a very tricky and exhausting undertaking. My goal this year is to bring the simplicity that I approach the other months of the year with to this time of year so that I’m not ready to collapse in January, having over-invested in powering through the holidays.

So without a lot of fuss today, I want to present to you five things that we can simplify that will bring more joy and healing to our holidays.

1. Food

It makes sense for me to lead with this topic for a few reasons: it’s a constant source of concern for those of us with celiac disease, particularly when we’re eating with others, and that tends to increase around this time of year. In fact, the holidays often seem to revolve around food – family and cultural traditions often center on it, events feature lavish meals or feasts of treats and candies that we might easily forego the rest of the year. And of course eating is necessary for our survival; food is the stuff that nourishes our body and keeps us going. It’s a topic worth visiting and simplifying for that reason alone.

My method of keeping food simple around the holidays is not to change the day to day pattern of what I’m doing with my meals. I continue to plan my meals for the week ahead, I continue to base them on healthy greens and proteins, and I just add in my favorite Christmas treats as I make them. I treat holiday parties the same as I do any other gathering throughout the year: I take my own food with me that I know is safe and I focus on the conversations and experience that particular event offers.

The principle for me is as follows: if I can keep nourishing my body well, it will help me to feel my very best during the holidays when I tend to be running around more than I am the rest of the year. Feeling better will allow me to connect better with others and to focus on and enjoy the experiences that this season brings.

2. Communication

This tends to be the time of year that people slow down and take stock of their relationships. We think about people we miss because we’ve lost them to death, a big move, or because for any number of reasons the relationship has wilted away. Often during the holidays we especially crave connection, and it can be a good time to renew, repair and heal relationships that need some work. It is also a good time to communicate to our friends, family and other loved ones just how much they add to our lives and how grateful we are for them.

Unfortunately we often end up leaving those things unsaid, neglect to pursue relationships that we have lost that we really miss, and instead suffer silently in loneliness. We might buy into the idea that in order to communicate our love for those we value, we need to give extravagant gifts that cost too much and add stress instead of connection to our lives. Relationships are inherently complicated, and then we go and complicate things even further with the ways that we do (or don’t!) communicate.

Which is why it’s so important to simplify where we can. We may not be able to control the other party’s responses to our reaching out, but there is so much healing and connection available to us by just taking that simple step of opening our hearts and expressing what is in them. Even if the other party never responds to us, we can heal our heart and strengthen our connection with the best parts of ourselves, which is always worthwhile. And if we are reaching out to someone with whom we already have a good and close relationship, it is incredibly enriching to everyone to express our deep love and gratitude for their role in our lives. That can bring a greater depth to our connectedness and all the healing benefits that come with it.

One more suggestion for communicating during the holidays: if you still send out the ubiquitous humble-brag Christmas letter, consider dropping the tradition in favor of keeping it simple by sharing an experience that you had with that person that enriched your life. It does a better job of fostering real connection and spreading your warmth and love.

3. Giving

As I mentioned briefly above, the giving part of Christmas can easily become an incredibly consuming and stressful part. We worry about the perfect gift; we worry about what we are trying to communicate through our gifts; we worry about getting them all purchased and sent on time…

I love the concept that many minimalists talk about this time of year of gifting experiences instead of physical objects. Our family is working on moving towards experiences over things. I will admit, I struggle with this one for the kids; I worry about what they will think and how they will feel if there are no brightly wrapped boxes under the tree on Christmas morning! It is definitely a process, but already I’m feeling the benefits that come from focusing on our time together and sharing meaningful experiences. This year I put together an experience advent calendar full of simple ways for our family to slow down and spend some quality time together every day throughout the holidays. It helps us to keep our focus on what is most important: our relationships and the memories that we enjoy.

Choose something that you know the other person loves, and build an experience gift around it. Maybe they have always wanted to learn a particular skill and you could offer to help pay for a series of classes for them. Maybe they love the outdoors and you could take them camping in a beautiful spot that they haven’t yet been to. Maybe they love the opera and you gift them with tickets to their favorite one. There is an endless array of experience gift ideas; it just takes some knowledge of the other person and a little creativity!

4. Scheduling

This can easily become the most difficult to manage part of the holiday season, which is why I’m including it here. Especially for people who deal with a chronic disease, it’s so important not to overdo things and to continually be aware of what you need in any moment.

I tend to schedule based on my most important values; it allows me to keep my schedule less cluttered, and it ensures that the important things are happening. For me the most important things are relationships, health and personal development. So what that means, practically-speaking, is that I will prioritize engagements that allow me to spend time with people I love and to nurture those connections. It means that I won’t schedule so much into a day that I cannot eat properly. If something that I really want to do interferes with cooking or a mealtime, I am sure to have a sound plan to make sure that eating properly doesn’t fall by the wayside. It also means that I make time in my days to work on the skills that I’m currently developing. Anything that doesn’t relate to one of those three areas takes a backseat and most likely won’t make it onto my schedule at all.

Keep it simple by spending some time really figuring out what your core values are and identify how they influence your schedule. Take a look at your schedule and ask yourself if what you see on there is in line with those values. Consider removing engagements that don’t reflect the values that are most important to you.

5. Self-care

In a sense, this entire post is related to self-care, but I think it’s good to address it specifically. This is another one of those topics that either seems so obvious that it slides under the radar, or it gets shoved out of the way in favor of other more exciting engagements. That is a good recipe for burnout over the holidays and starting off the New Year with a fraction of the energy that you might actually prefer to bring to it.

Self-care doesn’t need to be huge or time-consuming, although it can also be very nice to spend a good chunk of time getting a massage or enjoying something else that you find feeds your soul. Keeping your self-care simple, however, can make it much easier to be sure that you fit it in, even amidst the holiday bustle.

Some ideas to get you started on planning your self-care routine:

  • Consider adding a few minutes of meditation to your morning, or maybe in the afternoon when the stress is piling up and you need a break.
  • Never leave the house without a healthy snack packed in your purse or car.
  • If you are waiting for an appointment, plan ahead to spend that time reading a really good book. I recently rediscovered the pleasure of reading fiction just for fun, and was reminded of how nourishing it can be for the mind and soul. We get so much information overload these days that it can be incredibly refreshing to lose yourself in the pleasure of a good story.
  • Listen to your favorite Christmas music. Or maybe you don’t like Christmas music. If not, just listen to whatever renews and energizes you.
  • Unwind in a relaxing bath at the end of the day.

There are so many more suggestions I could make for good self-care activities, but the criteria is simple: something that nourishes your soul and your physical well-being that brings you joy. Schedule these moments into your day so that they don’t get edged out by other less-important things.

I hope that you will find some suggestions of value to you in this post; please comment and tell me what you do this time of year to keep things simple and joyful!

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