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Family Matters

Finally, a Stress-Free Holiday: Six Shortcuts to Your Peace on Earth

November 13th, 2011

By: Ashley Davis Bush

Oh the hustle and bustle of the holidays. The music.  The lights. The festivities.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  Or is it?  Isn’t it also the most busy, most harried, and often the most stressful time of the year?

Well not this season!  These six simple shortcuts will help you chill out, open your heart, cultivate gratitude, and remember what the holidays are really about.  The shortcuts are well-being exercises that are triggered by ordinary daily events.  These easy tools will naturally integrate themselves into your holiday rhythm, creating more space for joy.   

1.    Take Five

Trigger: When you’re wrapping presents

Tool: Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Hold your breath to the count of five. Exhale through your mouth to the count of at least five (longer is even better). Repeat several times.

Purpose: Breath work is universally considered grounding and relaxing. Deep exhalations stimulate calming mechanisms in your body.  When you redirect your mind to an awareness of breath, you create a moment of calm in which inner peace can bloom.

2.  Eyewitness

Trigger: When you’re feeling overwhelmed by too many visitors, too many parties, too much mayhem with kids in the house

Tool: Rub your hands together vigorously to create heat and friction in the palms of your hands. Then cup your hands over your eyes. Let your eyes and face relax under your hands. After several seconds (up to a minute) remove your hands, open your eyes, and imagine seeing your world with a fresh perspective, as if you had just returned from a long and difficult journey.  Remember that this year is unique, never to be repeated.  See the scene around you as the once-in-a-lifetime event that it is.

Purpose: This exercise anchors you in the moment. Visualizing the world afresh, you create perspective and stimulate gratitude.

3.  Remember This

Trigger: When you’re waiting in a checkout line at the mall or waiting while holiday shopping online/on the phone 

Tool: Ask out loud, “What do I need to remember?” Listen to your heart for substantial answers like, “I need to remember that I love my husband and I’m committed to our relationship,” “I need to remember how lucky I am to have healthy children,” “I need to remember how grateful I am for the gift of life,” “I need to remember that the spirit of the holiday is about giving,” or “I need to remember that this too shall pass.” When the answer comes to you, feel the emotions behind the remembrances and let them flood your body.

Purpose: When you focus on positive emotions, you reduce your stress. Redirecting your thoughts to life’s big priorities helps snap you out of patterns of stressful thinking.

4.  Who Is Your Mother?

Trigger: When you are in front of a cashier in the store or at the grocery

Tool: Look at the person in front of you and for a moment reflect on the question Who is (or was) your mother? Mentally shrink this person to a small child and imagine her relationship with her mother. Consider whether it was a happy or strained relationship. Imagine that relationship today, full of joys, struggles, expectations, and lessons in letting go. Recognize that this person, like you, has a history, a family, a mother (who she is still connected to even if her mother has passed away).  Breathe in the relationship between this stranger and her mother, and breathe out compassion to them both.

Purpose: When you connect with the human condition, you get outside of your own sphere, thus generating compassion. You dissolve the barriers between yourself and others and wake up to your interconnectedness. 

5.  Shakedown

Trigger: When coming home at the end of the day, after work or holiday shopping, before you enter into the sanctuary of home

Tool: Before you walk through the door, spend a moment “shaking down” your body, as if you are shaking off water. Shake your right leg and foot, then your left leg and foot. Shake your right arm and hand, then your left arm and hand. Gently shake your head and let your shoulders relax. Finish with a little twist of your torso to shake off any remaining tension. Finally, take a deep breath and heave a long hearty sigh (a prolonged exhale).

Purpose: Relaxing your limbs sends a ripple effect of calm through your body. When you clear or shake off energy from a hectic outing, you restore yourself to a place of calm so that you can be present as you transition to home.

6.  Joy to The World

Trigger: When you’re stuck in holiday traffic

Tool: Take a moment to look at the people in cars around you.  Just like you, they have joys and struggles, hopes and dreams.  Just like you, they are planning for holidays with their loved ones.  To each person you focus on, say or think something like “I wish you happy holidays.”  Or “I hope you find some joy during this season.” 

Purpose: When you spread positive and loving energy out into the world, it makes you feel better inside. By opening your heart and creating momentum for compassion and goodwill, you break out of your own world and broaden your connection to something more.


Weave these simple shortcuts throughout the season and you’ll go from ‘humbug’ to ‘ho ho ho’ in no time flat.  Guaranteed, this year will be your most peaceful holiday ever!

Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW is a psychotherapist in southern New Hampshire and a self-help author.  Her most recent book is Shortcuts to Inner Peace:  70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity (Berkley Books).  For more resources, visit her website at


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