Emotional Health

Holiday Gifts That Don’t Cost Anything

It’s the season for frantic holiday shopping and parties, holiday storefronts packed with the latest seasonal “must haves,” and email inboxes flooded with last-minute sales. It’s enough to make your head spin and drain your pocketbook. Instead, this holiday season, I would like to offer five gifts you may consider giving yourself. They don’t cost anything but may leave you feeling merrier this holiday season.

Time: This is the season of giving; give yourself the gift of time. While it can be in short supply, try to set aside time for yourself. Do what you want. We cannot listen to what we need when we are going 100 miles an hour in 100 different directions. This doesn’t have to be a solitary activity — it could be curling up with a good book, but it could also be tea with a friend, making holiday cookies with the kids, or walking your dog on a sunny Saturday afternoon. It does mean setting aside the to-do lists, the obligations, and the constant “shoulds” that bombard us on a daily basis and giving yourself the time to do what you find fulfilling. Even a small break in the whirl of the day can leave you feeling rejuvenated.

Acceptance: In life, you can spend a great deal of effort striving for perfection, to control the uncontrollable.  This particularly comes to light in the holiday season, when the we feel the pressure to find the perfect present, decorate the house perfectly, and put together that perfect holiday spread that will leave everyone perfectly happy. When perfect becomes the goal, however, a lot of other things can fall by the wayside. And when you never get to perfect — the sweater doesn’t fit, the dog knocked over the tree, the pumpkin pie slumped — it can feel life failure.  Studies have shown that when we accept that there are things in life we cannot control, we are actually more satisfied with life than if we are constantly trying to fight it. This sense of acceptance goes far beyond the holidays, though, to our relationships as well. Sometimes acceptance can be the route to greater harmony.

Forgiveness: Forgiveness is far easier said than done. Often we feel the need for the person being forgiven to have somehow earned our forgiveness — that they might be deserving — much like a court grants a pardon. However, what research is finding, is that those of us who do the forgiving are really the ones who reap the benefit.  That’s because holding grudges can lead to repercussions extending far beyond the original grievance. One study found that after individuals recalled an event in which they had held a grudge, they judged a hill they had to climb to be steeper than those who were asked to remember a time at which they forgave someone. Those who offered forgiveness also were able to jump higher when compared to the grudge-holders. Grudges seem to almost literally weigh us down. Other studies have shown that forgiveness leads to decreased anxiety and depression, lower levels of stress, lower blood pressure and even a stronger immune system. The beauty of this is that, unlike the original grievance, forgiveness is well within our control. Although not easy, it is something we can do for ourselves. So consider taking a weight off and relieve yourself of that grudge. Sometimes, the person we most need to forgive is ourselves.

Boundaries: We teach people how to treat us.  How we interact and what we accept in each interaction influence how others behave toward us in the future. As women, there is a tendency to give and give until we feel wrung dry. Whether this is with our spouse, our kids, our parents, or our boss, we are always one part of the equation. Setting boundaries means taking into consideration your personal beliefs, needs, and wants in your interactions with others. It doesn’t mean saying “no” all the time, but it does mean giving yourself that option.  If there is a relationship in your life where you are feeling over-taxed, take some time to consider how you would like the relationship to change. This won’t happen overnight, but taking time to think about the relationship and your role in it is the first step to shifting those boundaries in a positive direction.

Silence: The constant drone of the TV, the radio in the car, the music humming through our phones, the honking of traffic, the banter of our co-workers. We often go through our entire day bathed in a sea of noise. We whirl along at 100 miles an hour, never more so than during the holiday season.  Constant noise, even over just 30 decibels — a whisper in a relatively quiet library — can raise rates of perceived stress, along with depression and anxiety. It’s also linked to poor physical health, including increased blood pressure. The benefits of quiet is now being recognized as an important part of healing, with many hospitals instituting scheduled quiet times during the day. Offer yourself the healing power of silence. Turn off your phone, silence your TV, and let yourself enjoy the quiet.

May your holiday season be filled with good cheer and good health.


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Broadbent J, de Quadros-Wander S, McGillivray J. Perceived Control’s Influence on Wellbeing in Residential Care Versus Community Dwelling Older Adults. J Happiness Stud. 2015 (15):845-855.
Harding AH, Frost GA, Tan E, Tsuchiya A, Mason HM. The cost of hypertension-related ill-health attributable to environmental noise.  Noise Health. 2013 Nov-Dec;15(67):437-45.


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