Random Life

On Monday, while sitting in the waiting room of my midwife’s office, I watched as a pair of baby feet made a slow, but steady arc across the top of my uterus, pushing my belly up into tiny plateaus with each movement. Then suddenly the kicks stopped and my entire middle shook and reverberated like a small bomb had exploded inside me. After 38 weeks of being perfectly positioned, the baby suddenly decided he or she had had enough, flipped over, and settled back down face up, in a less than ideal birthing position. I cried multiple times that day, raw and unsettled as a chaotic anxiety began to spread through me. With two weeks to go until my due date, the baby could come at any time and here it was, suddenly and inexplicably facing the wrong direction. I cried a little the next day too. And then I reminded myself that labor and birth are largely beyond my control, and all I can do is wait and see what happens.

Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of when a good friend of mine died from cancer. Shortly after her death, I was driving to work one day when I heard an interview on the radio about cancer research that had been completed at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The doctors explained that while there are certain genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase a person’s risk of having cancer, actually being diagnosed with cancer essentially boils down to random chance. For example, while smoking can increase your risk for developing lung cancer, the reason why one smoker would actually get lung cancer and another would go on to live a long, cancer-free life appeared to be mostly random. And the fact that some people with seemingly no genetic or lifestyle risks still end up with cancer also appeared to be largely random. You got cancer because you got cancer. You didn’t because you didn’t.

Following closely on the heels of my friend’s death, I found this news to be surprisingly comforting. Sometimes, bad things simply happen because of bad luck. And there’s very little any of us can do about luck. It might sound funny, but at the time, I found it very liberating to recognize how little of our lives we are able to control. I return to that thought whenever I begin to feel anxious and overwhelmed by my experiences.

Anxiety can very often be traced back to a desire to exercise control over your environment. We fear that which we do not know. We worry about and fixate on the little things that we can control in an effort to distract from or reduce our fears about larger, less manageable concerns. This is perfectly human, but not especially helpful behavior.

I may tell myself that if I can get the baby back into the right position, everything will go smoothly with my labor and no problems will occur. But there’s no way for me to know that for sure. Every birth is unique and there’s no way to predict ahead of time how labor will progress. The baby could be perfectly positioned and my labor could be long, tremendously difficult and even dangerous for reasons as yet unseen. Or the baby could be in the wrong position and my labor could progress normally, and delivery occurs with only minimal difficulty. There’s no way for me to predict or control this experience, and thus, there’s very little reason or value to worrying about it ahead of time. If something is completely beyond your control, it can be very freeing to shrug your shoulders and decide that it’s simply not worth worrying about then. Whatever happens, happens, and it can be nice to know that you are not responsible for determining the outcome to everything in life.

With so many alarming and upsetting things happening in the world right now, and so many unknowns speeding toward me in my personal life, I have found it to be a helpful exercise to pause and evaluate every situation to determine how much I can control any particular outcome. If there is something I can do that might help to influence events, then I do it. If there is not, then I try to simply let my anxiety go. I cannot control everything that happens to me, to my loved ones, to the world at large. But I can decide how much I will let my lack of control direct my thoughts and emotions. Sometimes things go wrong, and it’s not your fault. Sometimes life is hard, and it’s not because of anything you failed to predict ahead of time. Sometimes things just happen because they happen, because the universe is random and flukey and, at times, impossibly cruel. It is not your responsibility to make the world act in predictable ways. It’s not up to you to make sure that only good things happen, and that everyone stays happy and healthy. It’s okay to accept that you can’t control everything that happens around you, and to let go of the fear that comes with trying to do so.

Sometimes it may feel like your life has flipped over and is facing the wrong direction. Just stay calm, take a deep breath, and trust that there’s still a chance for it to flip back again.

Advice For New Moms

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Last year, when several of my friends and clients were getting ready to have babies, I polled some of my already-mom friends to get their suggestions on what friends and family could do to help new moms in those first few whirlwind weeks of life with a newborn. Now it is my turn to have a baby (plus I have a whole other batch of friends who are due in the next couple of months), and so I’ve reached out again to my expanding network of mamas to get some advice on what new moms should do for themselves to make the transition to parenthood feel a little more manageable.

Here’s what they had to say about the stuff  you’ll need, things you should do, and what’s most important to remember about this life changing experience.

Make Time For Yourself

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Find some time every day to step away from the baby, and take a moment for yourself. It may feel very hard or scary at first to break away for even short periods of time, but it was the primary piece of advice offered by my friends who have more than one child. If a well-seasoned mom is telling you that it’s important to make time for your own self-care, you know it’s advice that’s worth prioritizing.

As my friend Nina explains:

…once the baby arrives, a lot of attention gets shifted from mom to baby. But mom is recovering and her world has been rocked–so self care is important, as is asking for help…do your best to do something for yourself each day. Take a walk, take an extra long shower, etc.

Naomi, another mom of two, reiterated the value of a good shower.

No matter what, make time for a shower.
This was the one thing I stressed out about each day when I was home alone for those first few weeks after my husband went back to work – when would I get a chance to shower, if my baby wasn’t a good napper. Well, turns out, kids cry… frequently. And, if you miss the window of showering while they nap, nothing bad will happen if you place them in their crib and they’re safely contained, while you jump in the shower and have 10-15 minutes of hot, steamy YOU time. It does a body good.

She also added that in addition to making a little time for yourself every day, it’s also worthwhile to find time at least once a week to get out of the house on your own, and enjoy a bit of extended alone time.

Once a week, step away from the baby for an extended period of time.
Daddy (plus any other family) bonding time is important for both daddy and baby, so why not use that as an excuse to get out of the house, put on something other than clothes that have spit up on them, and go do something that requires either physical or mental energy for your own benefit and psyche. As much as you may want to sit at home on the couch snuggling with your tiny little human, fresh air and adult conversation (or just listening to music without baby cries interrupting you!) is SO worth it. Go for a walk. Spend some quality time with the dog at a local park. Go to a coffee shop and sit with a warm mug and people watch. Relish in the peace and quiet with a good book that hasn’t been touched since before you became a mom.

 

Spend Some Time With Other Adults

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While alone time will help you feel nourished and sane, it’s also important to spend some time with other adults.

My friend Erin recommends:

…[finding] some friends or neighbors that have young children and might be stay at home moms and try to do play dates/walks/etc.  The first few weeks are hard being in the house all the time so getting out and having some adult conversation is so nice!

She also encourages taking advantage of the fact that little babies tend to sleep a lot, which can make leaving the house with your little one in tow feel a lot less daunting.

Don’t be afraid to go out to dinner or go to get-togethers with friends/neighbors and take the baby with you. Take advantage of the first few months when they sleep all the time and this is actually pretty easy.  This goes for flying too.  We have only done short flights so far (under 2 hours), but every one she slept the entire time and the flight attendants are super helpful and nice when they see you walk on with a really small baby!

Build A Strong Support System

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This was another commonly shared bit of advice. Accept help from others when it is offered. Ask for help when it is needed. One thing I have learned over time is that people do not offer their help unless they actually want to give it. Don’t worry, if someone feels annoyed or put out by the thought of having to help you, they won’t offer in the first place. So trust that anyone who asks how they can help genuinely wants to be available and helpful to you. Take people up on their offers to come over and hold the baby while you shower or nap. Let people bring you food. Let them tidy up while they’re visiting. If you’re having a hard day, don’t be embarrassed to call up a friend and tell them that you need some company or a helping hand. It may feel selfish and overly indulgent in the moment to have people making you dinner and trying to anticipate and accommodate your needs, but trust that life will present many opportunities for you to make it up to them in the future by offering your help when it is needed.

Make Time For Each Other

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Don’t forget that your partner is going through this major change too. You’re in this together, and it’s important to use that relationship to bolster and lift each other up when you are feeling tired and frustrated. Remember, the baby is the enemy, not your partner.

My friend Alyssa‘s recommendation:

set aside time every single day to check in with your partner. It is so weird and hard, and tiring in the first few months, but if feels much less so if you are communicating well and having your feelings (fears, excitement, etc.) heard. It will also help you feel less alienated from your life before baby.

Soak It All In, But Don’t Feel Pressured To Love Every Minute Of It

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The thing I hear most often from new parents is that the time really flies by. Soak it in and try not to worry too much about what you’re doing right and wrong. And as Erin recommends, don’t fret about all of the other little things you aren’t getting done while you’re busy just enjoying your time with your new baby. The house may get dirty, the laundry might not be folded, there are probably lots of errands you need to run, but don’t feel guilty about letting those things slide while you devote your days to spending time with your little one.

But at the same time, don’t feel pressured to love every single second of motherhood. As Nina so wisely explains:

People will say “ENJOY EVERY MINUTE! They grow up so fast!”

Don’t feel bad if you aren’t enjoying it all. It’s hard. There are so many good moments! But also some really intense ones. So enjoy when your baby smiles, but don’t feel like a bad mom for questioning this whole parenting thing if your baby keeps you up all night, and don’t feel guilty for checking Facebook while holding your baby, or leaving your baby to go get a pedicure.

Other Miscellaneous Advice

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Stay hydrated and well-fueled.

Keep snacks and a water bottle nearby as much as possible.
Whether you’re breastfeeding or not, staying hydrated when you’re body is changing and you’re sleep deprived, is key. It’s easy to have hours fly by amongst the changing, burping, rocking, feeding routine and not have eaten a single morsel. Make sure you have granola bars, trail mix, protein (hard boiled eggs… string cheese…) and any other snacks that you enjoy, within arm’s reach. Portable, pre-packaged snacks are also good – frequent doctor’s appointments and grocery errand runs are great times to refuel!

Things you made need when recovering from a vaginal delivery:

ibuprofen, stool softener, super maxi pads with wings, tucks medicated pads, preparation h medicated wipes, and the little squeeze bottle the hospital gives you. Things down there can be rough for a little while!

Look out for signs of postpartum depression:

postpartum depression and anxiety are common, and the symptoms may be different than what you think they are. If you aren’t feeling right, talk with someone.

Stuff to have on hand:

invest in a good travel coffee mug and use it around the house instead of a mug.  It’s the only way a new mom will ever drink hot coffee.

[Keeping in mind that every baby is different:]

Rock N Play- This is so easy and convenient to move around from room to room or pack up when you travel.  I use this all the time when I need to shower.  I can sit [the baby] in this right outside the shower door and still keep an eye on her.  We have done a few road trips as well and have taken this for her to sleep in at night.  Much easier than packing up a bulky Pack N Play.

Bobby Lounger- Love this for the same reason as the Rock N Play.  You need a lot of “things” to sit them in when they’re really little and this is just so easy to move from room to room with you. [The baby] would nap in hers all the time.

Bibs and Burp Cloths- The amount of spit up and drool is no joke so you can never have too many of these!

Sleepers with zippers- The sleepers with the snaps I found to be super annoying when you’re doing diaper changes in the middle of the night (or anytime for that matter).  Do yourself a favor and buy the ones with zippers…..so much quicker and easier!

 

Lastly, while advice from other moms is helpful and it’s always nice to have a little guidance before you embark down a new and unknown path, remember to trust your own instincts. No two babies are exactly alike (not even those that are genetically exactly alike), and you’ll come to learn what works best for your baby and your family. Trust yourself, and let yourself off the hook if you feel like you don’t know what to do. No one has all the answers. Just like your kiddo, you have to learn as you go. Good luck to all of the new and soon-to-be mamas out there! Wishing you all safe, happy deliveries, and lots of sweet baby kisses.

 

Images for this post were provided by Naomi Caltaldo of Urban Row Photography. You can check out more of Naomi’s fantastic work at the Urban Row Photography blog, or schedule your own Maternity photoshoot today.

5 Songs That Make Me Happy

Today sucks. Let’s just put that right out there in all its depressing honesty. It’s rainy and dreary, and Trump officially becomes President today. This is a terrible day, and even my dog who is normally a bright, happy face in a too often grim world has decided to say screw it, and has spent the entire morning collapsed in an immovable snoring heap, electing to sleep the day away rather than wake up and face the surreal horror of the day’s events. Am I being too dramatic? I don’t care. This is a day for not caring.

Ideally, I would climb back into bed, pull the covers over my head and mainline old episodes of Arrested Development streaming from my phone like I do when I’m fighting a cold, but there are a few things I have to get done today, and at almost 36 weeks pregnant, being in bed is not as comfortable as I desperately need it to be. So I am forced to face the day, and remain jealous of the dog’s continued slumber.

When the simple act of everyday living feels like a harrowing task, I often turn to music to lift my mood and motivate me to get moving. I find that actually doing things is never as bad as the anticipation of having to do them, so if I can just jumpstart my activity, I usually feel much better off than when I succumb to the desire to remain sluggish and immobile all day. But it can be hard to motivate myself through sheer force and will alone, and that’s where these five songs come in. If I really can’t get going, I put one on and let the upbeat music shake the cobwebs from my mind and limbs.

I have said before that I think it is physically impossible to feel sad while listening to Paul Simon’s, Graceland, so feel free to consider that entire album as song number 6. I am not under the impression that the following songs are the five greatest songs in the world, or anything like that. So don’t send me your comments about my shitty taste in music. This is about feeling happy, fer chrissakes! Nor am I suggesting that these songs will help you feel better when you need a little boost. But I encourage to think about what music does lift you up and get you moving when you are feeling low, and then I suggest that you listen to that music a lot today. Like maybe on constant repeat, starting around 12:01 pm. Turn it up loud so it drowns out the voice in your head that keeps repeating “how is this happening?”

San Fermin, Sonsick

 

Robyn, Dancing On My Own

 

Spoon, The Underdog

 

Whitney Houston, How Will I Know

 

Kate Nash, Later On

 

A New Intention for A New Year

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I have opted for a slow entry into 2017. This year brings so many changes: to my life personally, to our nation’s political landscape, and to the way I want to think about and approach the world.

As I have stated before, I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I don’t challenge myself to lose 10 lbs., or set lofty goals for my business. I don’t declare that this will be the year when I finally start putting laundry away right after it’s folded, rather than picking clothes out of the basket for a couple of weeks until it’s time to wash everything again. I don’t make plans to cut out sugar, scale back my coffee drinking, or only allow myself one glass of wine a week (not a chance). The way I see it, resolutions are just a list of things I’ll fail to achieve. Who needs that. I prefer to take a different approach to a new year:

Instead of making resolutions, I prefer to set an intention for the year. A resolution is a directive, something that must be accomplished. An intention is a guide. It informs your decisions, rather than dictating them. It directs your life, but does not control it. A resolution is something to live up to. An intention is just a way to live.

I had trouble settling on an intention for this year. Did I want to continue my efforts to slow down, to let a desire for rest and self-care be my guide in the year ahead? Or did I want to be active, whether that means reestablishing a higher intensity running and workout routine after I recover from giving birth, getting more involved in political movements and organizations, or simply lending my voice and my free time to activities and communities that feel meaningful for me?

There are so many unknowns for me in the year ahead. I have nothing planned. No set vacations that I’m looking forward to or working toward. No major events that are clear and certain in their timelines or outcomes. I am having a baby, sometime in February in all likelihood. I cannot know when it exactly it will happen. I cannot know how it will go. I cannot know what my life will look like in the days, weeks, and months that follow that moment. There is no way for me to predict any outcomes and experiences in my life this year. I simply must wait and see how my life unfolds in the wake of this major change.

It was that realization that finally helped me settle on an intention for 2017: to be present. I just want to be present and available for whatever the year brings my way. I have heard that kids grow fast, and while I know there are moments and experiences I will miss out on in my child’s first year (and all the years to come), I want to be fully engaged in those moments that I do get to be a part of. I want to be present for my husband, to remember and respect that his life is changing too, that our lives are changing together, and that we need to remain open and responsive to each other’s joys and hardships. A couple months ago, we decided that we would pick one evening each week where we can’t use any screens–no tv, no phones, no sitting at the computer, no answering calls, or even just doing a quick check of our email. We shut everything off and spend the evening listening to music and reading, playing games, or just chatting. We just enjoy each other’s company, without distractions, and it’s been pleasant to discover how relaxing it is to just be in the presence of my husband without anything else clouding my mind, or pulling at my attention. I want to foster that feeling and that connection in the year to come.

When I return to work in the spring, I want to be more present for my clients. Working while pregnant has been tough. It’s tiring and I am sore and uncomfortable, and my mind wanders during my sessions to all the things I still need to do to prepare for the baby, and to all the ways my body is achey and worn down. That’s not good. It’s not good for my psyche and it’s not good for my clients–they deserve better. I know that getting back to work may prove very tough. That my mind and body will both wish to be back at home, and I may be thinking about all the little moments I’m missing while I’m away from my kid. But I want to set an intention to be fully present in my work, to engage completely while I am there, and give my clients the kind of attention that is required to do good work.

And I want to be present for the world around me, to not slip too completely into a fog with the arrival of a baby that I entirely stop engaging with and staying informed about what is happening in our country and the world. I may not have as much ability to act, but I can choose to observe and remain informed.

It will be a year of great change, and I want to be fully available for whatever comes my way. I have no plans, no specific goals, nothing to live up to, no great accomplishment that I am striving to achieve. I simply intend to be present in my own life, to engage with whatever the year has to offer me, one day at a time. I am ready.

 

Wrapping Up The Year With 12 Posts You May Have Missed

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As 2016 comes to a close this week, it’s natural to find yourself looking back over the year and taking stock of what you accomplished, what was good and bad about the year we’re leaving behind, and what you are looking forward to and hoping to achieve in the year ahead.

When I started this blog in January of this year, my first post was about how I stopped making New Year’s resolutions, and shifted instead to setting an intention for the year, a sort of guiding principle or framework for the year to come. My intention for 2016 was to heal. That intention played out in several ways, from continuing my work to help clients reduce stress and rehabilitate injuries, to working to guide friends through their own versions of healing, to allowing myself to pull back and slow down when my life started to feel too overwhelming. I am proud of what I was able to achieve this year, and excited for what next year brings as I welcome a baby into my life, but I also find that reflecting on 2016 leaves me feeling quite sad. A lot of bad news came out of this year, and given the current political climate, I can’t help but feel anxious about the year to come, and an uncertain future in a very unpredictable world. I haven’t settled on an intention for 2017 yet, though I will soon and will be writing about that next week. But in the meantime, I leave you with this thought: a year is not enough time to achieve everything that feels important and meaningful for us. I doubt even a lifetime is lengthy enough to reach that goal. Be mindful of your failures and your hardships, but don’t afford them unequal weight that lets them tip the scales of your year. Moments of success and happiness, however small, should not be ignored. They are what keep us moving forward and allow us to say “next year will be better,” because we know what better looks like. If 2016 was a hard year for you, celebrate having made it through–that’s no small accomplishment. If it was a great year for you, bask in it and allow your accomplishments to propel you optimistically into the year ahead. None of us know what 2017 will bring to our lives and the world around us, but I wish everyone reading this health, happiness, and healing for the year ahead.

Have a Happy New Year, and enjoy these 12 posts you may have missed for More Well in 2016. See you all on the other side.

Learning to Relax

Tips, Tricks & Helpful Hints for Fighting Seasonal Sadness

Stretches For Reducing Back Pain and Stiffness

What To Expect From Your First Massage

How To Help A New Mom

Three Keys To Reducing Relationship Distress

An App For Anxiety

Making Mindfulness Your Own

Practice Better Breathing

A (Perhaps Too Honest) Portrait of Living With Depression

Managing Wedding Planning Stress

First Trimester Insights

Slowing Down

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Last week while I was organizing our closets in an effort to make a little extra room for baby items, I was struck very suddenly by an overwhelming, full-body exhaustion. I felt that if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing to take a short nap, I would surely pass out right where I stood and fall into the kind of deep, comatose sleep usually reserved for Disney princesses and fairytale characters. I only needed about 20 minutes of rest to feel like myself again, but the whole experience left me a bit unsettled. The following day, I was out walking the dog when I was hit by a wave of dizziness that nearly knocked me off my feet. Everything around me started to blur and spin, and I had to stop and prop myself against a tree for a few minutes because I was genuinely worried that I was going to faint. Once I was sure I could move safely, we slowly made our way back home and eating a little food helped the feeling pass for the most part, but I felt uncomfortable and off for the rest of the day.

I have been moving at top speed for a couple of months now. I am trying to fit in as many massage appointments as I can physically stand while I can still physically stand. I have doctors appointments and birth classes filling up my otherwise free hours. There’s so much to organize and clean, and prepare for. That nesting instinct that everyone talks about is strong in me, and I feel an insatiable urge to get as much done as quickly as possible, while fully acknowledging that being woefully unprepared for a baby’s arrival is pretty much inevitable. I feel like I am forgetting things, so I’m constantly double checking all of my work, being sure I actually did reply to that email I meant to respond to, or that I went through with ordering a Christmas gift rather than just thinking about ordering it. Add holiday preparations to the top of the pile of all the other stuff I have going on, and well, it starts to make a bit more sense that I suddenly found myself running head-on into a wall of exhaustion.

I need to slow down a bit. Not only for my own health and sanity, but as practice for the months and years to come. In two months, there’s going to be a baby in my house and I know that while my husband and I may struggle to get through those early weeks and months, we’ll also want to savor them, to be more fully present for both each other and the tiny human that will rely on us for its most basic survival.

I am not the only one that needs to pump the brakes this time of year. So many of my clients are coming in complaining of high stress and lack of sleep. Everyone is trying to push through and finish off just a couple more tasks, or a few more assignments before they get a break for the holidays. There are things that need to be wrapped up by the end of the year. There are upcoming cross-country flights that they haven’t packed for yet. There are gifts to be purchased. Appointments to squeeze in. Activities and responsibilities that were designated as specifically 2016 concerns, and only a week left to tackle them. Everyone seems to be telling themselves the same things I keep repeating to myself: just make it through this week and then you can relax. Just finish off these one or two things, plus those two or three over there, and you can start the new year with nothing on your plate and all the free time in the world.

It’s time to take a step back and realize that not everything needs to be accomplished, at least not right at this moment. When you really evaluate your life, you’re likely to find that only a few things have very specific due dates, and that we tend to create a false sense of urgency for everything else. Take a moment to prioritize the items on your to-do list. Pick a few that really must get done by a certain date or time, and put your energy into those. Write the rest down so that you don’t forget about them permanently, and then put the list away and try to release those items from your mind. You’ll get to them in time. If they don’t require immediate action, they don’t need to be draining your mental and emotional energy right now.

Yesterday, I went over to a friend’s house and spent an hour and a half holding her three-week-old baby. As I drove home afterward, I realized that it was the first time in months that I’ve sat down for that length of time and done nothing without my mind churning and worrying about all the things I should have been doing instead. It was so relaxing just to sit there with this tiny bundle of a boy sleeping in my arms and know that the only thing I needed to do in that moment was be still and let that baby sleep.

As the year winds down and we dive deep into the holidays over the next week, give yourself the gift of stillness. Take a little time to pull back from all of your responsibilities and concerns, and just fully relax in a moment of quiet or leisure. It’s time to let this year go, and rest up for the next one.

Managing Holiday Stress & Moodiness

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With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the 34th St. holiday lights display up and running just a block down from my studio, it definitely feels like the holiday season is upon us (despite today’s unseasonably warm temperatures).

It’s always the case that my mood plummets a bit right after Thanksgiving. I feel tired and worn down from traveling, and getting back to my regular routine after being off for a while is more of a slog than a welcome return to normality. This year it seems like I am not the only one feeling a little dragged down by the weight of the holidays. Whether it’s the shorter days, the dreary weather that greeted us this week, or just general end-of-year malaise, it seems that everyone I encounter is feeling especially worn out and a bit down in the dumps this week. It’s as if we are all experiencing a little post-holiday letdown before the rest of the season really kicks into high gear.

Every year I am struck by how stressed out everyone feels at a time that is supposed to be all merry and bright. Whether it’s the melancholy and introspection that inevitably accompany the transition to a new year, or simply the weight of expectation that the holiday season brings, it’s a time of mixed emotions, high demands, and all too often is rimmed with a sense of disappointment and sadness.

If  you tend to struggle during the holidays and can’t muster up the appropriate level of good tidings and cheer, first off don’t beat yourself up for that. You’re not alone. The holiday season is rough for a lot of people, and no matter what time of year it is, you’re not required to feel or act any particular way. It’s okay to be a grinch. I think that poor guy was misunderstood and unfairly maligned. You don’t owe anyone joy or cheeriness just because holiday songs and obnoxious commercials tell you it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But you do owe it to yourself to try to make it out of this season without too much damage to your physical, mental and emotional health. Here are a few suggestions for how to reduce your holiday stress and celebrate in a healthy, manageable way.

Avoid holiday overload.

This weekend hosts the lighted boat parade and Fells Point Christmas festival, the Mayor’s Christmas Parade, a bunch of holiday craft markets, and I’m sure a ton of other stuff that doesn’t hit my radar. It’s only the first weekend in December. Between parties, shopping, and festive gatherings of all kinds, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by the holiday spirit before the season even has a chance to get cranking. It’s important to remember that with the holidays, as with all things in life, you cannot see and do everything. It’s okay to skip out on some events, or RSVP no to a few party invitations. Pick a couple of key holiday happenings that you’d like to attend, and let the rest fade into the background of tinsel and lights. If you miss something that you really wish you could have gone to, just remember that you’ll have another chance in the years to come. Christmas comes back again each year, no matter how hard Starbucks tries to kill it off with its solid red Satan cups.

Create some solo traditions.

Maybe it’s just me, but one of the hardest things about the holiday season is the forced merriment with large groups of other people. I need my alone time and feel quickly overwhelmed by too much holiday socializing. That doesn’t mean I prefer bah-humbugging it up from my couch and pretending it’s June; I just need some of my holiday happenings to be solo time that let me get into the festive spirit without the necessity of small talk.

I like to make time each week leading up to Christmas Day watching movies that feature, but don’t necessarily focus on, the holiday season. My choices are always movies (or tv episodes) I’ve seen a dozen times, so that I can do other things while watching, like fold laundry, bake, or desperately try to catch up on my end of year filing and finances for my business. It’s a simple nod to the holiday season that allows me to celebrate quietly and peacefully on my own, leaving me recharged and ready for more daunting social celebrations.

Do not listen to Christmas music until at least one week before Christmas.

Why must the radio and every shop you step into have Christmas music blaring away weeks in advance of Christmas? If you find that you are feeling really agitated and ornery, it may be because you’ve just heard Sleigh Ride for the 9 thousandth time. One thing that seems to be sorely missing during the holiday season is blissful silence. Seek out quiet spaces and try to reduce your exposure to the overstimulation of lights and carols, and bells ringing incessantly.

Intentionally do something that has nothing to do with the holidays.

I saw Christmas decorations in stores back in early October. It made me want to scream. The holiday season really does seem to get longer and longer every year. Try setting a specific date for when you wish to acknowledge the holidays and begin celebrating, so that you limit the season to a more manageable, digestible timeline. Or take a break from all the chaos by intentionally ignoring it and focus instead on maintaining activities and routines that you do all year long. Be intentional and mindful in your practice of your regular life to keep the holiday spirit from encroaching upon every part of your daily existence. There’s no rule that says you have to celebrate all month long, or that you have to celebrate at all. Be strong and continually bring your attention back to those activities that help you feel grounded and centered.

Remind yourself that this is only temporary.

The holidays can be really genuinely hard for many people. We are often reminded of people we have lost, find ourselves feeling isolated and lonely, or are forced into difficult family situations that try our patience and zap our emotional energy. Oftentimes, these hardships cannot be ignored and just need to be endured. Give yourself permission to feel sad, frustrated, annoyed. Give yourself permission to experience the season in whatever way is needed for you at this time, and know that you don’t have to make excuses for the benefit of others. “The holidays are hard for me,” is a perfectly valid statement that should require no additional explanation. You don’t have to be cheery for fear of dampening other people’s spirits. Your lack of celebration isn’t keeping anyone else from embracing the season in whatever way works best for them. Remind yourself repeatedly that before long it will be January and the holidays will be behind us. Time actually moves quite quickly, even when we’re feeling trapped and stuck in place. Hang in there, and take care yourself.