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Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe, medical doctor and author who specialises in natural medicine, workplace wellness and stress management.

1. More meaningful holidays

Have the holidays become too commercial for you? Are you feeling empty and unfulfilled during this time of the year? By making some simple changes, you and your children can truly make the holidays more meaningful. Here’s how…

Learn and then teach the spiritual meaning behind each faith’s traditions:

    • Share with your children that the candles are lit on Hanukah to symbolize the light of the Creator in our lives.
    • Explain that a wreath is a symbol of the eternal circle of life.
    • Describe how the presents for Kwanzaa represent the deep connection between parents and children.
    • Illustrate how the sun’s return and warmth are celebrated during the Winter Solstice.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa or the Winter Solstice share the beautiful miracles within each faith and then have your children share some of the miracles in their own lives.

Teach gratitude during the holidays: Gratitude should not only be for the material presents but for the little blessings in our lives. Let your children tell you each day three things that they are grateful for. Then you also do this. This helps all of us understand the true meaning of the holidays in several ways. First, we begin to notice the little gifts that we sometimes take for granted: a butterfly, a sunny day, getting to sleep late. Secondly, once we notice these little gifts and are grateful for them, we can start bringing more of them into their awareness.

Empower your family with tools to make the holidays more meaningful: Spend time discussing topics like what are you the most grateful for? How can you make the world a better place? How can this holiday be more meaningful? What presents make you feel the best? Plan a kind deed day and see who can perform the most random acts of kindness.

Celebrate differences: Attend a worship service with a friend or a family member of another faith. This exposes all of us to the marvelous ways we are more similar than different. For it is only when we embrace the differences, that we can truly come together in unity.

Give gifts from the heart: Write a story, a letter or a poem. If you are artistic paint a picture. Put a photo album or scrapbook together. Record your favorite family memories, or make a CD with favourite songs or relaxing music. Make a book of all the reasons you are grateful to have your loved ones in your life. Share a favorite childhood treasure that you saved, like a coin or a doll from your favorite collection. Finally, purchase gifts from charities that donate back to community.

Make community service a part of your family holiday activities: There are so many wonderful lessons when we give of ourselves to others. Donate clothes, a toy, linen, or food for those less fortunate. By participating in charitable acts children and adults can learn that we all can make a difference in the life of another, that they have a purpose, and that they can be part of the solution.

Slow down enough to enjoy the essence of your children and of the holidays: Our children remember the time and the energy shared as a family not the gifts, the parties or how perfectly the house is decorated. Say no to commitments that are not going to serve the greater good of your family. As Kabril Gibran so eloquently said in The Prophet, “Our children are but ours for such a short time.” Make this short time a time of wonder and reverence for your children to discover the true meaning of the holidays.

2. Stress less during the holidays and afterwards

We have tremendous expectations of our holidays, especially the end of year break! Holidays have to fulfill a years’ worth of neglecting our work-life balance and be a total rebalancing, rejuvenating, rest and recovery period of the year!! Symbolically this is the end of the year and time for relaxation and to enjoy simple pleasures, to have renewed will power and energy to tackle the New Year. But why do we still feel tired, pressured and even exhausted after a wonderful holiday? You simply don’t have the energy to go back to work and you don’t even want to start thinking about the next 12 months! A lot of people feel like you do – it is the holiday blues, a general and well-known phenomenon.

In my experience there are more requests for stress management workshops between January and March than any other month of the year. Stress induced symptoms such as high blood pressure, eczema, chronic sleeplessness and insomnia also increase during January and February. There are various stress factors that can contribute to these symptoms: the holiday that you’ve been looking forward to for so long didn’t meet your expectations, all your accounts still need to be paid, old family problems reared its ugly heads again, and at work all your administrative duties including 200 e-mails greet you at the office, and your freedom gets restricted again while your co-worker’s irritations are showing up as the mirror reflections of your suppressed and denied issues.

Holidays mean change! Any change – good or bad – creates or causes stress. The last week before your holiday is always a big blur trying to do and organize everything. You start to worry about leaving your home, unattended over the holidays, especially in South Africa’s with its highly organized criminal activities.

People automatically decide by November (consciously or unconsciously) to shut down, but still feel the pressure of the deadlines they need to meet. Christmas holidays are expected to be idyllic. These expectations are rarely met and this leaves us feeling empty and despondent.

Family isn’t always your first choice as people to socialise and have fun with! Relationship problems may arise: hidden family secrets get out of closets, or start to be discussed again, rage and angry feelings may start to develop, and fights may break out leaving everyone upset. All of a sudden you and your partner don’t have anything left to say to each other, due to the fact that you are spending so much time together now. You are doing more chores (making food, washing dishes etc.) than at home! You feel irritated and edgy: It looks like everyone is enjoying it more than you are. Isn’t this supposed to be the most wonderful time of year? You also think of previous holidays and start to compare, and how quickly the time flies.

Your healthy, balanced diet is already forgotten on the first day. Too much sugar, saturated fats, alcohol, and fast foods can lead to vitamin-B complex and other nutritional deficiencies. A lack of fiber can lead to constipation and the accumulation of toxins. This could lead to other digestive problems like bowel obstructions, indigestion, depression, irritability, poor short term memory, headaches, and can increase the feeling of fear for the New Year.

Stress less holiday tips

  • Try to eat healthy on your holiday, lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fresh water and herbal teas (steep fresh grated ginger root, chamomile, rooibos, hibiscus flowers in boiling water, let it cool down, add honey or sweetener, mint leaves, fresh cherries or strawberries, lemon slices and lots of ice) to drink. Most people stop taking their supplements during the holidays. Remember to take supplements like vitamin-B complex (for the nervous system), anti-oxidants to neutralise the holiday damage, Gingko biloba (for concentration), valerian en chamomile tea (to help calm you down), milk thistle (for detoxification and to help the liver rejuvenate) and calcium, magnesium and essential fatty acids (for everything else!).
  • Eat a balanced diet and stick to your exercise program adapted to the holidays: try more yoga, swimming, dancing or walking.
  • Give yourself some time for introspection and being alone, to enjoy and experience all that is happening in your day. Keep a dream diary next to your bed (over the holiday period and when you are back at work).
  • Treat yourself to a lovely bath (choose aromatherapy oils such as lavender, sandalwood, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, chamomile and neroli).
  • Care for yourself with a good UV-protection moisturiser or tanning lotion applied to a smooth, well scrubbed body, deep facial cleanses and facial masks made of finely chopped cucumber, yogurt and lemon juice, pedicures and manicures.
  • Read, write, dream and release your imagination and intuition
  • A short relaxation exercise to try to allow you to become calm inside, and turn your attention away from outside things, people and situations that upset you:
    • Sit quietly in a chair, feet on the floor, arms & hands relaxed
    • Tense the muscles in your feet. Then relax them. Do the same with your lower legs, then upper legs, then buttocks, tummy, chest, hands, neck, head & face
    • Take your attention to your breathing. Make it deep and slow. Count to 4 or 5 as you breathe in. Hold your breath for 2 to 3 counts. Then sigh your breath out while you count for 5, 6 or 7. Carry on doing this for 2 to 3 minutes
    • If your head is filled with thoughts, simply let the thoughts flow by like clouds in the sky, and keep on bringing your attention back to your breathing
    • After 2, 3 or even 5 to10 minutes, become aware of your body, slowly open your eyes and carry on with your day as usual, BUT you’ll feel more calm and relaxed than before you did the exercise. Try to do this in the morning & evening, and whenever you feel upset, tired or stressed
  • Alone time, especially in nature, give your some time out and a chance to focus on your soul centre and experience the here and now (the present moment) and to appreciate it. Take these moments to set your values, beliefs, goals and priorities and find out what is important to you.
  • If your family (including the children) starts to mistreat you, it is time to explain to them gently yet assertively what your view is on this specific issue. Start creating a chore schedule where every body is responsible for certain duties/tasks (make coffee in the morning, washing the dishes etc.).

This will ensure a happy time of connecting with yourself, close and extended family, and friends.

Be realistic: use the holidays to be yourself. Enjoy everyday as it comes without expectations. Relax!

Wellness tips during and after the holidays

  • Empty your inner thoughts and feelings in your journal – dreams, emotions, joys and sadness
  • Envision your dreams and daydreams – it is the symbols from within your soul
  • Enjoy ‘me’ time every day – we are human-beings and not human-doings
  • Enjoy eating healthy foods, exercise regularly, use the right herbs and supplements
  • Create special time for stress management and relaxation therapies


Suggestions for those cravings:

  • Uncontrollable urges for sweet things can mean that deficiencies of chromium, vanadium and molibdenum – use a daily antioxidant. Low fat choices for intense constant urges for sweet things are: fruit, rice-cakes with a carob layer, low-fat yogurt, jelly-babies (only 6!), and dried fruit.
  • An urge for something, but you just can’t say what, may indicate a need for water – drink a full glass (remember, your need 8 glasses of water a day for optimum health). An intense constant urge for chocolate, can indicate a magnesium deficiency.

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