Ideas for unplugging and improving your holiday spirit.

The holidays are supposed to be a blissful time of year but many people find themselves feeling stressed, isolated and sad. Our relationship with technology can contribute to this holiday malaise, given the amount of time we spend online and distracted. I wish we could change this just by saying “put your phone away and do something else” but I know that can be a struggle for some. If you find that’s the case, here are some activities that can reduce stress, strengthen your connection with others and hopefully bring you some joy during the festive season. You might need your devices to help organize some of them but all the good stuff happens offline. Happy holidays!

Wander for a While

We try to cram in so much in December that we end up racing from place to place and rushing all the time. How about taking time out for a walk? It doesn’t have to be long—10 minutes or more out of your day (or night). There should be no agenda, nothing to achieve except to look around and take in what you see. And try smiling at the people you pass. It’s a wonderful feeling when someone smiles back and you might just make their day. 

Take a Gratitude Break

This can be done anywhere, any time. Take 10 minutes to sit somewhere you won’t be disturbed and think about all the things you’re thankful for. Some people like to take this exercise to the next level and write down their thoughts in a journal. Either way, science has proven that practicing gratitude can reduce depression, and increase optimism and happiness.

Host an Open House

If you’re comfortable with the idea of unexpected company, invite your friends and family to drop by for a visit anytime. It can be hard for people to commit sometimes, with busy holiday schedules. Having the flexibility to visit whenever they have some free time can make it easier to get together. And by keeping a supply of coffee, tea and desserts on hand, you’ll be ready for company no matter when they show up. 

Puzzle & Play Together

Traditional puzzles and board games are a wonderful way to bring people together. For as long as I can remember, my family has always had a large puzzle on the go during the holidays. It like a magnet, attracting everyone who wanders near it. I have fond memories of family and friends huddled over it, trying to help each other figure out where that one ‘special’ piece fits. And my husband and I love to invite friends over for a night of board games. Add a few appetizers and some seasonal beverages and it’s amazing how hard it is to stop playing and go home.

Help Out by Volunteering

There are many organizations who need short-term volunteers during the holidays. Volunteering for a cause or organization you believe in connects you with others who share your values. Helping others always seems to lift the spirits and is a good reminder to count our blessings. To find out where you can help, do an online search for short-term volunteering in your area.

Occupy Kids Through Observation

It’s easy to hand kids a smartphone or tablet to keep them amused, especially during the fray of holiday shopping. Try playing observation games instead, to keep them engaged without the need for digital devices. It can be as simple as spotting cars of a specific colour while driving to the mall, or looking for items that start with a specific letter while standing in line. You can make it competitive if you want, and reward whoever finds the most. But the reward doesn’t have to be big—for example, the winner could choose where to eat lunch.

Find the Holiday Spirit Outside

Sure, there are hours and hours of holiday TV programming to get you in the holiday spirit. But getting everyone out of the house is a healthier way to cultivate a festive mood. There are lots of seasonal events put on by local organizations, such Christmas markets, gingerbread house contests, and Santa Claus parades. A quick search online should yield lots of opportunities to get out, get moving and get in the spirit.

Be Crafty

There’s such a focus on shopping during the holidays that people are surprised and delighted with something homemade. So, gather your kids, get your creative juices going and make something together. Even if you’re not the crafty sort, there are many ‘how to’ videos for making something quick and easy like a card or ornament. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and try something more elaborate. There are also lots of kits available, which often include all the supplies and instructions so you don’t have to pre-plan as much. Whatever you make, you’re sure to end up with a sense of accomplishment and a compliment or two.

Gather & Exchange

Bringing people together for an exchange can provide many benefits, depending on what you decide to share. One of the most common things to exchange is cookies, which allows you to enjoy lots of different types without having to bake multiple recipes yourself. But you can also exchange other things. For example, if you know a few families with children of roughly the same age, you can exchange gently used toys that kids have tired of. You could also do a holiday decoration exchange, or anything else you can think of. Talk it over with friends and book a date. 


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