CEDAR RAPIDS – Cathy Kearns found herself at a holiday crossroads three years ago.
Wanting to give back to her community, but unable to do so financially, she signed up to be a volunteer bell ringer for the Salvation Army of Cedar Rapids.
Kearns remembers feeling nervous at the beginning of her two-hour shift. By the end, however, those nerves had become excitement.
“I remember being thrilled when someone gave $5,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this again.’”
So she did, signing up for a Saturday shift every weekend throughout the holiday season – a tradition to plans to continue this year. Giving her time to help others, Kearns says, is one way she stays grounded during the holiday season.
Finding your inner peace in the midst of holiday havoc was the focus of a recent presentation at Indian Creek Nature Center.
“You need to take time to think about what’s meaningful for you and what you hope to get out of the holidays,” says Emy Sautter, Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center’s ecospirituality coordinator.
Sautter co-led the program with Jan Aiels, an education facilitator and naturalist at Indian Creek Nature Center. The roundtable discussion began with an exercise in which attendees were asked to define what they’re celebrating during the holiday season.
Spending time with family? Entertaining? Celebrating religious beliefs? Maxing credit cards? Helping those less fortunate?
“It’s important not to let the hype get to you and focus on making the holiday more meaningful for you, whatever that may be,” Sautter says. “Keep it simple.”
Avoiding the commercialism that goes hand-in-hand with the holidays is one way to stress-less this year, Aiels says.
“We need to stop the destructive thinking that money equals love,” she says.
Instead of making lists of presents to buy, pare down the shopping list. Large families can draw names for presents. Close friends can make plans to get together instead of exchanging gifts.
“There’s no shame in giving a gently-used gift,” Aiels says.
One year she passed on her grandfather’s fishing reel to her nephew.
“He was tickled because he never met his great-grandpa,” she says. “I didn’t feel weird because it had a story with it.”
Eschewing the excess of the season isn’t isolated to finances. The holiday season can be a strain on the environment, from over-the-top lighting displays to unrecyclable gift wrapping.
Americans generate 6 million tons of extra waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Nearly 40 miles of ribbon is thrown out each year – an amount that could circle the earth one-and-a-half times.
“Look for ways to simplify,” Aiels says.
Wrap presents with plain paper. Reuse gift bags. Use dry, popped popcorn to pack presents for shipping.
The popcorn can later be used to feed birds.
Stress isn’t the only common feeling this time of year. For many people, the holidays are a time filled with depression. It can affect individuals unable to be with their loved ones or those overwhelmed with the task of balancing the demands of shopping, parties and other holiday obligations.
Both Sautter and Aiels suggest individuals look for ways to give back as a way to combat this feeling.
“Take the focus off yourself and give to someone else,” Aiels says.
It can be as simple as buying a present for a child in need or, like Kearns, giving a few hours of service to a non-profit organization.
“I never thought it would be so rewarding,” Kearns says.
Is a stress-free celebration at the top of your holiday wish list? Here are some tips to make it happen:
— Ask yourself if you’re doing something because you want to, or because you feel obligated. If it’s the latter, don’t do it.
— Feel free to change. Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way forever.
— If people offer to help, say yes. There is nothing inviting about a flustered host or hostess.
— Set limits. It’s OK to say no to cookie exchanges, parties and difficult relatives.
— Forget stuff and think traditions. You can’t remember every present you received as a child, and your kids won’t, either.
— Focus on traditions that everyone will remember for years to come instead.
— Be true to yourself. Try not to compare yourself, your celebration, your gifts or activities against some “ideal,” real or imagined.