Find Your Holiday Rhythm

Feeling out of step with the season? Add yourself to your gift list

By Kathy Ursprung

Kathy Ursprung
Author, coach, and therapist Claire Sierra suggests using self-care practices during a hectic time of year.

December marks the holiday season for many spiritual traditions, yet this time intended for celebration and joy can leave some people feeling exactly the opposite: overwhelmed, isolated, and sad.

Therapist and art coach Claire Sierra from Dufur suggests it can be helpful to recognize those feelings in oneself and allow some time to care for personal needs.

Claire, who owns Balch Hotel in Dufur with her husband, Josiah Dean, has a master’s degree in expressive arts therapy. Director of Bliss at the Balch Spa, she is also a licensed esthetician in Reiki—a hands-on energy treatment—and the AromaTouch Technique, which uses essential oils therapeutically. As the author of “The Magdalene Path—Awaken the Power of Your Feminine Soul,” she also provides coaching programs for women around the world.

Claire and Josiah bought the hotel two years ago not only as a place to stay but also as a center offering retreats, learning adventures, and healing activities.

“It’s all about helping people reconnect to themselves and perhaps with their partner or family, and have some time for relaxation and rejuvenation so they can face the scary, hectic world that’s out there,” Claire says.

Original Paintings
Claire, next to one of her original paintings, instructs others during scheduled art parties.

The dominant message at the holidays of doing, celebrating, and buying more can add to that harried feeling.

“People are so busy right now,” Claire says. “They’re busy because of 24-7 technology, their full lives, and on top of all that they’re busy with holiday plans, family demands, and the need to participate in the increasingly commercialized gift-giving of the season.”

Others feel left out and don’t have enough going on. People who are alone, have lost a loved one, or do not have children as a holiday focus may feel the season is passing by without them.

“Those are hard places to be in,” Claire says.

Winter can play a role in making people feel out of sorts. The demands of work and social life can create expectations that are out of step with this quiet, contemplative season.

“Our own rhythm as humans is really meant to get much more slow and quiet, like the animals,” Claire says. “I often find myself really drawn this time of year to do more quiet, inward things: bundling up and taking walks, writing in my journal, and thinking about the end of the year and new year coming.”

Many people feel compelled to be busy from early morning to late into the night.

For people feeling the need for change, Claire says awareness is the first step.

“First of all, we need to get real with ourselves,” she says. “How are we really doing? A lot of times, if we’re not enjoying something, we can sometimes think something is wrong with us instead of something is wrong with the situation.”

statue at Balch Hotel evokes
A statue at Balch Hotel evokes the divine feminine, the topic of Claire’s book, “The Magdalene Path.”

She advises taking stock and recognizing the signs of feeling overwhelmed. Those signs can include feeling overly tired, being crabby, and eating or drinking in an unhealthy way.

Small changes may go a long way toward resolving those feelings.

“Sometimes it doesn’t take a global change of family traditions in order to bring somebody back into alignment with themselves,” Claire says. “Maybe it’s just a matter of sitting out one party or taking a weekend off and being quiet inside. People can rebalance themselves if they give it time. But sometimes, bigger changes are needed to bring oneself into balance, and that process takes longer.”

Claire suggests some simple, self-care practices that can help people rebalance during the holidays:

  • Centering prayer and meditation are reflective and help “quiet our mind and connect to our hearts, breath, and body,” Claire says. While these approaches may be challenging at first, they become easier with practice.
  • Exercise, which can be challenging during winter because of the weather, is a recognized mood enhancer. Getting outside even for 10 to 20 minutes a day can help boost mood.
  • Pay attention to holiday eating. “If you wake up feeling not that great, it’s an opportunity to ask, ‘What was I doing? What was I eating or drinking?’” Claire says.
  • Creative practices, such as knitting, painting, or coloring, can help quiet the mind. It is the creative act more than the product.
  • Make time for you. Put self-care on your own to-do list. These activities help place the focus on the present moment.

“All of the joy we ever have is in the present moment and, instead, a lot of times we’re thinking about the future as if that’s where our happiness lies,” Claire says. “But it’s here, now, when we look for it and are grateful.”

Awareness of the surrounding world can also increase stress. Environmental disasters, political turmoil, and violent events can play a role—even from half-way around the country.

“I think the level of complexity and volume of news in real time that’s coming at us is really something our human nervous systems are not evolutionarily wired to accommodate,” Claire says. “There have been all different kinds of advances in terms of technology, but human evolution hasn’t really changed. So how are we processing all of what’s happening?”

For those sensitive to that stimulus, she suggests a news fast. She also urges anyone who is struggling to reach out for support and comfort.

“But sometimes the people who are in our lives aren’t capable of providing what we need,” Claire says. “That’s when leaning into our own spiritual practices and core beliefs can be helpful. They can become a lifeline, solace.”

It is not about religion, she says, but rather tapping into whatever provides a higher source of guidance.

“It’s the key piece that can help bring mindfulness, restore our hearts, let our minds rest, rejuvenate our bodies, and bring us more peace and fulfillment,” she says.