The Gift of Presence

Categories: Marriage.

“Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here!” ~ Clark Griswold

The Christmas holiday is listed as a significant life stress on the “Life Stress Inventory.” Just for reference, other events listed on this inventory include moving, changing jobs, major illnesses and legal trouble. You can take this inventory yourself at  I just took it and scored 215, which means I’m 50% more at risk for stress related health problems.  That tells me my stress management and self-care routines are important for me to maintain right now.  For people who already feel maxed out on stress, the holidays can push them into an unhealthy stress reaction. Unhealthy stress reactions include irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, social isolation and increases in addictive or obsessive behavior. Having these reactions during Christmastime is nobody’s idea of the “happy holidays.”   It’s pretty easy to get stressed out about coordinating schedules, getting the house ready for the holidays,  running here and there, going to the kids’ Christmas functions, going to church Christmas functions, buying gifts…figuring out how to pay for it all and get it all done. It’s overwhelming! That’s why many adults joke, “Can’t we just skip Christmas this year?” 

How can we make sure the holidays are filled with peace and good tidings instead of high stress?  A book by Spencer Johnson entitled “The Present” provides some simple and timely advice on living with more joy and less stress. Christmastime is the perfect time to heed this advice. The basic idea is to live in the moment. The author tells us living in the present moment is really a gift we give to ourselves. Remember a time when you were thoroughly enjoying yourself or were completely absorbed in the task at hand? You weren’t thinking about the past or the future at that time, only the present moment.  When you are fully engaged in experiencing the moment it’s harder to get stuck in the past or worry about the future.

Depression results from being stuck on how the past went wrong or on predictions of how the future will go wrong. Anxiety is often about being focused on what we are afraid may happen in the near future. The thing is we have no ability to go back in time and fix what went wrong, and we aren’t really good at predicting the future either. In the book, “The Present,” the author suggests the best thing we can do is LIVE in the present, LEARN from the past, and PLAN for the future, rather than live in the past, learn from it and then you can let the past alone. If the future is worrying you, the best way to control the future is to plan for it. That is the only way to make the future better than the present. The past is gone, NOW is all there is. Use it or lose it.

As you live in the present moment, be mindful of just being there. As Deepak Chopra instructs, be a human being, not a human doing.  Not a human thinking, but human being. This is good to remember. Just be. The way to really be present is to become absorbed in the moment rather than focused on to-do lists and filling every moment with activity. And I’ll say it again like I do almost every article – put the phone down!  Don’t let a screen get between you and the miracle of the moment. Here’s a couple more quotes to encourage your enjoyment of the gift of presence.  

Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for 

another hour but this hour ~ Walt Whitman

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past,

 the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut 

out the lessons that they teach.” ~ Charles Dickens

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