Pages Navigation Menu

My Favorite Holiday Recipe: How to Cook Up More Joy and Stir Up Less Stress by Annmarie Chereso

It’s 5:10am, and I lie in bed with the familiar butterflies of anxiety rumbling in my abdomen.

I have a regular morning meditation practice, which typically starts my day, but today the anxiety is particularly high. I begin to negotiate with my mind and all the thoughts swirling around and I notice my patterns rise up. The to-do list is growing as is my stress.

I begin to try and figure out when I will get it all done and how. My mind starts to organize my schedule for the day and look for things to cut out so I can get all the errands, chores and pre-holiday to-do list items neatly crossed off my list.

I hear thoughts like “If I get this done today I’ll be more relaxed tomorrow.” My first lie. “This holiday is going to be different! I’m going to get all the gifts, holiday cards, food prep, invitations, decorations, work obligations out of the way and done before thanksgiving this year so I can relax and enjoy the holidays.”  And then the inner negotiating begins. “You should skip yoga today – you’ll feel better if you get the to-do list items done. Maybe you should reschedule that lunch with Michele. You’ll see her another time. There’s just too much going on right now and you won’t enjoy it anyway.”

What comes next is even funnier: “Get up now! You could get a bunch of this done before anyone else gets up and you could get a head start on the day. You’ll feel better if you knock a few things off the list before 6:00am!

Who am I kidding?! I’ve been down this road many times before and my stress only rises, and there never seems to be enough time to get it all done. However, to be honest it’s no less seductive this time around. As the holiday season approaches my anxiety grows and each year I convince myself I can outsmart and out-organize the stress.

I double down and push a bit harder in hopes of feeling more organized and in control. And I routinely convince myself to drop my self-care habits in the name of feeling less stressed. Spoiler alert. It never works! And as I’m sure you are well aware, not only does it not work, it backfires and inevitably causes me more stress, anxiety and of course exhaustion. Which obviously leads to me being too tired to truly connect with my family, friends and loved ones. Which is what the holidays are supposedly all about. Or so I say. I go back to my breath for a moment. What’s here now I ask myself?

Fear. Another deep breath. Ok great.

Hi fear, welcome. Come hop into bed with me. Let’s snuggle up together.

I begin to allow the fear one breath at a time. Like I would to one of my scared children when they were little.

With each breath, I let go of trying to control the fear and the need to control it and my looming to-do list. I know I’m crazy believing I HAVE to do any of it anyway. It’s all a lie I’m telling myself. I could choose not to do any of it and the world would not stop. The holiday would still come and go and life will go on.

However, there are things I want to do and experience. I want to host that holiday party this year. I want to send out the holiday card, I want to host the family dinner and I want to get the prep done for my new children’s book. My breath softens and my body begins to relax. I tune into what I want. Not what I have to do, what I want to do.

A few years ago I was introduced to an expression that is referred to as a “full body yes.” I still giggle inside when I hear it. A full body yes has now become my devotional practice and if I don’t have one, I abort mission immediately and move on.

So what is a full body yes? A FBY is an investigative practice involving checking in with every inch of my self before making any decisions, agreements or commitments to myself or others. When asked to do something, my practice is to pause, breath and check in. If I notice any constriction or resistance in the mind or body I pause and investigate further. I TRUST the resistance. I’ve learned it’s my ally. After some inquiry I get clarity and this is my opportunity to choose consciously. Sometimes I choose to say yes and other times I say no. This is where I get most of my learning.

I don’t like to say no. I like to say yes to everything and everyone. I never want to disappoint anyone including myself and I definitely don’t want to miss anything! So I routinely say yes to just about everything, which sets me up for my own stress and anxiety.  This is how I create myself as stressed every holiday season.

My mindfulness practice helps me get quiet and still enough to get some clarity, but the real power comes from the choosing after the stillness. When I get my clarity, I must be able to make a decision that aligns with my FBY. This is the hard part as it often means I have to disappoint others or myself and I HATE doing that. I then have to make space for some grieving. Another opportunity to pause, breathe and allow.

Reliably when I pause, tune in and choose from a FBY, I feel more alive, happier and full of energy. And it’s from that place that I can truly connect with those I love not just during the holidays, but in all my moments.

How committed to connection are you?  I dare you to join me in tuning into your full body yes, and know when to say no and STOP doing this holiday season.


ANNMARIE CHERESO is a life and leadership coach who supports parents, educators, and students to increase well-being at home and in the classroom to create meaningful and sustainable academic and life success. She believes that the most valuable tool we have is presence. She teaches parents, educators, and students to cultivate presence and unconditional love in all areas of their lives. She lives in Chicago with her husband and their blended family.  Together they parent and enjoy nine children and two grandchildren.