Holiday Stress Relief: Push Your Emotional Reset Button with Devotionals

Holiday Stress Relief: Push Your Emotional Reset Button with Devotionals December 2, 2015

It’s that time again! Welcome to the most stressful month of the year. I know tons of people who love the holidays. I don’t know anyone who thinks they’re stress free. Budgeting the huge costs of presents and the parental pressure to get The Gift can be intense. One year, all my daughter asked for was a wooden truck and a wooden tractor. It was ridiculously hard to procure those items. I hit every specialty store in town, skimped on other presents so I could afford the joy of boutique prices, and felt relief so intense when I found the elusive tractor that I had to ask to use the bathroom in the back.

Yep. I had to pee in relief.   Ho Ho Ho!

young girl screams because of bad christmas stress
Sebastian Gauert /

Let’s not even get into dysfunctional family relationships, the real depression that can come from the lack of light those of us in the darklands of Michigan can feel at this time of year, and the urge to eat a ton of sugary doomfood that we know is horrible for us and will make us sick. Nothing to see here. No giant stressballs. No bad behavior or unhealthy choices. Move along. Move along. Just keep repeating to yourself: “I am not a human car wreck.“

So, what’s a pagan to do? I’m sure there’s lots of rituals and complicated spells for relief that you could go seek out on Tumblr or Google. The thing is, a lot of that is just not functional for busy people. Certainly if one had the time and money for a rose petal strewn bath with the hand crafted incense oil rubbed on a dozen candles and a bottle of wine to share with the gods, one might feel considerably more relaxed. If you can pull that off, dear reader, more power to you.

The thing is, there are tricks you can use to help you calm down in a lot shorter time. Anchoring, meditation, and devotionals are all methods of creating specific states of mind quickly if done properly and practiced. There’s lots of information out there on the web for meditation, though I do think that specifically pagan forms still have a lot of possible development and fleshing out. Today I want to talk about devotionals, since anchoring is a technique that we will use within the devotional format.

Here’s a working definition of a devotional: a short series of ritual actions and words that are repeated on a daily or regular basis in order to praise or increase connection with deity or spirit as it is viewed by the practitioner.

Note two words: short and repeated.

Those are two of the keys to success with devotionals. The third is to engage the senses. For this last part to be effective we should take the very good advice inscribed in the forecourt of the Delphic temple: Know Thyself. In particular, know your learning style. If you’ve never encountered learning styles, it’s a psychological theory that different people learn in different ways. The three main ones are audio, visual, and kinesthetic. Knowing this will help you design your devotional. It should be personalized to you and will work better for you if it is. I’ve helped a number of people design devotional practices in the past and it’s a lot of fun.

Step one: Pick who or what you want to do this devotional to.

Limit yourself, or make it incredibly broad. There is no middle ground. Either pick one or two deities or entities, or pick a class of spirit like Ancestors or Gods, or just Spirit in general.  Honoring Hecate, Isis, Coyote, Kwan Yin and your great grandmother Edna all at once is confusing and cluttered. Think simplicity. You can always switch it up to Edna later.

Step two: Pick a place and a time.

This is important. Possibly the most important part, because it has a lot to do with whether or not this whole devotional thing actually will work. Pick someplace that you will already be. This can be your car, the shower, the closet, the bathroom, the kitchen, or bedroom, or even your office. It shouldn’t be in your beautiful and delicate temple room you crafted in basement. Pay attention one day when you are actually living your life normally. See where you have a minute or two of natural peace. It doesn’t have to be long. Plan your action for that moment and that place.

Step three: Make up some devotional-y stuff.

This is where knowing your learning style helps. If you are an audio learner, sing a song or memorize a short repeatable prayer to say out loud. If you are a visual learner have an image that you can look at or find a focus out a window, like a tree or the sunrise to look at as part of your devotional practice. If you are a kinesthetic learner have something to pick up and feel, like a cold stone that warms in your hand or a feather that you brush on your face for purification.   Scent is always your friend. Humans have powerful reactions to scent. I like to use a half a stick of Japanese style incense (which you can easily break into short pieces) because it burns quickly. In an office environment you can get a spray bottle and put some essential oils in the water. If you spray a it in the air it will perfume it for a little bit. Pick a scent that is pleasant to you. Recently, research showed that frankincense actually helps depression, so maybe give that a try. Sometimes getting something lit or sprayed can be too much. Let it go if it doesn’t work.

It’s great to pick a couple of different devotional pieces and put them together. My morning devotional practice involves a bowl, a song, and the sunrise.   I set a devotional piece created by Ian Corrigan to music. I take a small brown earthenware bowl I got as a teenager and fill it with water. I go to the east, outside when the weather is nice, inside near a window when it’s not. (I know, I’m breaking my own rule on picking a place here, but work with me.) I sing my song. I pour the water on the ground, or on a potted plant. The end. Sometimes my daughters sing my song with me, which can cause my heart to swell with love and pride.

Step four: Like the Goddess of Victory says: Just Do It!

This part is why it has to be easy and convenient. Devotional practices are hard. It’s because our minds resist change, and it’s difficult to create new patterns, and the temptation to just stare at your phone is a powerful thing! But the beauty of a devotional practice is that it’s as small and easy as you want. It doesn’t matter if you fail, but if you succeed…

That’s when the benefits begin to kick in. By doing something like that day after day you are practicing your willpower. Don’t underestimate the power of willpower. Building your willpower muscles is what gets you to succeed in the real world as well as finally finishing that afghan you’ve been ignoring for a year.  At the same time you are also practicing meditation. By taking a moment and doing ritualized actions you’re putting your decision making brain on hold for a moment. You’re giving your brain a short break. By making it something nice and peaceful, you can reap the benefits of lower blood pressure and at least one thing in a day going right. Also, you just created an anchor.

What’s an anchor, you ask? By associating certain actions, thoughts, and words (or whatever it is you choose to do in your personal devotional practice) and repeating them day after day, something magical happens. You have become Pavlov’s Dog. In a good way.

Remember the dog that got trained to salivate when a bell rang because for a long time every time a bell rang they gave the dog food? That was Pavlov’s Dog. By feeding the dog every time the bell tolled the dog learned that bells bring kibble. Now I hope your devotional doesn’t involve kibble, though a bell might work.   But either way, the things that you have chosen, after time, will calm you down and get you into your devotional state of mind at any time.

a tree before the sunrise
Photo courtesy of Melissa Hill

Let’s say you have a prayer you recite. Something like:

Brighid of the fire,

Brighid of the song,

Brighid of the healing

Be in my mind, my heart, and my hand

Guide me on this day, and on all days

Let my step be light upon the land.

Lets say that for a couple of months you manage to say your prayer three or four days a week while you light a match and let it burn. At least some of the time you derive some comfort and pleasure from the fact.

You now have a powerful tool.

Let’s say you’re about to go into a stressful situation at work, or maybe your children have tried your patience past all bearing by flushing toys down the toilet and clogging it horribly (again!). You can go do your devotional practice, which is already short, and already easy. It will help you quickly get back to a better frame of mind because you are trained and trained well. You did it yourself, like a DIY Ikea hack.   It’s a Yule gift to you. So get busy dear reader, and between finding cheap Pinteresty presents for your Aunts and trying to resist the office party cheesecake find some time for yourself and the spirits. Reboot your brain. Let me know what you come up with. I wouldn’t mind some new ideas.

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