Though it’s only taking up a two-month timespan, the holiday season has turned into a year-round mindset. It seems that stores put up decor earlier and earlier each year, and Thanksgiving can barely enjoy its five minutes of fame before the lights are up and trees are decorated. While I’m all for the spirit this time of the year brings, I can feel my cortisol levels rise in October when Christmas deals start popping up.
I’ve already touched on how the holidays can be a stressful time, whether it be family drama or spreading yourself too thin. However, another big component of making sure you are OK during the holiday season is by practicing mindfulness.
Mindful.org defines mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” At first glance, that sounds a bit complicated. Modern escapisms like cell phones, drugs, alcohol and streaming services are turning into avoidance crutches. How can we be fully present in this day and age, let alone the holidays?
Turning inward and focusing on mindfulness practices are where most researchers start. Research on mindfulness meditation has seen a huge surge since the ’90s. Currently, Harvard researchers are working on finding if mindfulness meditation is a viable treatment option for depressed patients in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy and/or medication. If recent studies suggest that mindfulness meditation can ease psychological stressors like anxiety and depression, wouldn’t it be worth a shot to implement into your daily routine?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, winter episodes of seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD) are the most common. During what is already a hectic time of year, your mental health being in a bit of limbo is not the exciting holiday news you want to hear. Mindfulness practice has been shown to help everyone from adults to children and adolescence. I think it’s time we hop on this train, especially during what should be the most wonderful time of the year. Here are some ways to get started:
Engage in Gratitude
The holiday season can bring out the best or worst in people. Family and friend drama can leave your head spinning and tongue sharp. Rather than engaging in the all-too-familiar holiday stressors, take a step back from the situation. Remember what this time of year is all about. We aren’t gathered together to spit political disagreements or petty remarks (you can save that for a random Tuesday). It can be hard, but allowing yourself to look at the situation from a place of love and gratitude will recenter your mind.
Count your blessings, too. It’s likely the person you’re feuding with is one of your blessings. Practice being consciously grateful by writing down each morning five things you are grateful for. It can be a person, your health, pet, home, whatever and then, end the day by writing five things you are grateful for. This is a great mindfulness technique for pausing the mind, reflecting and giving thanks — way after Thanksgiving has already ended.
This might sound strange, but mindfulness extends to different bodily functions. It’s easy to fall into the excess/guilt trap during the holidays when there’s absolutely no need to. Instead of perusing on your phone, looking at what everyone else is doing, put it down and savor every moment of your meal. Practice the 5 S’s next time you eat, which are:
- Sit Down
- Slowly Chew
You’ll be amazed at how much you notice every flavor, seasoning and texture you eat, and you may even enjoy your food that much more. Plus, this process can allow you to focus on conversations with loved ones.
Practicing self-love is one of the best ways to be more compassionate toward others. By honoring yourself and allowing yourself to feel loved, you are opening up your ability to spread the holiday cheer to people you care about. It can be as simple as getting a full eight hours of sleep or exercising once a day. Consciously setting time aside to practice self-love will make an impact on you and others. Don’t be surprised if you feel calmer, kinder and more attentive with those around you — which is always a good thing since you need to be in the right mindset to handle that holiday shopping crowd.
Use Guided Meditations to Kickstart Your New Habit
If mindfulness meditation is what you have in mind to ease holiday-related stress and anxiety, start simple. There is a multitude of apps designed to guide you in your practice. Another great resource is this one that was created by the Harvard doctors themselves, and for free. No one can sit still and empty their mind for an hour on the first try. It took me months to even do ten minutes without thinking of my to-do list. Be kind to yourself and know that great things take time and effort. Challenge yourself to create a habit out of meditation and do it every day during December. You’ll find the holiday season to be a lot more enjoyable and less stressful.
Be Open to Both Yours and Others’ Emotions
The holidays bring a whole slew of emotions, from joy to sadness and grief. This time of year can be a reminder of easier times or what could have been. You’re not the only one suffering from these feelings. First, help yourself. Allow yourself to fully feel and accept these emotions. Acknowledge they exist, but don’t dwell on them. Mindfully allowing them to come and go without judgment or criticism. Then, turn your compassion toward others. Check in with loved ones and see how they’re doing this time of year. By being attentive and receptive to their feelings, you’re opening up the ability to connect and empathize. After all, the season of giving should extend to being there for loved ones.
Be an Active Listener
This ties in with the step above, but being an active listener is crucial to being fully present. The holiday season puts you in closer contact with not only family members but work colleagues and old friends. Mindfully take a step back and realize that these people in your lives need someone to talk to. Remove any agenda you have with this person and focus on the present. What they really need in the moment is for someone to actively listen. It doesn’t mean you need to give professional advice. Just be present and empathetic of their situation. We all just want to be heard.
Perfection does not equal holiday success. Thinking that the commercial vision of Christmas is reality will leave you with an empty wallet and anxious mind. Reflect on the true meaning of the holidays and focus on what really matters to you and loved ones. Perspective allows us to remember the true meaning of the holidays, as cheesy as that sounds. Love, time spent together and offering a helping hand are what matter most. It doesn’t include breaking the bank. Presents are nice, but presence is even better. Give your gifts by donating or volunteering for a cause close to your heart. If shopping is in your future, do it mindfully and slowly. Don’t rush around as if in fight-or-flight mode. Pay attention to what’s around you and focus on breathing. You’ll be amazed at how much calmer you feel.
Like I mentioned before, escapism can easily turn into avoidance. Allow yourself to be fully present during this time of year. If with loved ones, turn off your phone and tune in to the conversation. Even when alone, allow time to fully unwind with it on silent. We often act like our phone is an extension of our bodies and put its needs before ours. That email or text can wait. Nothing is urgent on social media. Take advantage of the collective break this time of year offers. You’re not better for being a workaholic.
We upgrade our phones every couple of years with the newest and best version. What if we had the same mindset with self-healing? Practice looking inward to feel complete. You’ll be amazed at how much more lively this time of year feels. Focus on your breathing, each body part and your senses. Recharge your own batteries. What matters is you, now.
Mindfulness has the potential of being a transformative experience in your life. Lean in to the delight it may bring and offer no judgment. Truly anyone can do it, and what better time to start than during the season of giving. I guarantee you won’t regret it.
Feature image via