Practicing mindfulness can help reduce holiday stress and anxiety. Although it’s often associated with a formal meditation program, there are many simple, approachable ways to practice mindfulness and experience its benefits.
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zin, one of the psychologists who started the mindfulness movement, defines it as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness focuses on being present and not getting caught up in the past or worrying about the future. Understanding what that means and how to put it into action comes with experience, so don’t get frustrated if it seems unclear to you at first.
How Does it Work?
Mindfulness works by focusing your mind on your immediate experience. Since thoughts and feelings are part of that experience, mindfulness teaches you to accept them without acting or reacting to them. Watching your thoughts as they run through your mind will help you notice how crowded your mind is. As you become consistent with your practice, you’ll learn how to clear out some room for peace and calm. Although practice makes it easier to achieve this state, small changes can make a big difference in cultivating a more mindful daily lifestyle over the holidays and year-round.
Here are a few ways you can bring mindfulness to your holidays this year:
When shopping for the holidays, we tend to get caught up in the hectic pace and the desire to choose the perfect gift. In the end, we wind up exhausted and stretched beyond our financial limits. This year, approach shopping with a mindful attitude and follow that through as you window shop.
- Take a few moments to reflect before you leave the house: what makes a great gift, not only for the recipient but for the giver? Think about the experience of gift-giving and what makes it joyful.
- While you’re out shopping, appreciate the colours, sounds, and smells of the holiday season. Stop to admire the work that shopkeepers have put into their decorations and displays. Think of this as “coming to your senses.”
- Consider making your gifts: the hands-on time will immerse you in the moment and focus you on the feeling of “doing.” Your gifts don’t have to be extravagant projects—they can be something simple like home-baked bread presented in a beautiful basket with some tasty jams.
- Donate to a charity in your loved one’s name. Plenty of charities have holiday catalogues with specific items you can buy for families in need. Look around for something that will have special meaning to the people on your shopping list.
- Shop locally to get back in touch with the community you’ve been missing. You’ll also be helping businesses that have struggled through the pandemic, and you’ll avoid the overstimulation of overcrowded shopping malls.
- Think about something you can do instead of a gift—could time together be even more valuable? What about an experience you can enjoy together or something that will encourage group activities, like a board game or supplies for a group art project?
Technology, especially social media, makes it hard to focus on what is in front of us right now. It makes us compare ourselves to others and ruminate about why their lives seem so much better, and that draws us away from the richness of our experience and our here-and-now relationships. The holidays are your chance to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones, so be intentional about unplugging from your devices and plugging into the present.
Breathing with intention helps you stop “doing” and enjoy “being.” It’s often recommended for people with anxiety because it calms the body as well as the mind. This type of breathing is done deliberately, so while you’re learning, you’ll want to find a quiet place and a brief window of time where you won’t be interrupted. To get you started, try one of the many apps designed to guide you through breathing exercises. In addition to helping you integrate breathing, mediation, and mindfulness into your daily routine, many of these apps also promise improvements in sleep quality and decreased blood pressure with consistent use.
When you’re thinking about what you’re doing for others this holiday season, don’t forget yourself. Mindfulness is a gift that you give to yourself: the leading character in your life. Remember that filling your cup is vital to ensuring that you have the mental and emotional strength to support those you love, as well as those in need.
Approach the upcoming holidays with mindfulness, and you can emerge from it more peaceful and energized than you were before!