Holidays spell nostalgia for some but, for others, it's one of the most stressful times of the year. Christmas shopping, holiday traffic, and excessive socializing — it's enough to overwhelm anybody.
Practicing mindfulness is one way to deal with the annual year-end emotional roller coaster. It allows us the opportunity to acknowledge our emotions, enjoy our surroundings, and to spend the season remembering the things that are most important to us.
Practicing mindfulness as a stress reliever is one of the oldest tricks in the book, but what does it mean to be mindful?
It simply means you're aware. When you practice mindfulness, you observe and acknowledge your thoughts and emotions as they happen, without judging them as good or bad. In other words, you are living in the moment.
A mindful moment can help you organize your thoughts and ease the passage of difficult emotions.
You can start practicing mindfulness by actively focusing on the present. Acknowledge your feelings as they come to you, but keep them at a distance; you want to understand them objectively without attachment.
Instead of multitasking, observe your surroundings using all of your senses. If you're speaking with someone, actively listen — don't think about the chores waiting for you at home. If you're walking, concentrate on the sun warming your face and the sound of your shoes on the trail. When you focus on the present moment, you're not consuming yourself with fears and anxieties that exist in the past or future. If something won't let you be mindful, write it down so your brain knows you'll return to it later.
Symptoms of chronic stress can be psychological and physical, including headaches, digestive ailments, and depression. Meditation can help you keep stress at bay by commanding your attention. Choose a quiet spot and close your eyes. As you breathe, concentrate on each inhalation and exhalation, noting the rise and fall of your abdomen and the air rushing through your nostrils. If your mind wanders, refocus on your breathing.
If you feel a lot of anxiety in the run-up to Christmas dinner, you're not alone. Relationship conflicts and dysfunction increase during the holidays. Practicing mindfulness can help you deal with stressful relationships and increase your empathy.
Acknowledge your feelings and why you have them, but accept that other people have feelings, too, and they may not behave as you prefer. They may feel the same as you do: on edge or overwhelmed. Acceptance that a situation is out of your control makes it easier to let go of your judgments and expectations and focus on the joy of the moment.
The seasonal changes that come with fall and winter can affect your mood, energy levels, and sleep patterns. Studies show that aerobic exercise reduces our body's stress hormones and stimulates mood-elevating chemicals.
It also helps that the physical strain of working out relieves mental stress by occupying your concentration. Some experts recommend combining physical exercise with Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a therapy technique that treats mental stress and physical pain.
It's easy to become too wrapped up in our own lives to consider the needs of others. The holidays are the perfect time to remove the focus from ourselves and our anxieties by putting that energy into helping others. Hang a neighbor's Christmas lights, donate time to a food bank or toy drive, and reach out to friends and family who may be having a difficult time.
Having compassion toward others activates your mesolimbic system, which leaves you feeling rewarded. Having empathy for others also leads us to have more compassion for ourselves.
When your basic needs are lacking — you aren't drinking enough water or getting enough sleep, for example — you're putting more strain on your body and mind. Develop a self-care routine to prepare for stressful situations and better manage your emotions.
Make a habit of checking in with yourself, and don't be afraid to find some time to focus on your needs. Self-care enables us to be available when others need us.
You might not think smartphones and mindfulness belong in the same sentence but, interest in meditation as a health strategy is growing. Self-care is its own category in your smartphone's app store, where you can find apps for breathing exercises, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques.
A study at the University of Arizona found that college students who used a mindfulness meditation mobile app had reduced stress and more self-compassion. Enable the app notifications or reserve a time for guided meditation in your self-care routine.
The last thing you want for the holidays is to add more stress to your routine. Expectations from and for our loved ones and holiday rituals can be too idealistic and set us up for disappointment. Experts explain that our brains yearn for ritual, and those rituals have enormous emotional power over us.
Rather than allowing traditions or tasks to dominate your holiday experience, focus on the people around you and their needs. Acknowledge that not everything will go as planned, but you can still experience the joy of every moment.
With the new year right around the corner, you might be narrowing your list of resolutions. Remember to be realistic as you outline your goals, breaking them into smaller achievements throughout the year.
Also, be kind to yourself if you didn't keep last year's resolutions. Keep moving forward, and maintain a sense of gratitude that you get to celebrate another new beginning.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.