Not feeling particularly cheery this time of year? You’re not alone. This time of the year can be incredibly busy and stressful. But with a few mindfulness tips and exercises, there are ways to ease through. I find that with daily practice, my mind and mood stay more even-keeled even through the most challenging of circumstances.
Below are some tips for the holidays – and any time of year – when things get stressful.
First, exactly what is mindfulness? The practice is about bringing your attention to the present moment with non-judgment. It’s simply about noticing when we get “taken” by thoughts, and creating the return of attention back to the present.
While mindfulness can be a formal meditation practice, there are many informal ways to practice throughout the day. This can both provide, distance and perspective, ultimately decreasing stress.
1. Accept Imperfection
Can good be good enough? Before you start preparing, acknowledge that things may not go as planned – and that is OK. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, this is a hard lesson to remember.
2. Keep Your Focus on What Really Matters
With long lines and heavy traffic, the holidays can get hectic fast. When overwhelmed, ask yourself:
- Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things? If frustrated by the long grocery line, remember that it is just a long line — nothing more. Don’t let it spoil your afternoon.
- Perhaps use a moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect? While the cashier rings up the customers ahead of you, take inventory of good things that have happened today or things for which you are grateful.
- If a moment seems stressful, is there a way to make it pleasant? Connect with someone else in line with a question, compliment or gesture, or simply notice what’s around you with non-judging eyes and an open mind.
3. Be Kind
You can’t change how others act during the stresses of the holiday season, but you can change how you respond:
- When you encounter a difficult person, you might tell yourself, ‘this person is suffering, and that’s why they’re acting this way.’ It creates a sense of compassion, and softens frustration.
- The holidays are especially difficult for those who are alone. Maybe this is a time to extend kindness to those you know are without family and friends during this time of year.
- If things get tense with someone, take a few deep breaths. Taking this pause can halt reactions you may later regret.
4. Rethink Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions set you up for failure. If you want to make changes in the New Year, follow these tips:
- Start small. Break your goal into tiny steps over the course of the year.
- Be kind to yourself. If you didn’t achieve last year’s resolution or stray from the path this time around, let it go. Notice where you get hung up on what you did not do and refocus on the things you have accomplished.
Practices You Can Use RIGHT NOW
The simplest, most accessible mindfulness practice is to simply pay attention to the breath. Without going too deeply into the science behind breath work, how we breathe, has a huge impact on how we feel (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-27247-y) When upset or anxious, we tend to breathe shallowly or quickly, which triggers a physiological stress response within our bodies. When we breathe deeply, slowly and regularly, our brain begins to associate this breath with safety, which leads to emotional, mental and physical relaxation. When we need calmness, simple breathing exercises like box breathing, diaphragmatic breathing and alternate nostril breathing (https://health.clevelandclinic.org/breathwork/) can do wonders.
Not too long ago, I invested in a breathing app that I use daily. It seems simplistic, but the beauty of it is that it learns from your performance and advances the time duration according to your progress. The app is State. It has a free trial period and the cost is relatively low. You can read more about it here:
Guided body scan
Another mindfulness practice is the guided body scan meditation, many of which can be found and downloaded from online resources and other apps. A body scan guides you to focus your attention within the body itself — sensations on the skin, feelings of ease or dis-ease, and noticing spots where tension resides.
Apps can help mindfulness newbies get started, or provide structure for those who never find the time. A five-minute daily meditation focusing on your breath can be a great start. Examples of apps include Insight Timer, Headspace or Calm. Each has differing price points, free trials and a variety of resources for many purposes, such as sleep or anxiety, letting you practice without overwhelm.