The holidays are upon us – a time to enjoy family, friends, and festivities. For many of us, this is a time of good cheer, good will, and celebration. We look forward to decorating, shopping, entertaining and spending time with family. And for many of us the increased spending, longer to-do lists, and extra social commitments may make our lives more difficult to manage. We get caught up in the expectations and obligations of the season and this brings added pressure, stress and anxiety. Mindfulness can help us slow down and find some peace and calm in the midst of the all the hubbub so we can enjoy and accept the present moment just as it is.
As we go about the business of our daily lives we are often on auto-pilot, not really paying attention. This may happen even more so during the holidays if we feel out of control, pulled in too many directions, of if we are trying to please or meet the expectations of others. Our attention becomes focused on the future; thinking about the things we have to do next or worrying about how we will get it all done. As a result, we miss out on what is actually happening right now, in the present moment. How often have you arrived at your destination without remembering your drive there? Or eaten a meal without really tasting it? Or been so caught up in your own thoughts you weren’t really listening to your companion or coworker?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, author and founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Releasing the habit of judging ourselves and others, our thoughts and our experiences, as good or bad, is an important element in the practice of mindfulness. This means accepting our current situation or circumstances as they are rather than focusing on how we wish they were or think they should be.
You can begin to practice mindfulness right now, in this very moment. Just bring your full attention to where you are and what you are doing – using your senses to become aware of your surroundings. Notice the temperature, the sounds, and the smells, see the words on the page and experience the sensations in your body as you breathe in and out. In this moment you can let go of planning or be worrying about the future and just be. You can accept yourself as you are and let go of thoughts about what others expect you to be. Below are a few suggestions to help you enjoy the holiday season more mindfully.
- Mindful eating and drinking: The holiday season provides countless opportunities to (over) indulge at work, family feasts and New Year’s celebrations. If concerns about all those extra calories cause you to feel anxious, try the following exercise at the next party or potluck: When you arrive, take a few moments to become fully aware of your surroundings. Take a deep breath and appreciate the colors, the smells, and the effort that went in to preparing the food and beverages. Focus on your body and ask yourself, “am I hungry?” and “what do I really want/need right now?” Choose your portions thoughtfully. Take a moment to really see and smell the food on your plate. Take your time and savor the food as you eat it, really tasting it as you chew. Notice when you start to feel full and stop when you are just getting that full feeling. Shift your attention to conversation or other activities. If you drink alcoholic beverages, know and honor your limits while mindfully enjoying your drinks.
- Mindful shopping: Holiday advertising starts early and bombards us daily with messages to buy the “perfect” gift for everyone on our list. Social and media pressure may influence our spending, leading to impulse buying and stretching our budget beyond its limits. Before you go shopping, spend some time thinking about the person or people you are buying for and set an intention to choose something that suits them and your budget. Avoid waiting until the last minute and feeling rushed when you shop. Plan ahead, be present, stay focused and take time to breathe.
- Mindful connections: The holidays are a great time to celebrate with family, friends and coworkers. Office parties, holiday dinners, and community events can be a great way to make new friends and strengthen connections with others. However, too many commitments may leave us feeling frazzled and exhausted. Family history may cause some of us dread the drama of family gatherings. Be thoughtful as you RSVP and be careful not to over-book your social calendar. When you are at a social or family event, practice being mindful of your surroundings and pay attention during your interactions. When engaging in conversation, try suspending judgment of others and of yourself. Focus your attention on listening and really hearing what is being said.
- Mindful entertaining: Hosting a holiday party or family event is a lot of responsibility. We want to decorate just right, serve an impressive menu and make our guests feel welcome and comfortable. We may feel pressure to meet the expectations we perceive others have for us. As you prepare to host an event, each task on your to-do list provides an opportunity to be mindful and focused in the present moment. If you are cooking, pay attention to the ingredients, the colors, and the aromas. As you clean or decorate, practice being present in the moment as you complete each task. When your guests arrive, relax and focus on enjoying their company.
- Mindful breathing: Set aside ten minutes each day to take a breather. Find a quiet spot and take some deep breaths: inhale slowly to the count of five, hold briefly for 4-5 seconds, and then slowly exhale to the count of five. Imagine all tension leaving your body as you exhale. This exercise helps quiet the mind and relax the body. The more often you do it the easier it becomes to breathe deeply and relax during times of stress.
- Mindful self-care: Whenever you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious just bring your attention to the present moment and take a few deep breaths to center and calm yourself. Practice the mindful breathing exercise. Be sure to make time for yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Read a book, take a nap, or go for a walk. Spend some time doing something you enjoy, or better yet, do nothing at all!
Luanne Andes is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Rejuvenate Mind-Body Wellness Center’s Columbia, MO location. She practices cognitive behavioral therapy for a variety of mental health concerns, works with individuals using Heart Centered Hypnotherapy and mindfulness skills.