The holiday season can feel like a whirlwind with buying decorations, finding gifts, seeking out bargains, holiday party planning, cooking for gatherings, and traveling. We may over-indulge, have poor quality sleep, financial pressures, and interpersonal tensions. Don’t forget the end of year work deadlines and the kids being out of school.
It’s no wonder that when January 1st arrives, the holidays are long gone, and all that is left is the memory of stress. It happens to so many of us. It should be a time to be mindful, let go and celebrate, but for many it seems there is more to do and less time to do it, putting us under greater stress. Throughout the holiday season, it is easy to lose sight of enjoying and participating in the present moment. This holiday season use these ideas to help focus on making memories and being mindful of the moment.
Be With Time: Do less and enjoy more. Pick a couple holiday events that mean the most and attend those. Take care of yourself by saying “no” at least once – and maybe more! Be mindful of enjoying the time you actually spend with others.
Be With Sound: Take a few minutes to yourself every day to relax and listen to a Holiday song. Close your eyes. Pretend you have never heard the song before. Use mindfulness to explore the intricacies of the music as if you are hearing it for the first time.
Be With Contributions: You know the saying ‘tis better to give than receive’? Give time. Give things. Give meals. Make something nice for someone else. Be mindful of your giving to see the impact you have on others.
Be With Movement: Take a walk! Yes, outside. In the cold. There’s no need to feel that you have to rush anywhere; the aim is to walk as mindfully as you can, focusing your awareness on your feet as they land on the ground, and feeling the fluid movements of all the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs. You might even notice that your whole body moves as you walk, not just your legs.
Be With Nature: Take a few minutes to notice the feeling of the crisp cool air against your body. Notice your cool breath as you exhale. Notice the mustiness of the winter leaves, feel the rain/snow on your head, or the breeze on your face. Go out in the middle of the night and look at the stars.
Be With Vision: Pick out something to observe with sight (e.g. A holiday decoration, twinkling lights, snow). Watch how the patterns of light and shade shift unexpectedly. See the deep red color of the berries on the holly bushes or the pearlescent white of mistletoe. Don’t do anything except notice the object you are looking at. But really notice it and be mindful.
Be With Taste: Don’t engage in mindless eating, which is consuming food just because it’s there. It’s eating while distracted – watching TV, working at a computer or texting on our smartphones. It’s eating for emotional comfort instead of for hunger. To engage in mindful eating, think of all of the different tastes that you associate with the holiday season: Peppermint, fudge, gingerbread, hot chocolate. Allow yourself to indulge in a treat. Eat/Drink it slowly, mindfully, and savor each bite. Do not criticize yourself for a holiday indulgence.
Be With Smell: Take a moment each day to focus on the different smells of the holiday season. Notice the smell of the pine tree or chimney smoke. Boil cinnamon, bake cookies, cake, or bread. Light a scented candle. Put Potpourri in a bowl in your room. Spray fragrance in the air. Be mindful of each smell and if it reminds you of something or someone.
Be With Common Humanity: Forget Perfection. Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little cluttered or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life. Be mindful of your connections with others.
Be With Touch: When wrapping the presents, focus on the sound and feel of the scissors as they slice through the wrapping paper. How does the paper feel? Soft and slippery or stiff and sharp-edged? How do the presents feel?How does it feel to hold the person you love? To touch them and to be touched.
Be With Gratitude: Engage in the ten-finger gratitude exercise. To come to a positive appreciation for the small things in your life, you can try the gratitude exercise. It simply means that once a day you should bring to mind ten things that you are grateful for, counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to ten things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after three or four! This is exactly what the exercise is for – intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the day.
Be With Awareness: It’s impossible to prevent stress from arising, however, you can change what happens next. When something goes awry this holiday season, remember that stress is a “message” that tends to melt away once it has been “delivered” or felt with a full mindful awareness. Give yourself a few minutes to feel the stress, think about the facts and details, and worry. If you give the stress a few moments of your full attention, it will be much easier to put the stress out of mind and move on with your holiday plans.
Be With Mirroring: Children are DELIGHTED by this time of year. While interacting with a little one in your life, tune into their energy of wonder and enthusiasm, and try mirroring it. Really imagine what it feels like to be that
Be With Spirituality: Whether your family is spiritual or religious, the holiday season presents an opportunity for teaching. Parents or guardians are usually the most important influences in children’s spiritual development. Take moments during this holiday season to provide education to your children in the form of reenactments, storytelling, or by simply explaining different types of decorations and the meanings behind them.
Be With Breath: Focus on your breathing. Take a few deep belly breaths. As you inhale, feel the belly expand and feel the air flow into the body in a soothing way. As you exhale, let go of the judgments and tension.
Dr. Emily VanLeeuwen is a licensed psychologist at Rejuvenate Mind-Body Wellness Center in Lees Summit, Mo. She specializes in mindfulness techniques. If you are interested in learning mindfulness skills, stress management techniques, or want to know how to cope more effectively with anxiety, Dr. Emily can help.