Being mindful is important anytime of year, but especially so during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Living with intention is a practice that takes time, effort and patience. Just like eating healthy is an exercise in willpower and lifestyle choices, mindfulness operates in the same manner—it takes discipline, and even a little bit of grit, to make focusing one's awareness on the present moment a daily habit as effortless as brushing your teeth.
The holidays tend to bring up a mix of emotions about family dynamics, feeling a certain way about the career you’re in and your relationship with food, among many other potential stressors that come up around friends and family you haven't seen in awhile.
When you’re skirting from festive party to family gathering to holiday dinner back-to-back, operating on everyone else’s agenda but your own, it can be easy to feel out of control. This can lead to feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and even depression. It's important to note that these feelings are completely normal and even expected around this time of year.
However, there are plenty of ways to manage this range of emotions, most of them involving finding ways to slow down and take care of yourself. Best of all? They can be implemented anytime, anywhere. E
I’ve taken tidbits from various wellness sources and experts to provide a handful of grounding self-care tips when you’re feeling frazzled or stressed out during this holiday season.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed with getting gifts on time, cooking a tasty dish for your neighbors and everything else that comes with this festive time of year, experts suggest finding a quiet space to write down five things you are thankful for. This takes you out of the current moment in a healthy way, helping you realize the feeling you’re in will pass, and remind you that you have a lot to be grateful for—even your unfiltered aunt who may be driving you crazy or your rowdy group of nieces and nephews banging toys against the wall.
Recommended from Jill M. Emanuele, PhD: Find a quiet place for just a few minutes (she recommends the bathroom, “as for some people, this is the only quiet spot), getting yourself into a comfortable sitting position with your feet flat on the floor. “Listen to the sound of your breath and notice how your body feels during this time,” she says. “When thoughts of other moments come racing into your mind, acknowledge them and let them go by as if they are on a conveyer belt and refocus your attention on your breath again.”
I like this tip for its practicality. If you’ve been at your in-laws' house for several hours, for example, your mind is probably in need of a break from the constant noise and chatter coming at you from all angles of distant relatives, holiday music and Christmas movies blaring on the tv.
Another great mindfulness tip comes from Marlynn Wei, M.D., J.D. She encourages us to “be open to the emotions of others,” stating that “by being attentive and receptive to the people around you, you can increase your ability to connect.” She suggests observing how others around you are feeling during the holidays, being sure to be open to communication of whatever those feelings may be.
While this one is more general, it’s a great reminder that you are not the only one feeling down or overstimulated during the holidays. It’s important to remember that we all experience the holiday season differently, acknowledging that all feelings, good and bad, are valid.
Along that same line of taking time to connect with people, I recommend getting out of your current environment, whether that's at your own house or a family member's home, to do something that disrupts that loop of anxiety or overwhelm that can occur when there are too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak.
Grab your sibling or cousin, bundle up, and head outside for a 45-minute walk. Sometimes all it takes is fresh air to clear your mind and recharge you. If you really need to get away for a moment, I suggest making an impromptu visit to your neighbors to wish them a happy holiday and check in with them. If you're more of a planner, volunteering at an animal shelter, women's shelter or any other place local that is in need of a helping hand is always an excellent idea. This will also serve as an excellent way to shift your perspective on what's really important during this time of year.
Finally, this last tip comes from Noga Sapir whose work lies in creating unique experiences in the mental health space for those struggling with conditions like anxiety. Sapir recommends that we “mind the ‘shoulds,’ and focus on what feels right" for us.
Too often we get caught up in beating to someone else’s drum instead of listening to what our own intuition is telling us. This can lead to burnout, exhaustion and feelings of resentment. Sapir cites examples of succumbing to the pressure of attending several holiday dinners, finding “the perfect gift” for a loved one, or “whipping up a mind-blowing meal.”
“Anytime you feel those ‘shoulds’ creeping in, become aware of them and ask yourself: does this really matter to me? Do I have the energy for this right now?” If we take a moment to get real with ourselves and focus on doing things that bring us joy, we can avoid burnout, resentment and exhaustion during the holidays.
The secret to mastering mindfulness lies within its daily practice. Small moments of breathwork, focusing on what we’re grateful for, focusing our attention on helping others and remembering that the holidays are meant to be enjoyed, allows us to fully experience the meaningful moments that happen during this magical time of year.
“Anytime you feel those ‘shoulds’ creeping in, become aware of them and ask yourself: does this really matter to me? Do I have the energy for this right now?”