The holiday season is upon us, bringing with it not only snowflakes and hot chocolate and presents, but also busyness and stress and overconsumption. What’s meant to be a joyful season often leaves us in debt and feeling rushed and overwhelmed and in need of a sugar detox. Mindfulness can be an extremely beneficial practice to help us get more out of this season so that when it’s all said and done, we have a sense of enjoyment and peace rather than feeling like we need to recover from the holidays.
Much has been written about mindfulness, but to offer a simple definition: mindfulness simply means to be fully present in the current moment. It has to do with slowing down, taking a deep, cleansing breath, and noticing what’s going on in and around us. Mindfulness can help us just “be”- to be more present with our friends and family, to notice and be grateful for the small, little joys (and therefore need less stuff), and to let go of expectations of how the holidays are “supposed” to be.
Here are some ideas for how to practice mindfulness this holiday season:
- Engage your 5 senses – With all the holiday parties and family gatherings, it’s easy to overeat to the point where we feel uncomfortable and unhealthy in our bodies. Balance is key so go ahead and enjoy those traditional meals and sugar cookies, just remember to eat mindfully. Take time to notice the spices and the flavors, the smells and textures. Experience the taste of what you’re eating. Notice how you’re feeling in your body and stop when your body starts sending you signals that you’ve reached satiation and you’re starting to feel uncomfortably full. Food is central to celebrations and togetherness and practicing mindfulness can help you enjoy all the wonderful aspects of it without the negative consequences of overconsumption.
- Practice gratefulness – Our society is inundated with stuff. During this time of year we can feel pressure to get and give more and more stuff. But toys sit un-played with, and we later end up buying books on how to get rid of our stuff. Mindfulness can help us appreciate simple gifts, because we’re actually going to take the time to really use them and enjoy them. Mindfulness can also help us reflect on a meaningful gift for our beloved. Visit local shops, make something yourself or purchase a good book for them and write a special note inside the cover.
- Let go of expectations – Holiday movies can often make us feel like our holiday experience isn’t good enough. They can put a lot of subtle pressure on us to have the “perfect” Christmas, New Year’s, etc. Our children will all behave nicely and the house will be perfectly decorated and all family conflict will get resolved in the end…not! Practice accepting things as they are and creating your own unique holiday experience. I know I’ve struggled with this one, as my family is far away and things that I had hoped would come to pass by now have not. One day I realized that it was this fixed image in my head of what Christmas is supposed to be like that was the source of so much unhappiness for me around the holidays. People celebrate all over the world in all kinds of ways with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations. Don’t let the canned Hallmark version of the holidays ruin your special and unique celebration.
- Practice empathy – be mindful of others’ feelings and struggles. It’s so easy to get frustrated in a crowded store with long lines. This is a great time to practice mindfulness by taking the time to slow down, notice the stress on the cashier’s face too, and practice kindness. Waiting and traffic are sometimes inevitable, but mindfulness can help you weather it better. Also, be aware of those who are struggling during this season and recognize that for many this can be a time of grieving and deep sadness. Taking the time to slow down and be mindful of others will help you feel more connected.
It’s often said that as we age, time seems to go by faster and faster. Perhaps part of the reason for this perception of time is that we fall into autopilot mode and life just zooms past us. Taking the time to slow things down by practicing mindfulness this holiday season can help us really engage in and enjoy the memories we create.
By: Adina Loomis