How can you use mindfulness to cope with holiday stress?
Do you find you’re frequently trying to squeeze more into your day by multi-tasking? Or do you miss pieces of conversations or opportunities to connect because you’re distracted, rehashing the past, or worrying about the future?
In an effort to be more productive, we often try to do multiple things at once. I’m often multi-tasking even though I know it doesn’t actually accomplish more. It usually just means that I’m only partially paying attention to each task and then the quality suffers. This is true whether I’m writing, reading, cooking, or watching TV.
Staying mindful, or present-focused, can help you enjoy the holidays (and everyday life). Fully attending to your feelings and activities can decrease anxiety, depression, and stress.
Mindfulness can be incorporated into your life in a variety of ways. Most are quite simple and just take some getting used to. It may initially feel like you’re missing out or not getting things done, but it’s actually quite the opposite.
Mindfulness can restore the pleasure of life’s ordinary and extraordinary moments. Try one or two of these ideas and see how they work.
1. Do less. Most people think they need more time in order to get everything done. The holidays are stressful with all the extra commitments and errands. Instead of trying to figure out how to cram more into every day, try doing less — less shopping, less cooking, less wrapping, less traveling. Giving up some of the things about the holidays that drain you and stress you out allows you to more fully enjoy what remains. You can be less busy and more present.
2. Enjoy the process not just the outcome. This is perhaps my favorite mindfulness strategy and one that I continually have to remind myself of. Left to my own devices, I’m all about the results. I want to get it done and check it off my to-do list. But that’s no way to enjoy the holidays! I hate going shopping with one of my kids because he wants to look at EVERYTHING and then look at it again. I have to remember that for him the process, the looking, is a large part of the enjoyment. So, allow enough time for little Suzy to ooh and ahh over every possible nick knack she might buy for Grandma. Try to slow down and savor the process of baking cookies with your kids. Let them make them all uneven and covered in way too many sprinkles. Don’t make it just about the finished product, but about spending time, building memories, and connecting. And the same is true even if you’re alone. Hint: doing this in conjunction with strategy #1 (do less) makes it easier.
3. Step away from your phone/computer/TV. Yup, I know we all love our devices and it’s hard to put them away. I’m not talking about a day long hiatus. Just put it on do not disturb or stick in a drawer for an hour. The world isn’t going to end if you don’t respond to every text or notification immediately. They are a distraction and make it nearly impossible to be truly mindful and present.
4. Take the opportunity to really connect with others. Mindfulness allows us to deeply connect with our friends and family. When we give our full attention, listen with interest, and engage as if we really want to be with them, they will share more, smile more, and allow us to really known them.
5. Spend time alone. I think about spending time alone as an opportunity to connect with myself. Alone time is the easiest way to pay attention to your feelings, your physical and emotional needs. If you’re uncomfortable being alone, start with five minutes and work your way up to a 20 or 30 minutes. You may actually find you’re a pretty cool person to know!
6. Try something new. We already talked about why it’s important to dump the parts of your holiday routine that don’t bring you joy. Doing something new increases mindfulness because you’re more likely to pay attention and focus on the novelty. Just try driving home a different way and see if you don’t enjoy seeing some different holiday decorations. There are so many new things to try that may bring new life to your holiday – a new recipe, a different church service, a different type of family gift exchange, hosting a different type of holiday party. Change can be good (and if it’s not, you can always go back to your old way of doing things).
7. Get out from behind the camera. This one requires a bit of compromise. I think photos usually boost happiness, so I’m not against taking photos. But, don’t spend so much time behind the camera, trying to get the perfect shot, that you miss out on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
8. Play. Don’t be too busy to really play. Play with your kids, your dog, your partner. Adults need playtime, too! Think about what’s fun for you (sometimes remembering what you liked as a child can help) and make it happen. No excuses!
9. Practice gratitude every single day. Just because Thanksgiving has past, don’t let your gratitude fall by the wayside. Gratitude can be a mindfulness practice that you do internally by noticing and saying to yourself, “I’m so blessed to have this job.” Or “I really enjoyed having coffee with John. That was a real treat.” But like a lot of things, gratitude is even better when it’s shared. Try actually saying, “John, I really enjoyed our conversation. I’m so glad you’re in my life.” Thank you notes are wonderful as well. When gratitude is expressed, it’s a gift to both the receiver and the giver.
You have a choice in how you spend your holiday season. It doesn’t have to be a massive to-do list and stuffed full of things that you simply do out of obligation or tradition. Mindfulness is an effective way to cope with holiday stress. I hope that these nine ways of practicing mindfulness will help you reduce your stress and increase your meaningful connections during the holidays. Most of them are simple and free!
Wishing you a happy and mindful holiday,