Halloween is just behind us, Thanksgiving is around the corner, and Christmas decorations are already starting to take over stores… can you feel the holiday stress already?? With expensive gifts, non-stop travel, and what feels like impossible expectations, this relaxing and reflective time with family is often ruined by the need to go, go, go. There is, however, a very simple way to slow things down and enjoy what truly matters this holiday season: mindfulness!
What is Mindfulness?
In our busy world, you fold the laundry with one eye on your threenager and the other on the stove as you think about what needs to be done before heading to dance at 3. Just imagine what you’re missing out on during this endless rush! Did you notice just how happy you were when your toddler hugged you good morning or how satisfied you felt after crossing that last item off of your to-do list? Did you notice how productive your day was or were you caught up inside your own thoughts? Mindfulness is the opposite of all of that.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., known for his work in bringing mindfulness to Western society, defines the concept as “awareness, cultivated by paying attention in a sustained, particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”
It is the simple practice of bringing your attention to the present moment, letting go of future and past-oriented thoughts and allowing ourselves to experience the moment as it is with nonjudgment and acceptance. This might seem trivial, but think back on how many times you’ve only truly appreciated a memory in hindsight because we were caught up in our own thoughts?
What Does Mindfulness Do?
The ultimate goal of practicing mindfulness is to give you enough distance from distracting or distressing thoughts and emotions to observe them without immediately reacting to them.
Feelings of stress, anxiety, and disconnection aren’t merely inconveniences. In fact, the heightened state caused by stress starts a cascade of disruptions in our physical, emotional, and mental health! New research has found that practicing mindfulness is associated with improvements in:
- Physical health
- Mental health
- Relationship satisfaction
- Attentional focus
- Stress reduction
and even the reduction of negative emotions such as anxiety and sadness! This is partially due to its ability to stimulate our parasympathetic nervous system + calm our stress response, but being mindful also gives you the headspace to notice and savor positive experiences as they occur.
For example, how many times have you thought back on a holiday get together and remembered how great it was to reconnect with loved ones and create new, happy memories? As fun as it is to think back on how fantastic that holiday was, imagine if you had been able to truly be there and soak in the warmth of the room, the taste of the food, and the energy of your friends as it was actually happening!
How to Practice Mindfulness
The goal of any mindfulness technique is to achieve a state of awareness + relaxation by deliberately paying attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment, refocusing on the present moment. Unfortunately, mindfulness isn’t always easily accessible which is why many of us cultivate it through actions like meditation or yoga and there is more than one way to practice it!
Seated Mindfulness Practice
This posture practice can be used to begin meditation or simply pull back and center yourself for a moment.
- Take your seat.
Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid seat, without forcing you to balance or struggle.
- Notice what your legs are doing.
If on a cushion or on the floor then cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair then make sure that it’s stable and that the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor.
- Straighten—but don’t stiffen— your upper body.
The spine has natural curvature, so let it be there but pull your shoulders back so that your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your spine.
- Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body.
Let your hands drop onto the tops of your legs with your upper arms at your sides.
- Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward.
You can lower them completely, but be careful not to fall asleep!
Breathe in, then out, paying attention to the feelings/sensations in your body. Feel and follow your breath as you gently inhale and exhale. Inevitably, your attention will leave your breath and wander to other places. When you get around to noticing this, let the thoughts come and go without “sticking”, then gently return your attention to the breath.
Since many of us can’t or simply don’t have the time to sit when we could use mindfulness the most, it’s good to have another option. Active mindfulness is simply the practice of mindfulness combined with another movement or activity! Some do this through yoga, stretching, walking, or even daily tasks such as eating or folding laundry.
- Start by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, allowing your abdomen to fully expand as you allow the air into your lower belly.
- Now breathe out through your mouth and notice the sensations of the air as it passes and your chest lowers.
- Following this slow and steady breath, proceed with the task at hand (i.e. walking, folding, stretching) slowly and with full deliberation
- Engage your senses fully and take note of each sight, touch, and sound as you savor every sensation.
- When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
That’s it! Like we said, it’s very simple but often not easy which is why practicing this each day is your best bet to making it a useful stress-relieving tactic for you. For more ways to practice mindfulness, check out this guide on 22 Mindful Exercises!
Mindfulness + The Holidays
Mindfulness offers an effective way to cope with the holiday madness since it forces you to slow down so that you can experience the positives and distance yourself from the negatives. But how do you do that during the holidays where you hardly have time to breathe, let alone breathe slowly? In reality, there are infinite opportunities to practice mindfulness during each day. Here are some ways to incorporate mindfulness into your holidays:
Mindfulness + Food
Food is heavily associated with this time of year between Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. We often seem to let all notions of wellness go out the window during this time of year which sets us up for the dreaded Indulge/Guilt Cycle. Truthfully, we want to appreciate our favorite foods without the self-defeating thoughts, and eating mindfully is a great way to manage that.
By slowing down and being in-tune with the sensations and experiences of Grandma’s pie you’ve been waiting for all year. This year, try taking a moment to really notice the experience of eating your favorite foods! Simply take a moment to note how the food looks + be thankful for the love and time it took to create. Notice the smell and feel the texture before taking a small bite, then allow yourself to experience the sensation in your mouth and the rest of your body as you take note of the emotions, thoughts, or stories that arise in connection with it.
Eating mindfully over the holidays is a useful way to step back from the overindulging and soak up the real emotions and feelings that make the holidays so special to all of us!
Mindfulness, Friends, + Family
No matter how much we love our friends and family, the holidays mean dealing with the complicated relationships + expectations we have for one another. These can overwhelm the closeness and connection we look forward to all year, so how do you use mindfulness to take a step back to truly enjoy this time with loved ones without the stress?
In the midst of the holiday tumult, try to re-center by giving yourself space in the moment to experience feelings and thoughts without becoming those feelings and thoughts and be grateful for moments before they become memories. Pause to feel your feet on the floor and your breath as you exhale, then notice how your body feels. Note which thoughts and emotions are present, then return to focusing on your feet and breath as you experience these thoughts and emotions before allowing them to roll away.
When we take a moment to feel our feet on the ground and block out the unnecessary stress, we are more able to experience the moment in all of its emotion without letting those emotions steal that moment from us.
How are you using mindfulness to handle the holidays this year?
Tell us what s working for you in the comments below!