Many look forward to the holidays all year, but there is a certain kind of stress that accompanies this festive time of year. We are so overloaded with work, getting gifts, going to holiday parties, and spending time with family and friends that we often forget to take a bit of time for ourselves.
Whether flights are being planned to visit loved ones or houses are being prepared to host guests, there comes a time when we need to revisit a calm, collected, and happy place to keep ourselves centered.
There may be a few reasons we are stressed out. One, we are doing far too much than we can handle. Two, we may not be dealing with stress as effectively as we could. There are countless ways of healthily dealing with stress aside from stress eating and drinking or going completely ballistic. Enter: mindfulness.
Mindfulness means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” Typically, mindfulness is a meditation technique used to calm our senses and be aware of the environment we are in to more peacefully move along with our lives. Mindfulness is a great way of dealing with holiday-related stress, too.
Here are a few ways to ease your mind in a healthy way.
1. Eat mindfully
You rushed from work to buy a hostess gift to bring to a holiday party that started at 7 p.m., so you are very stressed out. Yet, you go into eating, drinking, and talking with people you haven’t seen in ages. Eat mindfully. Typically, stress eating is very real around the holidays, and often we force food down our throat before we even realize what we are doing.
Step one: Breathe and reflect. Reflect on your mood, if you’re hungry, and how you are feeling. While you are eating, chew very slowly. Make a count for yourself, like chew 30 times before swallowing. This may tell your brain that you are full, while giving yourself time to think and ponder. Between bites, put down your utensil. This will help you avoid the rush between bites before you rush off to your next task. Taking time to mindfully eat will help you eat less and give your mind time to stop and think.
2. Practice mindful breathing
This one is simple. All you have to do is stop what you’re doing occasionally and take three to five mindful breaths. Close your eyes, imagine your breath going in and out. Your mind will pause from the clutter and racing thoughts. Do this at work, at a holiday party, while wrapping gifts, or while at a stoplight.
3. Practice mindful activities
What mindfulness aims to achieve is living in the present moment, something many of us take for granted. We spend hours clicking away on our cell phones, mindlessly scrolling through unimportant things. Well, the opposite of mindless is mindful. Create a deep awareness in anything you do, like decorating the Christmas tree or focusing on walking while you shop. Listen to your senses: How do you feel? What are you doing? How does the ground feel beneath your feet (is it snowy? slippery?). As silly as it sounds, paying attention to every detail around you will force your mind to not wander off and live in the present.
Even during activities you may dread doing, such as vacuuming, doing the dishes, hanging up lights, driving to work, brushing your teeth, or standing in the shower, you can be hyper-aware of your surroundings and what it is you are doing. This will help ease your mind and keep it — for once — in one place.
4. Take a walk
Enjoy the scenery outside, even if it is bitterly cold. According to a 2013 study from Heriot-Watt University in the U.K., walking through green space can put the mind in a state of meditation. Even if you don’t have green space, walking is used as a reflective state and can truly distract us from all the stressors in our lives. Walking facilitates greater awareness to our surroundings and can help ease the holiday stress.
This is the opposite of multi-task — and quite possibly everything the holidays stand for. It seems nearly impossible to focus on one task at any given time.
“Rather than divide our attention, it is far more effective to take frequent breaks between intervals of sustained, one-pointed attention,” says Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness At Work. “Debunking the myth of multitasking, we become much better at what we do and increase the chance of being able to remember the details of work we have done in the past.”
Especially around the holiday season, it is important to follow through with one task at one time.