Simple Mindfulness Tips to Reduce Holiday Stress
We know the hustle & bustle of the holiday season can be stressful - but we're here to help you switch from stressed out to being present in the joy of the season! Practicing mindfulness is a simple way for anyone to intercept the stress cycle and allow space to refresh your mindset. Read on for 5 simple ways to integrate mindfulness into your holiday season.
How Does Mindfulness Reduce Stress?
Stress is a situation that triggers a particular biological response within your body. When you perceive a threat or a major challenge - whether it be planning the family holiday dinner or the store being out of your favorite ingredient - chemicals and hormones surge throughout your body, activating a fight-or-flight response. Stress happens to everyone from time-to-time - but too much stress or not dealing with it properly can lead to physical and mental health issues. So how can you reduce stress this holiday season?
Strategies like ignoring or denying stress (what experts call avoidance coping), or distracting ourselves, which may be effective short-term, can also undermine our health and happiness in the long run. Research published in the Journal of Research in Personality shows that present-moment awareness, a key feature of mindfulness, increases stress resilience and effective coping. Mindfulness practice can actually reduce activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central to switching on your stress response, so effectively, your background level of stress is reduced and you are able to create your own positive reaction to the situation.
How to Integrate Mindfulness Into Your Holidays
During your holiday travel
Whether it’s traffic on your roadtrip or never-ending lines at the airport - actually getting to your holiday plans can be the biggest stressor. Instead of focusing on what’s going wrong, look at it as a chance for you to sit back, relax and focus on your breathing. Usually our mind is always wandering and going to the worst case scenario - especially when we’re in an uncomfortable situation. Instead, mindfully choose to focus on the good things - you are lucky enough to be traveling, eating well this holiday, and enjoying time with loved ones. You’d be surprised how many people aren’t able to do those 3 simple things! A long wait is a perfect excuse to be in the present moment with no worries and enjoy some mindful silence before a holiday event where there is little alone time. The result? You’ll arrive calmer and feel more rested and restored - and you might be equipped with some stories for the table after some roadblocks on your way!
During holiday meals
Eat mindfully. We often make meals a chore or rush to stuff our faces while watching TV or in front of our computer. During the holidays, there’s so many delicious flavors and treats to indulge in - don’t take them for granted! Try eating with full attention. Notice how it looks and smells, feel the burst of flavors as you place it in your mouth, notice the taste of each bite, the texture. Contemplate the many people it took to bring this food to you (from the farmers to people delivering it to stores to you). You will feel renewed, calmer and more focused after a mindful meal.
Listen mindfully to every interaction. Usually we are bursting with the impulse to talk about ourselves, to interrupt, or, oftentimes our mind is wandering – i.e. we are not really listening. See if, even for 5 minutes, you can fully dedicate your attention and awareness to the people who are speaking to you. Not only will you feel more peaceful and calm, but you will notice that you can understand them better and they will in turn feel deeply grateful and valued as they notice your full attention on them. As Simone Weil writes, “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
During cleanup after festivities
Hate doing the dishes, laundry, etc. - especially when there are loads of dishes after a holiday party? Research shows that we enjoy something more if we are 100 percent present with it. Next time you do an annoying chore, see if you can do so with 100 percent of your attention instead of trying to get it over with or daydreaming about something you’d rather do. Dare we say you might enjoy it?
When things don’t go as planned
Whether it’s a holiday party or getting the whole family to smile in a holiday photo - lots of holiday plans can go differently than we imagined. Naturally, we all want things to go perfect. The reality? It won’t. As we enter the holiday season, accept things will go array and plans will change - most of the time it results in the best memories! In the moment of stress from a last minute change - turn to breath work. Certain kinds of mindful breathing can activate your parasympathetic nervous system which initiates the relaxation response, depresses heart rate, blood pressure and respiration, and allows your body to engage in reparative and restorative functions. Methods like the 4-7-8 breathing technique will ground you and make you unstoppable!
Throughout the Season
Be mindful of practicing gratitude - everyday. Research by Shelley Gable and Jonathan Haidt suggests that we actually have three times more positive experiences than negative every day. What keeps us from fully capitalizing on all the good in our lives, making us a slave to the bad? We tend to focus on the negative. The antidote? Practicing gratitude. Moreover, gratitude has been linked to a host of psychological and health benefits. If we are truly mindful we will naturally feel grateful because of an expanded awareness of all of the gifts we have in our lives. Whether you’re at holiday events or at home, take 5 minutes to close your eyes and think of all the things you feel grateful for. Research shows it will not only improve your health and well-being, chances are it will also make you more resilient and happy.
(Inspired by Stanford Medicine's 'Six Mindfulness Tips to Combat Holiday Stress')