By: Laura Miller, LMSW
With the start of the holiday season among us, you may be experiencing an increased sense of excitement and energy. However, you may also be feeling the pressure to make it “the most wonderful time of the year” and have a growing to-do list of holiday preparations while still managing the unique stressors of the coronavirus pandemic. With so much to accomplish, it makes sense to be pulled to tackle all of it at once. For example, completing a work report while searching for the best holiday recipes or folding the laundry while watching the news and planning your gift giving.
However, while multitasking may feel helpful, you may ultimately find that you’re losing connection with what is actually happening in the present moment; missing out on how you’re feeling or what you’re actually doing. Furthermore, with so much focus on the upcoming holidays, we become so future-focused, that we sometimes miss out on the small yet enjoyable things that are occurring in the present moment. This disconnect from the present moment can leave someone feeling even more stressed and may contribute to a worsening mood. Keep reading to learn more about mindfulness, a way to stay connected to the present moment and manage stress this holiday season.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has emerged as a new buzz word; the answer to all things stressful. However, beyond the buzz…what actually is it? Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully focusing your attention on the present moment, being aware of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without judgment and without trying to change them. Click here, to listen to Jon-Kabat Zinn, a prolific mindfulness writer and treatment developer of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, elaborate on his definition of mindfulness. You may also enjoy watching this animated clip on mindfulness.
A key component of mindfulness is acknowledging that it is a practice. One does not achieve mindfulness, yet practices it! It’s entirely natural and normal for your mind to wander off to different topics. Mindfulness is the act of noticing when the mind has wandered off to thoughts of the past or future and bringing it back to whatever is going on in the current moment. As you think about mindfulness this holiday season, recognize that bringing your mind back to the present moment is like building a muscle and that practicing mindfulness over time will help to grow that muscle.
Why Practice Mindfulness?
Research has demonstrated that practicing mindfulness is associated with several improvements. For example, practicing mindfulness has been shown to have a positive impact on overall well-being, mental health, relationship satisfaction,ability to sustain attention, job burnout and creativity. Furthermore, mindfulness has been shown to have physical health benefits such as improving cardiovascular health and immune response as well as decreasing cognitive decline, chronic pain, cell aging and other physical ailments exacerbated by stress such as eczema, asthma and psoriasis.
Mindfulness can also help individuals make decisions. For example, think about what happens when you respond to a text that makes you angry immediately versus what happens if you wait a little while. Oftentimes, the non-mindful response (having no awareness of anger) has unwanted consequences. Mindfulness can also increase your compassion for yourself and others. Remember, mindfulness is the practice of noticing what is happening in the present moment without judgment. Let go of those judgments toward yourself this holiday season. For example, change, “I’m so slow I’ll never finish everything I need to go done!” to “I’m doing the best I can in this given moment.” Mindfulness is all about being kind to your mind. In addition, the holidays often bring a layer of expectation; “We should be spending “x” time with family” or “we should be so happy this time of year.” Remember that these “should” statements are also judgments about how you think the present moment “should” be happening. Use mindfulness to bring awareness to your judgments and then let those go to…as if they’re items flowing down a conveyer belt.
How Can I Practice Mindfulness?
1. Observe what is going on inside your body and mind
Find a quiet place and get into a comfortable seated position with your feet flat against the floor. Allow your eyes to close or take a soft gaze down to the floor. Listen to the sound of your breath and notice how your body feels; noticing how your inhale fills your nose and how the exhale of air feels leaving your lips. Acknowledge the thoughts that come into your mind and then watch them go as if they are clouds in the sky. Then, refocus your attention back to your breath.
2. Observe and describe using all five senses.
Notice and describe five things that you can see, four things that you can hear, three things that you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. As you describe, make an effort to be nonjudgmental and only describe the things that you can observe.
3. Participate in one activity
Pick one activity and then fully throw yourself into that one task. Really allow yourself to get involved in the moment, letting go of any thoughts or self-consciousness. Have a dance party, go for a run, sing in the shower- whatever it is, just throw yourself in and allow yourself to do one thing wholly!
While exciting, the holidays can also be very stress inducing. Practicing mindfulness will help to slow your mind and body down as you navigate the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Additionally, you may want to check out a past blog post for more ways to cope ahead of a potentially stressful holiday season. Wishing you all a healthy and mindful holiday season!