How often have you begun the holiday season with the most exalted expectations, only to stumble into the new year burned-out and disappointed? The secret to making your holidays as enjoyable and stress-free as possible is to take the mindfulness you practice on your yoga mat or meditation cushion and actually apply it in your life from moment to moment. And what better time than those frenzied, emotional weeks at the end of the year? Here are some suggestions:
Live in the moment.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, most of your stress occurs when you’re worrying about the future or obsessing about the past. Live in the present; your mind naturally settles down and your anxiety dissipates. Easier said than done, of course, especially around the holidays, when your head is filled with back-to-back commitments and an endless list of things to do and buy. You can make a commitment to yourself to stop from time to time, shift your attention from your thinking, and pay mindful attention to your experience right now—the weight of your feet against the floor, your back against the chair, the coming and going of your breath.
Let go of expectations.
The holidays are fraught with promises that life and other people can’t possibly fulfill. Maybe you desperately want to take your family on vacation but discover you can’t afford it. Or you’re looking forward to a big family gathering but your folks get sick and have to cancel at the last-minute. Instead of attaching to the way you think things should be (and causing yourself unnecessary stress), you can choose to stay present and grounded, roll with the changes –and heed the other tips in this list.
Tread softly with the relatives.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em (or a little of both), family can be a major challenge to your peace of mind, especially when everyone’s stressed. Breathe deeply, and resist the temptation to rehash old hurts or expect more love and approval than they can muster (see above). Relish the tender moments, generosity, and togetherness that the holidays tend to evoke.
Be especially kind and gentle with yourself.
If you’re pushing yourself too hard, you need to be the one to notice, back off, and give yourself a little loving. Take a hot bath, do some yoga, get a massage, spend quiet time in nature, meditate, call a close friend. Do what nurtures you, then return to the fray refreshed, reinvigorated, and rebalanced.
Count your blessings.
Researchers agree that the key to a happy life is to appreciate what you have. Dwell on the positive and your mood quickly lifts. Spend five minutes each night, especially during the holiday season, reflecting on the good things that happened to you that day, even if they seem inconsequential. The sky at sunset, the loving look in a baby’s eyes, a gift from a friend, a tasty meal, a funny incident at work. Human minds tend to skew toward the negative to alert us to predators and other threats, so you need to make a special effort to correct the bias.
One Healthy Breakdown: Remember to be mindful, no matter how busy you get. In the end, you’re responsible for your own happiness and peace of mind. No one else can provide it for you, even at the holidays!
*Stephan Bodian is a world-renowned meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and consultant specializing in stress management and positive psychology. He is the author of the Mental Workout programs, Mindfulness Meditation and Freedom from Stress, available inside the Mental Workout app and on www.mentalworkout.com. He has also authored several books, including Meditation For Dummies and Wake Up Now: A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening, in addition to being the former editor-in-chief of Yoga Journal.