The holiday season can be a stressful time—whether you are dealing with family and work colleagues or mingling at work holiday parties. Try practicing these mindfulness strategies to reduce stress and bring a calm and attentive approach to your holiday this year.
Mindfulness is a way to be open and aware of what is happening in the moment—being present both internally and externally. Mindfulness has been shown to improve relationship satisfaction, reduce stress in relationships, and increase empathy. Mindful practices can also help reduce internal stress and anxiety.
1) Practice active listening. It’s easy to tune out during holiday dinners and get-togethers, but try being attentive by using active listening. You might be surprised how rewarding and also how much more you will observe and hear. Try to understand the complete message that people are conveying—not just through their words, but also through their actions and body language.
Active listening works best when you minimize distractions, so put away your smartphone, turn off the TV, and turn down the music so that you can hear what people are saying. Acknowledge and encourage people to communicate by giving a simple nod or smile and respond by engaging directly with what they said (you don’t have to agree).
2) Be open to the emotions of others. By being attentive and receptive to the people around you, you can increase your ability to connect. Observe how people are feeling during the holidays, and be open to communication of those feelings.
3) Be open to a range of emotions in yourself. Holidays can bring up a whole host of different emotions—and not all of them happy or celebratory. For many, the holidays can be reminders of loss, grief, or loneliness. One might experience these difficult feelings, especially when loved ones are absent, so allow yourself to make space and acknowledge whatever emotions come up for you rather than try to get rid of them.
4) Let go of old habits or patterns that might be holding you back. Holidays come with traditions and memories but, sometimes, old patterns can perpetuate negativity. It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns. Perhaps you’re annoyed with your in-laws repeating the same story at the dinner table or anxious around a competitive coworker at a holiday party. Notice the thoughts and feelings the situation brings up for you. Try to be curious and open to what is happening in that moment, rather than being stuck in thoughts or feelings you might be carrying from the past. Not only can this allow the possibility of a new experience in your interactions, but it also can reduce feelings like frustration or boredom for you.
5) Expand how you communicate care. The holidays come with gift-giving for many cultures, but it’s important to explore how you can express your care beyond material goods. Try to expand your repertoire for showing your care by asking yourself questions before buying something: What are you trying to communicate through a gift? Are there additional ways to show that feeling or care, such as spending quality time, expressing how you feel about them directly, or doing something nice and supportive?
6) Let go of judgment—both for yourself and others. Conflict with family and friends during the holidays can lead to judgment and self-criticism. Whether you’re blaming your partner for not helping you prepare the holiday dinner or feeling disappointed in yourself when looking back at your year, notice when you’re making judgments. Take a step back and try to let go of those feelings and notions of being “bad,” “wrong,” or “inadequate.” Even if it’s hard to let go of judging, notice when it is happening to give yourself distance from the feeling.
7) Balance the “should’s” and expectations with self-awareness. Holiday obligations can be important but be sure to balance them with awareness of your own needs and feelings. Operating on obligations alone and trying to please everyone’s expectations can lead to resentment and burnout. Rather than focus solely on the “should’s” and expectations of the holidays (e.g., the perfect dinner menu, the perfect gift), observe how these expectations affect you. Notice what is (i.e., your feelings and thoughts on the issue) rather than what should be.
8) Practice self-compassion. During a busy holiday season, don’t forget to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself—body and mind. Schedule regular exercise like workouts, yoga, or walks, and take time to do relaxing or fun things so that you can recharge. Taking these breaks for yourself gives your mind the ability to be even more attentive and present when you’re with others during the holidays. You may even find that when you take care of yourself, it is that much more natural to be compassionate to others—all in the holiday spirit.
Copyright © 2014 Marlynn Wei, M.D., PLLC