The holiday season is upon us, and though — generally speaking — we look forward to this festive time of year, there is one negative aspect; stress. During the holidays our daily stress level typically doubles. Too much stress has been shown to cause a number of illnesses, disease and wreaks havoc on our mental health. As such, it's important we find ways to manage and reduce it, especially during the holiday season.
Mindfulness — a popular meditation and counseling approach — can assist in that effort and aid us on a path of personal growth; a journey we take in order to reach our true potential and live a blissful life. More acutely, it can ease the stress-inducing chaos of the holiday season — or at least our reaction to it — while making us more available to our friends, family and ourselves.
How do I know? Personal experience.
Five years ago, I was forced to move from my home. The stress of what soon became an emotional and financial rollercoaster was intense. Thankfully, I had the support of a personal counselor whom I had acquired while pursuing my counseling degree. She had recently shared a bit about the stress-relieving power of practicing mindfulness and had recommended a book by Pema Chödrön, titled “Taking the Leap.” Instead of staying up all night with worry and simply staring at the ceiling of my hotel room, I decided to give it a read.
The author spoke of the familiar ways in which we all get “hooked” by stressful situations or the unwanted behavior of others and give way to anger, emotional outbursts, addiction, etc. She shared personal experiences and the way she came to employ the practice of mindfulness, reiterating the importance of seeking only progress in the practice; not perfection. Her instruction was to stay in the present moment and not get caught up in the “what ifs” or get “hooked” and become an active participant perpetuating our own stressful drama.
Over time and through my reading, the emotional upheaval that had previously been overwhelming seemingly had no power over me. I was capable of remaining calm and present in the chaos; simply an observer, rather than an active party fueling the fires of anxiety. And, I began to see my situation more positively by gently reframing the forced move into an opportunity to embrace a greatly needed change, to let go, leave behind the fears of the unknown and venture into a whole new chapter of my life. With that newfound perspective and sense of peace, I decided to abandon everything — everything, except the dogs I lovingly refer to as family.
Learning to stay in the present moment freed my mind from anxiety and opened it to possibilities. Additionally, it opened my heart to the purpose of the event and allowed me moments of gratitude in lieu of grief. That isn’t to say I didn’t feel sadness or loss. On the contrary. But I did not run from the feeling, nor did I shame or distract myself. I sat with it, became friends with grief and gained gratitude for that process as well.
I began to practice mindfulness in my daily life and noticed greater self-awareness, a steady calm where I had once experienced anxiety and personal empowerment in substitution of feeling out of control. No situation has since proven immune to its stress-relieving power; not even the holiday season that previously took the proverbial driver’s seat from me around Nov. 1. But, I now employ the practice of mindfulness. Here’s 5 reasons to add it to your holiday to-do list too:
1. Sit. Stay. Heal. It may sound like commands for a canine companion, but in fact it is the unofficial mantra for mindfulness. And, since the holidays tend to be a particularly emotionally stressful time, this approach can bring a genuine sense of peace. Sit with yourself – your pain, feelings, thoughts and experiences—by giving yourself needed quiet time amidst the holiday gatherings. Stay with the moment, and resist the urge to avoid, escape or distract yourself with holiday prepping. Healing accomplishes holistic wellness and spurs you on your journey of personal growth.
2. Judgment-free zone. Mindfulness is a practice; not a punishment. There is no judgment. It is a safe place for you to be and experience, without criticism. The latter is a concept with which far too many of us are familiar, especially during family-focused holiday events. Free yourself from the deadly habit of criticism by practicing mindfulness instead of perfectionism. If during meditation you find your mind wandering outside the moment, don’t criticize yourself. Just breathe, and come back to the present moment. It’s about progress; not perfection.
3. No filter. Like a selfie with no enhancements, you wipe your mind free of filters. Keep it simple. Simply see yourself and others as human; sharing the same life experience with unique circumstances and coping mechanisms, but all fallible and in need of love and understanding. It’s an extension of the spirit of the holidays — peace, joy and good will toward others and yourself.
4. Serenity now. Stress is chaos. Accordingly, so is the holiday season. Mindfulness is a practice in peace—the authentic intention of this time of year.
5. One moment at a time. Getting caught up in the “what if’s” typically leads to anxiety and dangerous levels of stress. Adding the unpredictability of family gatherings and holiday events is enough to push anyone over the edge. Mindfulness focuses only on the moment with no fear of the future—a reminder to simply be and breathe. It is a practice in being present—the greatest gift we can give ourselves and our friends and family.
MORE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
If you'd like more information on practicing mindfulness, click here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-courage-be-present/201001/how-practice-mindfulness-meditation
For more information on Pema Chödrön or to purchase her book, Taking the Leap, or other works, click here: http://pemachodronfoundation.org/
By Toshia C. Humphries, M.Ed., M.A.