Survive the Holidays With Mindfulness

Holidays can be stressful. Mindfulness can help. Here’s the proof. In a review of 39 studies drawing upon mindfulness as clinical interventions, researchers concluded that mindfulness techniques can help people struggling with such issues as anxiety and depression — often two unwelcome guests during the holiday season. Whether you’re feeling anxious about the potential emotional havoc of family gatherings, the strain of travel or you’re trying to stand strong in recovery during the revelry, consider adding mindfulness to your holiday survival toolbox. Read on to learn tips for using mindfulness during the holidays.

Focus on Food …Even More

Seems obvious enough. Holiday celebrations typically revolve around food. But this holiday season try using meals as a means to mindfulness. Mindful eating can also help you relate to food more appropriately if you tend to use it as a self-medicating tactic. When your brother starts pushing your buttons, pay more attention to the sweet potato casserole than his political provocations, and actually enjoy your food, instead of using it to stuff feelings. To eat mindfully, really taste your food. Notice the different aromas. Take small bites. Chew slowly and thoroughly. Observe the colors and textures. Pay attention to flavor bursts, saltiness, sweetness and other qualities. Try using your non-dominant hand to eat. This can help you slow down and focus on the sensory experience of eating.

Put Yourself in Time Out

You can’t put your dad or drunk uncle in time out, so put yourself there. Take small, five- to 10-minute breaks during the holidays to center. Being around relatives and old friends can sometimes have a time machine effect, catapulting people into old roles and behavioral patterns. Removing yourself from the situation and practicing mindfulness can serve to bring you back to the present day and your adult self. Walk around the block. Sit alone in your room. If the only place to escape is the restroom — go for it. Take deep breaths. Focus on colors, sights and sounds. Remind yourself that you are an adult and are in control of your life.

Wash the Dishes

That’s right. Recent research indicates that rolling up your sleeves and mindfully sudsing up those pots and pans can have a calming effect. The holidays certainly bring ample opportunities to practice this experiential meditative technique, so give it a shot. Instead of after-dinner quibbling with the kinfolk, volunteer for kitchen duty. The trick is to pay attention to the minute details of washing the dishes. This can bring you back to the present moment. Notice how the water feels on your skin and its temperature. Smell the soap. Pay attention to each plate, its shape and feel. Thoroughly engage your senses in the task. You’ll end up with clean dishes and a clearer mind.

Follow the Turkey …er… Bird

It may be too late for the turkey, but one approach to teaching mindfulness in children involves following a bird through the sky until it disappears. This practice can be helpful for people of all ages. Go outside and approach a bird. As it flies away, follow the bird with your eyes until it disappears. If all the birds have flown South for the winter, try recreating this experience by imagining a bird flying farther and farther into the sky. Following a bird can be a visual representation of following the breath or letting go of thoughts in traditional meditation. The bird represents the outbreath. In meditation, one pays attention to the outbreath as it leaves the body, moves forward and dissipates. Birds or breath, meditation can help decrease stress and anxiety and provide a more peaceful, positive state of mind.

Count Your Blessings

So much can seem to go wrong during the holidays, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s right. Not only ’tis the season for giving thanks, research shows that gratitude has positive effects on physical and psychological health. For example, a recent review of research on gratitude published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology noted that gratitude can enhance happiness and joy, build emotional resilience, boost the immune system and decrease negative emotions such as resentment and jealousy. Incorporate gratitude as a mindfulness practice amid the hustle and bustle, traffic, travel woes and challenging relationships that can accompany the decking of halls and dressings of turkeys. Write down five things each day that you are grateful for, no matter how small they may seem. Spend a few minutes focusing your thoughts and your breathing on each item on the list.

Repeat a Mantra

In the ancient language of Sanskrit, a mantra signifies a tool or instrument that transports the mind from activity to stillness. Those who practice Buddhism and Hinduism may use mantras in the form of a repeated word or sound, such as om, to aid meditation. A mantra can also come in the form of a word or phrase that is an affirmation or truism that helps bring you back to the moment or steadies you amid emotional chaos. Examples of mantras include: I am OK, this is temporary, I choose my path, or I am love. Choose a mantra, affirmation or quote that inspires you, or create a mantra that resonates with you. Repeat it over and over as needed to prepare for stressful times or as a centering technique when all you really want to do is throw a pie across the room. Good luck. By Sara Schapmann

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