Does the thought of being fully present during the holiday season seem impossible? With office parties, lights to string, presents to wrap and eggnog to drink, it might seem like focusing on moment-to-moment experiences is a resolution best saved for the new year. If you’re feeling overwhelmed (and a little bit stressed) thinking about the upcoming festivities with friends and family, don’t despair. We rounded up some of the top mindfulness tips to help you make it through the holidays.
Work your mindfulness muscles
Before you can tell yourself to be mindful, you need to learn how to flex this powerful muscle. Dr. Howard Jacobson, cofounder of WellStart Health, says you develop the capacity to be mentally present by practicing.
“You don’t get it by wishful thinking or by shaming yourself,” he tells SheKnows. His tip: When you notice that you’re somewhere else in your mind, bring yourself back, and do it again and again.
Be aware of your body
Mindfulness doesn’t just happen in your head. You also need to be aware of what’s going on in your body. “Your breath, your muscular tension and posture are all doorways to a mindful and conscious state,” Jacobson explains. The more you pay attention to your body and trust its preferences, the more your body will wake you up when you slip into mindlessness. He recommends repeating this simple exercise:
- Take a minute to notice the rise and fall of your breath. Notice if it changes in some way in response to the attention. See if you’re holding unnecessary tension in your neck, your arms, your belly or your legs.
- Allow these areas to relax.
- Notice your posture and see if it wants to shift to a position of greater ease or comfort.
Deal with discomfort
Holidays are prime times for experiencing uncomfortable feelings, both physically and mentally. That’s when Jacobson says we often check out and distract ourselves with food, technology and other addictions. But instead of stepping away, he recommends being with the discomfort.
“The more we are willing to feel, the more we can stay present when negative feelings arise,” he says. Not sure how to do this? Jacobson says to try this mindfulness exercise.
- Find a thought that is a two on your discomfort scale from one to 10 (with 10 being awful). For example, think about an upcoming family meal with those relatives you don’t get along with (if that’s a two for you and not a palpitation-inducing 11).
- Hold that thought and breathe in a relaxed way. Notice where in your body you feel the discomfort of the thought. Stay with it for half a minute.
- Tomorrow, try the same thing with a thought that triggers a three on the discomfort scale. Keep challenging yourself until there are no thoughts you’re unwilling to tolerate.
Eat with awareness
The holidays are a fantastic opportunity to engage in mindful eating. In fact, Dr. Honore Lansen, a physician with One Medical, tells SheKnows that sitting with family and friends for a meal can slow eating and activate our senses.
“Savoring flavors and recognizing tastes makes eating more enjoyable and allows us to be more intentional in our choices,” she explains. “Eating mindfully helps us to feel more content and as a result prevents overindulgence and ensuing guilt,” says Lansen. The holidays are a perfect time to work on restoring a healthy relationship with food.
If holiday festivities begin to feel stressful, brave the cold weather and take a mindful moment to step outdoors to welcome the invigorating sensations of nature, Dr. Nina Smiley, a psychologist and director of mindfulness programming at the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York, tells SheKnows.
“Focus on your senses of sight, smell, sound, taste, touch, and observe how these are stimulated in winter,” she explains. “The soft touch of falling snow, the comforting warmth of your jacket against the crisp wind, the smell of winter air, the crunch of snow under your feet — these are sensations that will lift your mood as you experience being outdoors and truly [being] present in the moment.”
Winter is a great time to unwind in warm bubble baths, light some candles or bask in hydrating face masks as a pick-me-up. And according to Smiley, the simplest opportunity for self-care is literally only a breath away.
“Find some products with seasonal scents, like pine or spice, to help enhance your mood,” she says. “Taking several deep, gentle breaths and doing some mindful breathing with a slow, full inhale and a relaxed release while letting go of thoughts can clear the mind and calm the body, one moment at a time.”
Take a meditation break
Practicing meditation regularly can help decrease stress and improve your mood — two things that are especially important during the holidays. The best part about meditation is you can do it anywhere, any time.
“It’s all about cueing into your environment,” Lansen says. Take a moment to be still and listen to the noises around you. Even if it’s on the subway, it counts as meditation. And if you’re looking for more guidance, Lansen recommends checking out one of the amazing, free guided meditation apps that help you center your mind and effectively de-stress.
Focus on you
It’s difficult to take a break and focus on yourself during the holidays, but Celeste Viciere, a licensed mental health counselor, tells SheKnows you need to create a concrete plan that includes doing something just for you.
“This plan should be written down and placed somewhere that you will see it regularly,” she explains. Some easy self-care examples are things like reading, deep breathing, going for a walk or taking a lunch break. “Starting a routine like this before the holidays can also make it easier to manage stress that comes with a busy holiday schedule,” she adds.