For many people, the holidays can bring on mixed feelings. While it’s a joyful time to share with friends and family, it can also be stressful. This season, you can focus on creating beautiful memories with your loved ones by practicing mindfulness and meditation. This blog gives you self-care tips that extend beyond a warm bath that positively affect your mental well-being and physical health.
What is mindfulness?
The practice of mindfulness is a way to feel present and connected with yourself and the world. It can allow your body to move away from an activated state to a neutral and embodied state. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness, including meditation, gratitude, and even a walk in nature. You don’t need any special equipment or space to practice. When you’re first starting, it will be easier in a quiet place, but long-time practitioners can find the quality of being present anywhere –– even in a grocery store over the holidays.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness this holiday season.
From a guided meditation to a small breathing exercise, there are several ways you can take time to check in with your body and reduce stress or anxiety. As you form a mindfulness habit through practice, you will build resilience to immediate stress and discover positive benefits, such as increased focus, improved sleep, and a greater sense of connection. Try taking time before your day starts or in the evening.
Noting is an exercise where you breathe in and out while counting your breath and allowing thoughts to pass. While you count your breath in and out in increments of ten, you let your mind wander and allow whatever comes to mind without judgment. Instead of ignoring or critiquing your thoughts and feelings, you simply note them as a feeling or a thought and allow them to pass on. This gentle exercise can help you calm racing thoughts and reduce stress by allowing these things to move without staying stuck in your mind and body. We can feel more grounded and calm by seeing, labelling, and letting go of thoughts and feelings.
- Paying attention and feeling present
A simple method for practicing mindfulness is noticing everything around you and focusing intently on all your senses; name things you can taste, smell, touch, see, or feel. We often pass through our days without focusing on the details around us, from the warm glow of holiday lights to the rosy cheeks of our loved ones coming in from the cold. There is so much information around us; paying attention allows you to slow your thoughts and feelings and be present in the moment.
- Begin a journaling practice
Journaling is a powerful tool for boosting your mental health. Writing your thoughts relieves stress, allows the mind to slow down, improves mental acuity, and allows you to sort and prioritize information about how you feel and why––building a healthy connection between your mind and body. A regular journaling practice creates time in your day to practice self-talk and ground your feelings, which has lasting and positive effects on your emotional and physical health. If you feel stuck staring at an empty page, try writing with a journaling prompt that resonates with you.
The positive benefits of meditation are very well-researched. While short-term stress is normal and benefits your body by prompting immune-aiding cortisol production or helping you react to legitimate danger, chronic stress has many adverse effects. Chronic stress can be caused by common experiences such as busy holiday traffic, a stressful job, or anxiety and depression; it can also be caused by trauma and post-traumatic stress. This kind of stress causes the autonomic nervous system to remain fixed in a stress response instead of a regular cycle of reaction and relation. Meditation helps the body build resilience to stress and works to reduce the effects and likelihood of chronic stress.
A guide or teacher is very helpful when you are just starting to learn meditation. Whether you choose to meditate in the morning, over your lunch break, or before bed, there is a guided meditation that can help you learn the techniques needed to sustain a long-term practice. Apps such as Headspace are a great way to learn mindfulness skills (they also make a thoughtful gift to loved ones during the busy holiday season).
Movement can be a more accessible way to feel present and connect with your body. Slower movement practices such as the Feldenkrais method, different types of somatic movement, tai chi, and yoga offer your body a way to feel embodied, energized, and relaxed. Our bodies and minds are far less separated than we commonly believe, and all the parts of our bodies are in constant communication. Low-impact exercise that incorporates intentional breathing techniques and muscle engagement can build social connection, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, relieve pain and tension, and create a sense of relaxation and well-being.
Gift yourself a few distraction-free moments to find your centre.
Incorporating a habit of mindfulness into your life can help you respond to stress with more empathy, resilience, and even measured anger; it’s a way to feel present in our emotions without judgement and without allowing feelings to linger in our body––a major risk factor for chronic stress. This holiday season, try to add mindfulness tools to your daily routine. Mindfulness allows us to shift our perspective in stressful times and physically changes our brains to think more positively and clearly over time.
No matter which mindfulness tool you choose, gift yourself a feeling of presence and connection this holiday season by taking five daily mindful minutes.