10-Minute Holiday Stress Relief Using Mindfulness Practices
That's the average amount of money U.S. consumers expect to spend on Christmas gifts this year.
This is the number of people glutting the highways for holiday travel — not to mention the increase in surface road traffic from frantic shoppers trying to get it all done before December 25th.
In addition to spending more than we really want to and fighting traffic and crowds, the holiday season can stress us out for a sleigh-full of reasons.
Our “to-do” lists and calendars explode with extra holiday tasks and obligations — attending parties and children's events, holiday decorating, mailing out cards, wrapping gifts, hosting guests, and preparing festive meals. It's enough to make you want to slap an elf.
In spite of these stressors, we tend to have expectations about creating the “perfect” Christmas or holiday occasion — a Norman Rockwell painting where everyone is happy, sociable, relaxed, and toasting with egg nog.
But for most of us, that picture is only partially accurate and difficult to maintain when we're already harried. It's not uncommon to have feelings of sadness, overwhelm, and anxiety during the holidays. For some, the holiday season is fraught with loneliness and depression.
Family get-togethers aren't always the peaceful, harmonious occasions we envision. Every family has those members who are irritating, opinionated, or critical, requiring all of your inner resources to remain civil and calm.
Add too much alcohol, over-indulgence in fattening and sugary foods, and more late nights than normal, and you may find yourself crumpled under the tree praying for three wise men to show up and rescue you.
The point of all of this is to say that you need to pay more attention to yourself during the holiday season. You need to recognize that as fun and festive as the season can be, it can also drain you, lower your resistance to illness, and impact your emotional well-being.
There are many things you can do that only take ten minutes (or less) a day to help you find your center, regain emotional equilibrium, and manage stress — so you have the physical and emotional energy to savor the season rather than resent it.
Here are some 10-minute holiday stress relief ideas using mindfulness:
When you feel yourself getting stressed-out and overwhelmed, stop what you are doing. Sit down for a moment. Close your eyes. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths through your nose.
Then breath normally, mentally following your breath as you inhale and exhale. Do this for a few minutes until you feel your heart rate go down and your body relax.
You can practice this breathing exercise just about anywhere. Even a few minutes of breathing can make a big difference in how you feel.
Turn breathing into a meditation.
If you have more than a couple of minutes, extend your breathing exercise into a short meditation period. Continue to follow your breathing for a few more minutes.
Once you feel calm, start to notice your thoughts. Just watch them float through your mind as clouds float through the sky. Don't judge your thoughts or get lost in them. Just notice them and allow them to float by.
You might mentally say to yourself, “There's a stress thought.” “There's a thought of frustration with my sister.” “There's a thought that I can't get it all done.” Just name the thoughts without labeling them good or bad.
If your thoughts start to take over, return to noticing your breathing to help anchor you.
Be present with what you are doing.
In the mad rush to get it all done, our tendency is to race through each task and check it off the list. But when you do this, you miss something important — the beauty in the present moment.
You might think there isn't much beauty in washing the sheets for the guests arriving tonight, or wrapping your 34th gift for the day. But rather than mentally resisting a task or rushing through it, be fully present with it.
Pay attention to every aspect of the task at hand, no matter how menial or repetitive. Remind yourself of the “why” of the task — to bring someone joy, to share something special, to show love.
Most of the joy in the holiday season is in the anticipation and preparation for the big day. Don't waste that joy in a mad rush or a flood of frustration. Be present. Savor. Enjoy what you are doing.
Be present with people.
Speaking of the “why” of the holiday season, aren't the people in your life the most important part of the season?
Are you so busy or distracted that you've neglected to sit quietly with your child and read a story?
Do you have so much on your list that you and your spouse haven't had a date night in weeks?
Are you so overwhelmed with your schedule that when your friend calls needing your support you don't have time to talk?
You'll get it all done, and even if you don't, what's really more meaningful than being available to the people you love and care about?
You need these authentic interactions to remain grounded and focused on what's truly important. Carve out 10-minute time slots to reconnect with your family and friends a few times a day.
Turn off your phone, shut down the computer, put away your list, and spend time with these people — talking, touching, listening, and laughing. This is healing medicine.
Prioritize and simplify.
Take ten minutes each morning to think about what you want to accomplish for the day and how you are going to carve out time for family and friends — and for yourself.
Start with the time for yourself and other people (a lunch with friends, a mid-day call to your spouse, a quiet cup of tea while listening to music). Then add in the other things you need to do.
Ask yourself what is absolutely necessary to accomplish today and how you can simplify tasks or even delete them from your list. Do you really need the perfect new tree skirt? Is it absolutely necessary to attend the neighbor's cookie swap? Is the client dinner something that can be put off until after the holidays?
Try to give yourself plenty of time and space to enjoy the season — even if it means doing less and giving fewer but more thoughtful gifts.
Give mindful gifts.
And about those gifts . . . do you feel obliged to buy things that are out of your price range or that are careless purchases because you're running out of time?
With the internet, shopping can be so much less stressful and time-consuming. And you don't need to spend a lot on someone to bring them joy and show you care about them.
Take a few minutes to think about the personality and interests of the people you are buying for.
Are they practical?
Do they have a favorite hobby or interest?
You can get some great ideas for gifts by Googling the type of person you are buying for.
Related Post: 40 Meaningful and Mindful Holiday Gift Ideas
Walk or exercise for a few minutes a day.
You already know that exercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress and improve your mood. But you may have let your fitness routine slip in the holiday madness.
I have one word for you: don't!
Even if you just take a quick walk around the block or do ten minute's worth of aerobic activity, keep up your exercise habit for a few minutes a day.
You can make time for some jumping jacks or to turn on a 10-minute workout video. Something is better than nothing, and by keeping up your fitness routine during the holidays (even for just a few minutes), you groove the habit so you're ready to start the New Year on the right foot.
Take time for gratitude.
Positive psychology research has proven that expressing and contemplating gratitude improves your overall happiness and peace of mind.
Feeling grateful evokes more positive emotions, helps you relish good experiences, improves your health, supports resilience, and builds strong relationships.
One of the best ways to express gratitude is by writing or journaling about it. Take a few minutes at the beginning or end of your day to write down everything you felt grateful for in the previous 24 hours.
As you write your gratitude list, take a moment to relish each item and immerse yourself in the feelings of gratefulness. You can even imagine what life would be like without each particular blessing to enhance your feelings.
The holiday season is also one of the best times to reflect on all of the positive experiences, events, and people you encountered in the past year and how they impacted your life for the better.
In it's most paired down expression, mindfulness is simply paying attention.
This holiday season, don't lose yourself or your sanity in the rush and madness. Pay attention. Be present. Become more aware of each moment. Take time for yourself and your family. Savor the simple things.
By just spending a few minutes a day practicing mindfulness, you will find there's much more joy, peace, and love available for you to give and receive. And isn't that what the season is about anyway?