The holiday season is upon us.  How do I know?  The traffic!  There seem to be more vehicles on the road, more stressed-out drivers, and less kindness toward others while traveling.  Although the holiday season is often focused on gratitude, it can also be a lot like holiday traffic—more people in our homes, increased stress for everyone, and less compassion for family and friends.  

And let’s not forget the added stress of COVID again this year!  Individuals of all ages have reported increased rates of depression and anxiety due to the pandemic, as well as altered holiday plans and traditions.

Mindfulness, a strategy to help us focus on the present without judgment, can improve our ability to truly appreciate the holiday season and accept the realities of our lives, both positive and negative, with grace.  Mindfulness is a skill anyone can learn and has significant benefits for our well-being, including decreasing anxiety and stress, relaxing the body and the mind, and increasing focus, concentration and perspective.  

Here are 8 tips to add Mindfulness to your holiday menu:

1) Breathe.  Focusing on our breath can help settle the mind and the body and prepare us to handle difficult moments.  Before entering a family gathering, workplace event, or that holiday traffic, take a few deep breaths in through the nose, hold if for a few seconds then breathe out through the mouth.  Repeat as often as needed.

2) Get grounded.  Often stressful times put us in automatic pilot and keep us from truly experiencing the beauty of the world.  When things start to get overwhelming (maybe during a heated political discussion at dinner), sit back and notice what is around you…colors, objects, smells, tastes, and so on.  This technique keeps us grounded in the moment and can help keep our emotions regulated.

3) Unplug.  As our interactions and activities increase during the holidays, so does social media.  This can keep us from focusing on the people and experiences right in front of us and can also cause us to make unrealistic comparisons about our real lives to others’ post.  Set some electronic-free zones, times or events that will allow true distraction-free time!  Maybe a specific room, meal time or when visiting with family and friends.  

4) Focus on Intention.  What are the meanings of the holidays to you?  How do you want to spend your time?  What behaviors do you want others to see from you?  Set your intentions at various times….beginning of the day, before holidays events, even when driving in that traffic.  

5) Do good deeds.  Research has shown that helping others also helps us.  And what we do for others does not need to be big.  Sometimes the smallest gestures can go a long way…holding the door for a stranger, helping to clear the table after a meal or giving an unexpected compliment.  Find ways to help others every day!

6) Take time for yourself.   Ask yourself, “What does my family need, including me?”  Particularly with the increase of events around the holidays, we may focus on others and forget that we also have basic requirements.  “Including me” is a reminder that we are also part of the family and have needs!   

7) Remember that everyone has a story.  We all have experiences that influence how we behave and see the world.  Your ‘Crazy Uncle’ has a story behind his behaviors.  We don’t always need to know others stories but being aware that they have one can make us understand them better.  Listen with an open heart and an open mind.

8) Embrace that you are a social being.  Whether you are extroverted and get energy from being around others or are an introvert and feel restored when alone, respect your limits when it comes to gatherings and events.  

While we cannot control the emotions, thoughts and behaviors of others, mindfulness can help us mold our own minds to make the most of the holiday season and into 2022!

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