Stressed? How to Practice a Mindful Attitude During the Holidays

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Stressed?  How to Practice a Mindful Attitude During the Holidays

Practicing a mindful attitude during the holidays can reduce stress.  Begin journaling mindfulness and try some of these other techniques to reduce stress. But first, know that you are not alone if you find your stress level rising as autumn settles in and the holiday season looms large?  A 2015 survey by Healthline found that almost two-thirds of people report that their stress level increased throughout the holiday season.  I found it particularly interesting that even more women than men reported higher stress during the holiday season.  What’s the difference?  Could it be because we get carried away with trying to pull off the “perfect” holiday each year?

The holiday season can be stressful for anyone, and even more so when you oversee hosting a holiday party, have family stay with you, or are experiencing financial restraints.  Christmas brings a lot of extra responsibilities, such as the grandkids’ student holiday program and the extra work parties, not to mention the search for the perfect gifts.  As women, we can learn to practice a mindful attitude as a self-care technique so that we can meet our own needs and the needs of our loved ones. 

Apply a mindful attitude to help relieve some of the stress of the holiday season, no matter which holiday your family celebrates. By staying focused and being aware, you can learn to let the unnecessary stresses go and live in the moment.  We would all love to appreciate every moment we have throughout the holiday season and experience less stress!

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What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness.  The word sounds complicated, but it really isn’t!  Mindfulness is simply the act of focusing on the present moment.  Practicing a mindful attitude involves taking out the judgment, regret, or guilt and merely accepting what is.  In short, start paying attention to your thoughts and feelings at the moment.  For me, mindfulness works best with prayer and thanksgiving to God for the moments in life, both the rough ones and the smooth ones.  Remembering to be thankful for all of life’s experiences helps to settle my soul and reminds me that God is in control and knows the outcome before the moment even happens.

The more you can be mindful during the holidays, the more you can reduce your stress and anxiety levels.  Whether your mindfulness practice includes prayer time, a meditation practice, journaling mindfulness, or a combination of all three, simply being aware and putting some simple techniques to work has the power to improve relationships by reducing stress and increasing empathy for those around you.

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Why Mindfulness During the Holidays Can Be Difficult

Mindfulness is a beautiful practice year-round and is something you can benefit from no matter what the time of year.  However, the holiday season gives us even more opportunities to practice a mindful attitude.

Why the Holidays Are Such a Challenge

When I look forward to the holiday season each year, I dream of the joyous time I’ll spend together with family and friends making perfect memories.  When the craziness of the season begins to take over, I find it too easy to get lost in the chaos.  I know I’m not alone in this.  The holidays are stressful for everyone these days, and although I thought it would get easier as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed the opposite is true.

There is so much to do

And often with very little time. You still have your regular responsibilities, and now you have a bunch of holiday activities to juggle, too.

Financial issues

Many people struggle to figure out how to pay for decorations, gifts, parties, traveling, and other holiday expenses.

The expectations are different from reality

Even after you work hard to make everything perfect, it doesn’t always turn out that way.  Practicing a mindful attitude helps me remember that sometimes the less-than-perfect moments make the very best memories!  When we get stuck believing that all the memories must be picture-perfect, we miss out on the ability to laugh at ourselves and lose ourselves in the moments along the way.

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Ways Mindfulness Can Help You

Being more mindful during the holidays will help you reduce stress.  You can learn to stay present and put all of your expectations of perfection aside so you can enjoy the moments you get with your family.

You learn to accept the moment

Every moment you live is a gift.  Sure, life might not always be what you expect, but life isn’t about being perfect during the holidays. It is about enjoying yourself, being with family and friends, having more gratitude for what you have in your life, and making memories that you will cherish for a lifetime.

Mindfulness helps you slow down

Taking a pause and practicing a mindful attitude is one of the best things you can do to stay present during the hustle and bustle of the holidays.  Slowing down reduces stress and anxiety.

Memories are treasured

If you are constantly thinking about the next thing you need to do during the holidays, it will be hard to hold on to the fun memories as they unfold. Do you want to remember the holidays as a time you spent with your loved ones, or as a time when you were so busy you missed out?

A great read demonstrating mindfulness amid chaos:  How Did I Get That Shot?

How Can I Become More Mindful?

Practicing a mindful attitude begins by looking beyond the stressors of the holiday season and learning to let go and relax.  Concentrate on being present in every moment.  With just a few simple techniques and mindset shifts, you can be more mindful during the holidays.

Getting Started with Practice

If you have some time before the holidays begin, start practicing habits that will remind you to have a mindful attitude.  Allow yourself to sit quietly and focus on what you are doing throughout moments during the day.  You might try being quiet during a meal, begin a mindful journaling practice, or take a mindful walk while paying attention to what is happening around you and how the sights and sounds affect your mood.

Once you’ve got a basic idea of how it feels to practice mindfulness in your everyday moments, you will be more prepared to put it to good use during the more stressful holiday season.  Here are some additional ways you can engage in intentional mindfulness and acceptance of the moment.

Use Active Listening

Try practicing active listening during your holiday events.  Rather than tuning out, minimize distractions such as your phone and TV.  Listen with intention during conversations.  Acknowledge and encourage people to communicate by giving a simple nod or smile and responding directly with what they said.  You might be surprised at how much you will observe and hear.  Meals and holiday gatherings are excellent opportunities to bond with your friends and family.

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Be Open to Emotions

Once you begin actively listening, you can tune in to your own emotions and recognize how you’re feeling in the moment.  Being mindful of how I’m feeling is one step toward managing my own emotions and those surrounding me.  The fact is, Holidays are not always a happy time for everyone.  Loneliness, grief, and loss are especially poignant for many at this time of year.  Be open to those emotions in yourself and others.  As you practice a mindful attitude around your feelings, you will be better able to connect with others and make positive memories.

flight attendant with quote saying like with an oxygen mask you must put yours on first before helping others - emotions are the same - you must know yours first before understanding others

Let Go of Judgement

Those people who have mindful attitudes know how to let go of judgment and guilt, both for themselves and those around them.  Spend less time focusing on how you look, if the food is good enough, or if the venue is perfect.  These thought patterns are harmful and make it very difficult to be mindful and appreciate the present moment.  Be yourself and let others be themselves, too!

Remember to keep your holiday focus on the people and relationships rather than the perfect menu or décor.  For many women, the holidays are full of frustration and conflict.  Conflict with family and friends during the holidays can lead to judgment of others and nasty self-talk when things don’t go the way you would like them to go.

Instead of falling back on the easy habit of being critical of yourself and others, take a time out, remember how much you care about the people you’re spending time with, and let go of the details that don’t matter.  In the immortal words of Elsa, let it go!  If you can practice a mindful attitude by noticing when you’re feeling critical or judgmental, you can better stop those toxic thoughts and put some distance between you and those feelings.

More Letting it Go!

As long as you’re letting things go, try this:  Let go of old expectations that could be stopping you from having a peaceful and joy-filled holiday.  For example, in my family, we celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey.  We always have.  A few years ago, I could not have imagined a Thanksgiving without a turkey.  It’s the American way.

We now celebrate our holiday without a turkey.  Why?  Because after a couple of years of adding ham to our menu and finding that we ate the whole ham and threw away a whole lot of turkey a few days after the holiday, it was time to re-think “tradition.”

I polled my family, and much to my surprise, everyone said that they preferred ham and didn’t even care to have a turkey.  So, we have not had turkey for the past three years!  Just because the world says we need turkey on thanksgiving doesn’t mean we can’t make a new tradition.  My dinner prep has been much less stressful since I’ve given up thawing a turkey and getting up at the crack of dawn to stuff it and put it in the oven, only to throw most of it away just a few days later.  The best bonus is that we can donate our free turkey, and we know that someone is enjoying it way more than we ever did!

Being mindful of what was happening around our Thanksgiving table and letting go of the traditional expectations around thanksgiving has been a successful change for me and my family!

Practice self-compassion

You must remember to take care of yourself during the busy holiday season.  Instead of worrying about what you “should” do to please others, be aware of your own needs.  Sure, there will always be some holiday obligations that you cannot escape but balancing those with taking care of your needs is critical for a reduced stress holiday.  When you forget to take care of your own needs and spend too much time trying to meet the expectations of others, you will inevitably feel resentful and end up burned out.

woman with a hand saying don't should on yourself

Rather than focus solely on planning the perfect dinner or getting the ideal gift, shift some of your focus to practicing good self-care for your mind and body.  Stress reduction starts with good sleep and exercise.  Take some time out of your daily routine to treat yourself to a special treat or a five-minute pep talk in the mirror.  Better yet, take great care of your mental health by finding a good therapist. An outside voice is sometimes precisely the right tool to help keep perspective during super stressful times.  If it’s your first time seeing a therapist, read 10 Amazing Truths About Seeing a Counselor.

Repeated words on a chalkboard, "It's okay to see a therapist."

Take a Time Out

Having a mindful attitude includes taking a time out when you need one.  My husband and I use a phrase that indicates when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  We say, “my food is touching.”  Holiday events are the perfect time to find yourself getting wrapped up in what you should have done, what you still have to do, what is or isn’t ideal during the holidays.  My mind begins to wander, and all of a sudden, my food is touching!  The first step is recognizing when it happens, but the next step is knowing what to do next.

If I do nothing and let my emotions get the best of me, I will likely snap at someone.  Once I’ve done that, I feel bad, and the rest of the event is clouded by my bad behavior.  I have learned that a five-minute rest break is a perfect way to release some tension.  If you find your food touching, find a quiet place to sit for a few minutes and bring yourself back to the moment and what your wish is for this memory and how you can make it work.

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Begin Journaling Mindfulness

Treat yourself to a small notebook and a fun pen, and begin journaling mindfulness.  It only takes a quick minute each day to start writing down a few truths about your day and reflect on them.  A mindfulness journal allows you to practice feeling your emotions through expressive writing.  If you need some prompts to know what to write, sign up for my newsletter – I’ll send you a list for free to get you started!

Focus on the Moment, Not the Big Picture

Lastly, remember to focus on the present, and the moment you’re living in, not the big picture. Life isn’t about having perfect Christmas memories but is about living in the moments that make your Christmas memorable.

Using Mindfulness After the Holidays are Over

Once you have mastered being mindful during the stressful holiday season, it will become even easier to practice during the rest of the year, starting with the new year! Here are some ways to keep being mindful after the holidays and into the new year.

Using Mindfulness for Your Resolutions

Before the new year begins, you will choose some resolutions. These are goals you want to focus on in the year ahead. The new year is a beautiful time to enjoy a fresh start and a new beginning. Rather than focusing on unrealistic expectations, focus on what you want by practicing a mindful attitude and journaling mindfulness.

Think of the moment right now – What are you thinking about the most at this moment? What is bringing you joy? What is stressing you out? Being mindful NOW is what can help you figure out what resolutions will help you in the future.

Keep being non-judgmental and non-critical – Mindfulness can reduce your judgmental and critical self-talk and changes your perspective on your past and your choices, reducing your stress and just allowing you to make mistakes without regret.  Keep doing this and think of goals for the year and try to remember what makes you happy, not what you feel you need to do to “make up” for past mistakes.

Being Mindful Year-Round

After the holidays are over and the year has begun, keep taking pauses, journaling mindfulness, enjoying your moments, expressing gratitude, and just enjoying your life. The more you can be mindful during each of those moments in your life, the happier you will be.

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