Stress can really put a big damper on your quality of life, interrupting your sleep, disrupting your immune system, slowing down the progress of your workouts and even potentially leading to weight gain. There is little doubt that the holidays are usually the highlight of the winter. Along with all the good food, shopping and time spent with family, also comes new sources of stress. Traveling, changing your routine, food and alcohol indulgences and treats and spending more money than you may have expected can all have a potential down side. This is unequivocally the last thing you want when you are trying to soak in the festivities and enjoy yourself.
Some level of stress is beneficial, because it keeps you motivated to get things done. In our modern world, especially during those chaotic times of the year when your to-do list becomes packed, you begin to operate in a constant, low-grade state of emergency. This can drive up cortisol levels which depletes energy, can lead to increased food cravings, and generally just makes you less fun to be around. Stress can also impact immune function, making it more likely you’ll become sick, along with take its toll on brain function since it can have devastating effects on your personality, memory and learning.
During this time of the year, the benefits of having even a little downtime during the day for mindfulness are numerous.
Meditations have many forms, but in our western culture, we can make a slight generalization that meditation is doing “nothing.”
Once you know where to look, it becomes simply an activity to keep your body engaged.
How To Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Busy Holiday Schedule
Our culture is one of business, effort, deadlines, striving and achieving. The information age has us racing through life at a pace that would leave ancient man in disbelief!
People rarely allow themselves to slow down and be fully present for the precious moments of their lives.
Physically slowing down helps you mentally slow down. You will derive more pleasure out of the holiday season by slowing things down. Take some time out to eat a meal and really connect with your family (With the TV off!).
Walk barefoot on the grass, enjoying the sensation. Take time to connect with a customer instead of “selling” to them. Do one thing at a time and be there, fully.
One Thing At A Time.
Modern life is all about ‘multi-tasking’. Some people boast of their multitasking abilities on their resumes or at job interviews, others do it among friends and family as they talk about the things they try to get done in a day.
There is a myth that multitasking makes you more productive; in reality, it drains your energy exponentially faster. Trying to spread your attention so thin and keep up with so many things makes you more prone to mistakes. This does not result in you being more productive; you are simply busier, both mentally and physically, exhausting yourself needlessly.
Try changing your focus to doing just one thing at a time. Take on each task, chore or commitment with full awareness, one by one. You will find you can be more efficient with the task, and finish it without feeling worn out or tense.
When you are ‘doing’ simply be there fully, with all of your attention, for each moment of it. Remember, the holidays are not a to-do list. They are meant to be enjoyed!
A Mindful Minute.
You can introduce short ‘meditation minutes’ throughout your day. You will need a clock or timer for this exercise. Set the time for one minute. During this time, your task is to focus your entire attention on your breathing, and nothing else.
You may practice with your eyes either open or closed. If you lose touch with breath and become lost in thought during this time, simply let go of the thought and gently bring attention back to the breath. Bring attention back as many times as you need to.
Minute meditations can be a wonderful practice for times when your start to feel a little stressed or aggravated.
Living in a culture where idleness is frowned upon has one forget how to be still and do nothing at all. Especially over the holiday season, this mentality that screams, do, do, do! Go, go, go has been ingrained. The idea of sitting and doing nothing can be so foreign that even the thought makes many feel uncomfortable, even guilty.
Schedule some nothing time each day, even a short 5 minutes to sit and do… nothing.
Sit silently in a favourite chair or in a sunny spot outside, if possible without mobile phones, beepers or other distractions near you. Become still. Bring your full awareness into the present moment and to your sensory perceptions. All that exists for you is the here and now.
You may be amazed at how pleasurable and satisfying it is just to ‘be’. Taking five minutes from your day will give back immeasurably to how you navigate the endless seasonal busy-ness.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
Walking can give you a chance to spend time being mindful without taking any extra time from your day. Whether you are walking around your neighborhood, from the car to the store or through the hallways at work, you can turn it into a meditative exercise.
Before beginning, create the intention to walk mindfully. Allow yourself to become aware of the sensation of standing. Put your attention on your body. Pause, take one conscious breath.
Begin to move your feet. If possible, you can walk slowly and deliberately to aid you in your practice. Notice how the floor feels under your feet, how your clothes feel swishing around your body. Pay attention to the details in your surroundings such as the architecture of the building, the plants you are passing, and the birds singing in the trees.
Be present and aim to remain there for every step.
When listening to another person people are often there in body, but not fully present. The focus is not on listening but rather on the internal mental chatter. You might judge what they are saying, mentally agreeing or disagreeing, or be thinking about what you want to say next.
The holidays are a time for connecting. When you find yourself with a friend or loved-one, try using this as an opportunity to exercise mindfulness. Focus on really listen to what they are saying rather than simply hearing words.
Focus all of your attention on the other person. You will be amazed at the power of listening; it is a true act of love and kindness. People appreciate it deeply and feel a deeper connection with you when you take the time listen. You may also find that they begin to listen to you more fully when you speak.
Turn your holiday tasks into mindfulness sessions. Housework, shopping, preparing, cooking and cleaning take up a good portion of this time of the year. Instead of thinking of these as tiresome or boring chores, the tasks can become mindfulness rituals.
When preparing a meal or doing the dishes, focus all of your awareness on the task at hand, in the present moment. Aim to be fully engaged in what you are doing and not caught up in mind chatter or just rushing to the end of your task.
Rather than rushing through it, notice the feel and textures, the looks and the smells of what you are touching. Pay attention to patterns and colours and the way they are affected by the light in the room.
In this way, every little act becomes a ritual. It keeps you in tune with the moment, with yourself, your space and even the world around you.
Eating With Awareness.
Eating mindfully can help you reclaim the pleasure of holiday indulgences as opposed to the stress experienced around complying to your Paleo principles. Enjoying your food is one of life’s most simple and wonderful pleasures. Mindful eating has been shown to help in making supportive food choices and aid healthy digestion.
When you sit for your meal, turn off all distractions and focus on your immediate experience. Before you begin to eat, pause. Look at your food, take notice of the scent.
When you eat take small bites and eat slowly. Be fully present in the moment with your experience. Enjoy the food for the nourishment and pleasure it gives. Appreciate your immediate environment and how it contributes to your well-being.
Through self-observation, mindfulness can automatically stream into your life. The moment you realize you are not being mindful – you are mindful! The essence of mindfulness is the ability to let go of the mind’s noisy compulsive chatter and to touch deeply the stillness that lies underneath.
The purpose of practising mindfulness during the holiday season (and beyond) is to focus on the one thing in life that you can truly control – your thoughts. You probably have no control over crowds, traffic, certain obligations or unruly family members and tiresome get-togethers, but you can control how you respond to these situations.
How might this holiday season be different if you began to prioritize a little time and mental space to truly and authentically experience things precisely as they are, rather than fight against them? You might find yourself released of unnecessary stress and more able to savor the present moment.