The Holidays are the perfect time to practice Mindfulness!
Depending on your family traditions, the holidays can be a very stressful time. Between dance recitals, holiday school programs, Christmas shopping, light decorating, gift wrapping, the list is endless this hectic season. This also doesn’t begin to talk about the many complexities that the holidays bring up around family. Some blended families or even nuclear families have difficult dynamics that are heightened during stressful holiday dinners. However, there are some very simple things we can do to SLOW things down that can make the holidays a more enjoyable time of year for everyone!
Mindfulness as described by UCLA’s Dina Winston is the everyday practice of “paying attention to the present moment experience with open curiosity and a willingness to be with what is”. The present moment is where we are right here, right now. Not tonight when we have that stressful dinner or next week when we have all of those things to get done. The present moment is also not the past, which holds perhaps a lot of painful memories or reminders about where we could have done better. Mindfulness practices can be very liberating because our job is just to get through this tiny present moment without the burden of the past, and without worrying about a future that is not yet here.
The first step in practicing mindfulness is always to become aware. Simply, become aware that you are no longer in the present moment and may have drifted off into memories of the past or worry thoughts about the future. Usually thinking excessively about the past brings with it depressive symptoms or guilt and thinking worry thoughts about the future brings with it nervousness or anxiety symptoms.
There is one simple technique that can help us stay in the moment once we have noticed that we have left our present moment experience and it’s called STOP. This is a mindfulness acronym that works well during the stressful times of the holidays to help walk us through difficult and situations.
S – STOP. As stated earlier the first step is always awareness. Once you realize that you have a strong emotion such as anger, frustration, sadness or anxiety, simply stop. If you are able, stop what you are doing and take a mindful moment to gather and re-center yourself.
T – Take a breath. This is a meaningful breath, inhale preferably through the nose, holding it for a second or two and then exhale as if blowing into a balloon through the mouth. Depending on what situation or strong emotion you are working with, you may need to do this 2-4 times. Remember your breath is your key into connecting to your body. Your body is a great resource when trying to figure out what is going on. It gives us clues, often not so subtle ones about what is happening such as stomach cramping, a knot in the throat, etc.
O- Observe. Go within yourself. Observe what is happening in your body, take the clues that you began to feel with the breath and see what internal processes are happening. Am I feeling hot? Do I feel shaky? Is my heart pounding? This requires you to slow down and quiet down for a moment in order to connect with what is going on inside. Then quickly turn the attention outward, what is going on around me? Often, stressors outside and near us are contributing to increased stress. For external observation, utilize your five senses, what do you hear, see, smell, touch or even taste?
P-Proceed. Now that you are more connected with yourself, your triggers and your emotions, you may proceed or resume your activity. You now can operate from a more centered place where you can make higher or better decisions. This process allows for the very necessary “speed bump” that is helpful in order to not say or do things that we later regret. It is not fool proof but very useful especially if put into practice on a frequent basis.
Mindfulness is a daily practice of becoming aware of one’s thoughts and feelings in order to operate from a better place. However it is definitely a practice as the benefits are only reaped through the repetitive process where new pathways are formed. So, as we look forward to sharing the holidays with loved ones and begin worrying about getting everything done, we might STOP and utilize our mindful moments so that we can enjoy the time spent and BE in the moment just a little bit more this season.
-Yessica D. Avancena, MBA, LMFT