Being Mindful During the Holidays
The holiday season is a time of joy and connection with others, but it can also be a stressful time of year. With shorter days and darker weather, the holidays can also bring lengthy to-do lists, and crowded activities and limited time to relax and share meaningful moments with family and friends. Practicing mindfulness can help alleviate the winter blues and better prepare you for the holiday season. Mindfulness can help you enjoy the seasonal changes and let go of holiday stress and channel your attention towards the current tasks at hand.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the intentional practice of letting go of stress and pain and letting yourself experience what is happening right here and now. The intention is to mentally let go of things that distract you from what you are doing. Mindfulness is often about letting go of our to-do-list tasks, expectations and worries so that you can focus completely on what you are doing in the present moment.
Mindfulness is one strategies that an occupational therapist can help you make activities more approachable, especially those that have become stressful since an illness or injury.
Try It Out!
The more you remember to return your attention to the present moment in this exercise, the easier it will be to do so during a real-life moment, when your attachment to thinking or worrying creates unnecessary stress. Randy McVeigh, an occupational therapist with OT Works!, has 11 years of experience practicing mindfulness. Here is one of Randy’s approaches to mindfulness for the holidays: Sound meditation.
- Set a timer: Decide how long you will practice the mindfulness exercise for. Consider aiming for 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
- Get comfortable: Sit in an upright position on a chair or couch; try to find a position in which you can feel comfortable, yet alert
- Breathe: Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths. Feeling your belly expand and contract as you inhale and exhale
- Listen: Notice the sounds in the environment around you. You may be able to hear the sound of cars outside, your refrigerator humming, neighbours talking, or any multitude of other things. Or, you may hear silence.
- Notice and observe: Try to just notice the quality of the sounds you are hearing, without getting caught up in thinking about what they mean. For instance, if you hear a dog bark, pay attention to the sound of the bark, without thinking about whose dog it is and what the dog is barking at. We are trying to practice keeping our attention “present” to the on-going sensation of sound, rather than getting lost in thinking about sound. This is easier said than done! Most people will get distracted many times when meditating for 5 minutes. That’s normal! Don’t try to stifle thought. Just acknowledge when you have been distracted by thought, and practice gently returning your attention to the sounds.
- Notice your feelings: You may find yourself enjoying listening to the sounds. If you are startled or irritated by a particular sound, just notice this feeling the sound has created in you, and return your attention to the sound
- Focus again on your breath: Return your attention to your breathing. Take 5 deep breaths, noticing the feeling of the air going in and out.
- Return: When your timer alerts you, or when you are ready, gently open your eyes. Take a moment and observe your environment (sounds, smells, sights). Notice how your body feels right. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. This exercise isn’t about the mindfulness meditation itself, it’s about building a skill that you can take out into the world. You can develop both concentration and awareness so you’re able to more frequently recognize what’s happening right now, make more intentional decisions about where your attention should be, and respond to daily situations in a more skillful way.
- Why should you practice mindfulness? Learn the benefits at https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#why-practice.
- How does mindfulness work? Learn about its mechanisms of action at http://www.mindfulnessinstitute.ca/the-science/
- Practice gratitude this holiday season! Visit https://www.mindful.org/a-simple-mindful-gratitude-exercise/ for mindful techniques to raise your mood and spread happiness.
- The BC Crisis Centre is a resource for residents of British Columbia. Check out their recommendations for mindful practice at https://crisiscentre.bc.ca/mindfulness/.