To say the holidays can be stressful is an understatement. Between baking, shopping for gifts and prepping for parties, things can get pretty hectic. Add some inevitable family drama and the season can quickly become more manic than merry.
“We can really miss the entire season when we get caught up in the gotta-get-done list,” says Heather Cameron, founder of +focus mindspace, a meditation studio in Toronto. During life’s busiest times, tools like mindfulness are needed more than ever, she says. But, ironically, it’s when self-care tends to fall off the to-do list.
“When we’re super-busy, we really need to think about doubling up on practice rather than skipping it,” says Cameron. And if you’re new to mindfulness and meditation, you’ve actually picked the perfect time to get started. “A mindfulness and meditation practice helps put us in the present moment so that we can experience the holidays rather than just survive them,” she says.
Here are three ways that mindfulness can help you through the holidays and into 2020.
1. Download the drama
As we all know, the holidays can be an emotional roller coaster. For many people, the season is marked by some of the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s a time for reflection on the past and big dreams for the future, and both can cause a lot of anxiety, fear and sadness. Mindfulness and meditation can help with all the ups and the downs. “One of the things these practices can help with is emotional regulation,” says Cameron. This relates to an overall feeling about the season, and it can get you through some of those sticky situations, too. Whether it’s a super tense dinner starring feuding relatives or an awkward conversation with an inebriated aunt, a little built-in chill goes a long way. “You learn to find that pause between stimulus and reaction,” she says. It’s the ability to step back, reflect and respond as your best self, she says. “And in family dynamics,” says Cameron, “that’s key.”
2. Let go of unrealistic expectations
The pursuit of perfection is a trap for many of us. Whether it’s the perfect family photo, perfectly cooked dinner or perfectly wrapped gift, we tend to set ourselves up for failure – and loads of stress – with unrealistic expectations for creating joyful moments and lasting memories. Mindfulness can help us reframe how we approach our holiday time and allow us to let go a little, says Cameron. “It’s that little bit of space to accept things for the way they are rather than wish they were different,” she says.
A mindfulness practice can also help you keep tabs on a runaway calendar and never-ending to-do list. “It’s being able to look at everything you have to do and assess whether or not it’s really having an impact on your life,” she says. Is it nice to have or does it have to be done? Or is it something you think you have to do, like bake five kinds of shortbread when you don’t even like shortbread? (Hint: If it’s not bringing you joy, don’t do it!) Plus, learn why you should be baking with whole wheat, spelt, almond, coconut, and other healthy flours this holiday season.
3. Enjoy all the moments
When asked, almost all of us say that the holidays are about family. But when it comes right down to it, we often find ourselves too hurried, stressed or focused on filling our social media feeds with images of holiday bliss to actually enjoy the time we have together. Coming back to the mindfulness principle of being present in the moment can be incredibly helpful, says Cameron. At your family party, stop and immerse yourself in what your aunt or grandfather has to say and forget about topping up people’s drinks, refilling hors d’oeuvres trays or adjusting the playlist. “It’s a time for connection,” she says. “You want to really make sure you’re connecting.”
Now that you know how to practice mindfulness during the holidays, next learn how to get your mind, body, and spirit in check so you’re unaffected by all the expectations of the season.