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A Mindful Holiday can Reduce Stress

By Julie Stephenson – Southwest Health Community Outreach

Unmanaged stress and emotional upheaval can ruin your holidays and impact your health long-term. Practicing mindfulness, planning ahead, and seeking support can help you ring in the New Year in a healthier mental and physical state.

Here are the facts:

  • The holiday season can bring unwelcome guests – elevated stress and unexpected emotions
  • A second winter with COVID-19 still spreading in communities may have you feeling worried about you or your loved one’s health
  • You can still feel lonely even when surrounded by others
  • There are steps you can take to minimize anxiety and the emotional toll of the holidays

Stress can impact your health in more ways than you might think.  Unmanaged, long-term stress can disrupt your daily bodily functions resulting in headaches, issues sleeping, weight gain, and concentration impairment.  But there are simple steps you can take to manage stress in your everyday life.

Practicing mindfulness is just one way that you can keep the hectic holiday season from becoming too disruptive to enjoy. So what the heck is mindfulness? Mindfulness is described as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” That might seem easy enough, but when you’re already feeling overwhelmed with to-do lists, presents to buy, and recipes to perfect, mindfulness is not as easy as it sounds.

Here are five mindfulness techniques to consider practicing as you prepare for the upcoming festivities.

  1. Slow Down – It seems counterintuitive when you have a lot on your plate, but slowing down actually helps most people speed up. When multi-tasking, it’s easy to do a task incorrectly or miss a step, forcing you to do a task twice. By slowing down you can focus and relax.
  2. Make Time for Yourself – Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh your mind and body enough to accomplish everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing, and restoring inner calm. If you need some inspiration try:
    1. Listening to soothing music
    2. Taking a walk and stargazing on a clear night
    3. Reading a book without any distraction going on in the background
    4. Drinking your favorite coffee or tea in silence
  3. Be Present – This means really listening when people speak, being conscious of your emotions, and giving your full attention to the task at hand. To stay present, you might need to say ‘no’ to new projects or requests from others to not overwhelm yourself. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can’t participate in every activity. And when you do participate, they will feel seen and heard, appreciating your full attention.
  4. Practice Gratitude – Remind yourself of the big picture of the season, what you’re grateful to have in your life. This might be your family, community, job and coworkers, or friends.  Remember that it’s also perfectly reasonable to not be grateful for every single thing about your family, this time of year, or the state of your community. At the same time, you can actively choose to focus on the shared values and experiences that you are grateful for to stay connected in the moment.
  5. Seek Professional Help – Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself persistently sad or anxious, plagued by physical complaints, unable to sleep, feeling irritable and hopeless, or unable to face routine chores this time of year. If these feelings last for a while, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about your thoughts.

By using the five mindfulness practices above, you have a plan for when emotions from the holiday season start to creep in.  Mindfulness can help you from letting the holidays become something you dread.  You can learn to recognize holiday triggers, such as financial pressures or personal demands, so you can combat them before they lead to a meltdown. Developing mindfulness can be one of the steps you take now to prevent the stress and emotional upheaval that can descend during the holidays. With a little planning and a little mindfulness, you might just find peace and joy this holiday season.

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