The festive season seems to be gaining pace, the shops are busy, twinkling lights and decorations everywhere. This may fill you with a sense of excitement or conversely dread.
There is no doubt that Christmas is a stressful time of year. There may be the pressures of hosting Christmas, coping with family strife, finding the perfect presents or just dealing with a difficult time of year – from missing loved ones to lack of financial security. It is a time of year that exacerbates personal conflicts with mental health, alcohol, food and relationships.
Even if you are looking forward to the festive season many of us find we struggle with the excesses and often the anticipation and expectation of a fabulous time can fall short.
So, is there anything that you can do to reduce stress and increase the chance of enjoying a peaceful and merry Christmas? One way is to be more mindful – to really be fully present without any preconceptions or judging. Mindfulness has been shown to increase happiness, improve relationships and allows us to make better decisions.
Here are some mindfulness tips for Christmas
1. Let go of striving and judging
Too often we get caught up in trying too hard, expecting perfection and being harshly critical when we feel our efforts don’t match up with our expectations. Remember it doesn’t need to be perfect – be kind to yourself as you would treat a friend.
2. Let go of expectations and preconceptions
Wanting things to be a certain way – it has to be a white Christmas. Not wanting things – Uncle Frank reminiscing again. We may not be able to change things and so need to accept our experience as it is – wanting to change our experience only increases our distress. Remember to try to bring a sense of curiosity and interest to all your experiences – as if seeing things for the first time. Allow your experience to naturally unfold.
3. Get out of busy “driven” doing mode and into being mode
The mind has broadly two modes of operating – conceptual and perceptual. We can either use our cognitive or sensory faculties to engage with our experience. Naturally, the mind switches between these during the day and both are extremely useful. However, when we are stressed, anxious and struggling with our emotions the cognitive mind can be unhelpful. We get caught up in overthinking and misinterpreting our experience and you can see how under the stresses and strains of Christmas this can lead to dissatisfaction and upsets. The perceptual mode of mind can only see experience for what it is, through our senses. We can learn to deliberately shift to this being mode through practising mindfulness. Remember when you are caught up stressing and overthinking to deliberately pause and drop into your senses. Take in the sensory experience of Christmas, the colours, the smells and the sounds.
4. Come off automatic pilot
Nearly half the time we are not paying attention to what we are doing which translates into missing half of Christmas! Also, when we are operating on automatic pilot we are more likely to fall into reactive patterns of behavior. This means that we are likely to repeat those same old arguments that come up each year and our choices around food and alcohol may be poor as we absent mindedly reach for that extra chocolate or drink. The more stressed we are the more likely we are to have a wandering mind. Remember to punctuate your day with deliberate pauses to check in whether you are fully present and take the opportunity to re-focus your mind. This will help prevent mindless behavior and reduce stress.
5. “Surf the urge”
You may be very aware of the urge to drink, smoke, eat more and to tell Aunty Violet what you really think. You may also know that you will regret this action in the morning. Mindfulness allows you to be with the urge, ride it out and make a choice. Research has shown that it helps people cope with cravings and high-risk situations.
Remember Christmas doesn’t have to be about excesses that you regret. Acknowledge “cravings” and investigate sensations in the body so that you can identify your own “signature.” As this becomes familiar, pause what you are doing when you notice it arising, stay focused on the breath until the urge subsides or you can remove yourself from the temptation.
6. Cultivate being cheerful
Happiness is a state and while we may desire it we might not be able to achieve it. However, we can choose to be cheerful even faced with adversity. There may be difficulties and pain at Christmas that we cannot avoid but making a conscious decision to be cheerful can reduce our identification with them as unhappy circumstances and allows us to see that we are not entirely at their mercy. This gives us more control, not over the circumstances but how we relate to them. Remember mindfulness cannot change your experience but it can change how you relate to it. Pause, fully engage and choose to respond with cheerfulness this may help you cope with the roller coaster of emotions at Christmas.
Have the best Christmas you can by being mindful.