Let’s face it; the holidays can knock us off balance and defy our healthiest intentions. Maybe it is the extra-sugary treats and big traditional meals that thwart our weight goals. Or perhaps it is the travel that can impact our ability to maintain our exercise routines. Or maybe it is the blood pressure raising challenge of interacting with certain family members with whom we do not see eye-to-eye.
Whatever the reason it might be for you, it is no doubt that the holiday season can often be beyond stressful and interrupt our health strategies. Oh, and in addition to the usual stressors, 2020 has presented us with a global pandemic that has turned our lives upside down, making holiday planning even more complicated than ever. AUGHH…. Would you excuse me while I take a few deep breaths?!
Speaking of breathing… It is something we do automatically without thinking. Yet when coupled with intention, breathing can act as a bridge to mindfulness. But, you might be asking, what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the conscious state of being aware of something, most commonly achieved by focusing on the present moment. More specifically, a state of mindfulness consists of these three unique characteristics:
- A Commitment to Practice – A desire to cultivate self-awareness and to keep coming back to it.
- Being in the Moment – Focusing attention only on what is occurring in the present moment by observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise.
- Non-Judgmentalism – Engaging your observations without judgment; being curious and kind to yourself.
Mindfulness is a great tool to carry with you into this holiday season. Numerous studies have demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can improve your ability to cope with daily stressors, which can contribute to an improved mood. Sounds pretty good, right? Physiologically, developing mindfulness skills, and practicing them regularly can lower blood pressure, improve immune function, and heighten attention and focus. The benefits of practicing mindfulness are real, and fortunately, it is relatively easy to get started! An excellent place to begin is with a breathing exercise, and from there, you can expand by applying mindfulness to activities like eating and even walking. What follows is a step by step guide to get you going:
Mindfulness Practice Ideas
1. Stop and Take a Breath
During the holidays, we often multitask as a means of “getting it all done.” Before you know it, we can find ourselves overwhelmed with list upon list of things to do, items to order, meals to prepare, people to call, and meetings to attend. So how can you practice mindfulness in the middle of this madness?? By simply taking an intentional breath, you can make a significant difference, AND (the best part) you can do this anywhere! So next time you’re in an endless checkout line or a drive-thru and find yourself stressing over a to-do list, try the following: Take five deep belly breaths (that’s right, breath so big that your belly expands!) and if you can, try closing your eyes while doing so. Breathing can help your mind slow down and your body to reset from the holiday season’s constant rush.
If you have a little more time and a quiet place to sit, try another simple exercise called “Box Breathing“:
Step 1: Slowly exhale through your mouth, getting all the air out of your lungs.
Step 2: Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose to a count of four.
Step 3: Hold your breath for a count of four.
Step 4: Exhale slowly again to a count of 4.
Step 5: Hold your breath again. Repeat as many cycles as you choose.
2. Employ Mindful Eating
You can apply mindfulness techniques to various activities in your life, including eating! Mindfulness can help you to manage triggers that might lead to holiday overeating by allowing you to tune into what your body needs in any given moment. Mindful eating may result in a greater meal awareness and enjoyment while helping you avoid the pitfalls that traditionally have led to emotional eating, overeating, or feelings of guilt. These pitfalls are especially more prominent during the holidays when we typically eat large holiday meals and snacks.
Try this exercise before your next meal:
- Tune In. Before your meal, take a few mindful, deep breaths. Start to tune in to how you feel right now in the moment. How physically hungry are you? Are you low on energy? Is your stomach growling? How would eating something right now make your body feel? What would taste best and meet your needs at this particular moment? The idea is to slow the process down and bring intentionality to your eating.
- Choose Your Foods Mindfully. Whether you are at the store, staring into your refrigerator, or choosing off a menu, make your choices based on your body needs. Your needs will include what is most appetizing while also keeping your personal health goals in mind. What will make the meal enjoyable and satisfying? Pause to consider how you will feel physically after the meal.
- Notice and Appreciate. You’ve prepared your plate. Take notice of the colors and aromas of your food. Pause to savor each bite. Take stock of how your body feels with each bite. Use all of your senses to experience the enjoyableness of your meal.
- Revisit Your Mind and Body. Before you finish your food, take a few moments to tune into your breath and body once more. How is your stomach feeling? Does your food still taste as good as it did with that first bite? Have you had enough? Are you still hungry or satisfied? It is okay to leave food on your plate if it is unneeded. Assess how you are feeling, both emotionally and physically. If you don’t feel positive about the meal try not to judge yourself and instead make a mental note of what you have learned from this exercise. Set your intentions for your next meal with this information in mind.
3. Get Moving!
Often during the holidays, we prioritize other activities and sacrifice the time we typically set aside for exercise or movement. Moving our bodies is essential for our physical and mental health and can be an excellent release for accumulated holiday stress. Mindfulness can be incorporated into many activities to derive even more benefits. Merely taking a walk and focusing on your breath is a great way to tune out the daily stressors and reset. Another option is to do stretching or yoga, focusing on the movement, simply observing the thoughts that interrupt, and setting them aside. Staying active supports the production and release of serotonin. Given serotonin levels directly influence positive mood, problem-solving ability, and our ability to tolerate adversity, keeping levels high during the holidays makes sense.
Overall, finding small ways to incorporate mindfulness activities can have a positive impact on our lives. During heightened stress like the holiday season, mindfulness can be a powerful tool for managing our mindset and keeping our wellness goals in sight. When we acknowledge the challenges of the season, set positive intentions, and are kind to ourselves, the joy of the season will shine through.
I feel strongly that we all possess the ability to positively influence our well-being, challenge our mindset, expand our possibilities, heal, and ultimately thrive. If you’re interested in taking a further step into your mindfulness journey, make an appointment for a complimentary exploratory consultation to see if coaching is the right fit for you!