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The holiday season is often portrayed as a time of fun, laughter, love, and good cheer. While this may indeed be the case for some, the holidays can also bring about stress, difficult emotions, and tension within our relationships. Practicing mindfulness during this season can help to reduce holiday stress and increase our ability to navigate whatever might arise at this time of year.

In this comprehensive guide to reducing holiday stress with the support of mindfulness, we will explore:

  • Common Holiday Stressors
  • What Would Mindful Holidays Look Like?
  • 9 Mindfulness Tips for Holiday Stress
9 Mindfulness Tips for Holiday Stress

Common Holiday Stressors

When the holiday season rolls around, there is a lot that can weigh heavily on us. Expectations can lead to increased worry and tension, making it difficult to enjoy whatever else this time of year might have to offer. Amongst other things, some of the most common holiday stressors include:

Holiday Spending (i.e. Gifts, Travel)

First, the holidays can certainly add up to a lot financially. Whether we are paying for a flight to visit relatives or simply overwhelmed by the cost of gift-giving, financial concerns can leave us feeling stressed out and unable to enjoy the other aspects of this season.

Dietary Concerns

Additionally, when we gather with friends and family, we might worry about how we will maintain certain dietary habits or needs. The holidays tend to offer an abundance of sweet treats and savoury goodies, and if we have any allergies or other dietary restrictions, we might not be in control of what’s available. Mindful eating during the holidays (along with planning and preparation) can help.

Family or Peer Expectations

Also, our friends or family members might expect certain things from us during the holidays, be that in the form of gifts, time, or energy. Additionally, we might be expected to behave a certain way (i.e. to let loose and to drink a bit more at the dinner table than we’d like to). The expectations of others can certainly lead to stress when we find ourselves in social situations.

Lack of Time for Self-Care

Furthermore, the holiday season can get busy. We might struggle to find the time to take good care of ourselves amidst everything else that is going on. For example, we might end up skipping our meditation or yoga routine or not getting enough sleep at night. This can put pressure on our physical body, leading to stress in both mind and body.

Past Memories/Grief/Loss

Last but not least, the holiday season can create stress due to memories of the past or any recent loss that we’ve experienced. If we expect our holidays to feel a certain way and we are instead feeling quite the opposite, this can lead to stress.

Common Holiday Stressors

What Would Mindful Holidays Look Like?

Given that many holiday stressors are unavoidable, what would mindful holidays look like? Would mindfulness make this time of year stress-free? Would mindfulness lead to more joy and cheer?

Since mindfulness is simply the practice of paying non-judgmental attention to our experience, it’s not about ‘getting rid’ of difficult experiences. Also, it won’t necessarily increase feelings of joy and cheer. However, it can shift the way we relate to our experience, which can help to reduce stress.

So, a mindful holiday season would look like opening our hearts and minds to whatever our experience of it is – with care, with patience, with compassion, and with curiosity. Mindfulness can reduce expectations, helping us to allow things to be as they are. When we tend to our experience with compassion and without judgment, we make room for greater ease to enter our lives.

“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.”

-Jack Kornfield-

9 Mindfulness Tips for Holiday Stress

To bring more mindfulness to your holidays this year, consider the following tips and practices. Remember that mindfulness is not about forcing our stress to go away; it is about tending to it with care and curiosity. As we practice mindfulness, we often find that the weight of things begins to dissipate. In this way, mindfulness may help to indirectly reduce holiday stress.

Remember to breathe.

First and foremost, the breath is an ever-present tool that can help us to ease tension and sink into being. If you find yourself overwhelmed at any point during or leading up to the holidays, close your eyes and take a few mindful breaths. Grant yourself as many mindful breathing breaks as you need throughout the season, even if only for a few short moments at a time.

Simplify gift-giving.

If gift-giving expectations are putting too much pressure on you, consider how you might simplify this aspect of the holiday season. Perhaps you communicate your concerns with loved ones. Perhaps you opt to do something together as a family instead of swapping gifts. If financial concerns are making gift-giving stressful, know that there are many ways to give, such as by offering a service, exchanging quality time, or getting creative.

Practice mindful eating.

For those that feel holiday stress related to eating, consider the art of mindful eating. Slow everything down, savor the flavors, and be mindful of how your body feels as you consume different things. Cultivate curiosity and self-compassion, and notice your hunger and fullness cues during shared meals.

Schedule self-care into your holidays.

Another helpful tip for the holidays is to consider scheduling in time for self-care. First, figure out what self-care looks like for you. What enhances your wellbeing? Then, make a commitment. For instance, you might decide to practice meditation or yoga for ten minutes each morning during the holidays. Or, you might end each day with mindful journaling. Make a commitment, however small, to nurture your wellbeing.

 What Would Mindful Holidays Look Like?

Set boundaries.

Another important practice for helping to reduce holiday stress is to set healthy boundaries. Sit in mindful contemplation about what your personal limits are this holiday season. For instance, maybe you need to organize a smaller gathering this year. Or, maybe you wish to draw a boundary that defines what you are willing and unwilling to talk about at the dinner table. What makes boundary setting mindful is when we move into it slowly and curiously, refraining from rushing to assumptions or bypassing parts of our experience.

Practice mindful communication.

If family or social relationships are difficult for you this holiday season, practice mindful communication. Mindful communication asks that we listen with curiosity, practice non-judgment, observe our assumptions, pause when we need to, and express ourselves with self-awareness. During difficult conversations, it can help to reduce conflict.

Tend to difficult emotions with self-compassion.

No matter what, if your experience this holiday season is a difficult one (or if there are difficult emotions that come and go), tend to yourself with care. Acknowledge if you are holding any misperceptions that you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ feel a certain way and then practice self-compassion. Treat yourself the way you would treat someone that you love if they were experiencing the same thing that you are right now.

Come back to gratitude.

Furthermore, try to come back to gratitude as much as possible over the holiday season. Gratitude practice is not about denying difficult feelings; rather, it is about acknowledging what is going well for us. For example, can you be grateful for the roof above your head, for the breath moving through you, or for the aroma that fills the kitchen? You do not need to force gratitude upon yourself. Simply see what you might open up to.

Be mindful of expectations.

Last but not least, take pause every now and again to notice if you are holding expectations for the holidays. Do you expect others to behave a certain way? Do you expect yourself to behave a certain way? Then, become curious about what it would be like to gently soften these expectations. What would happen if you released any preconceived notions about how this holiday season should go? In place of expectations, open to what is – with curiosity, patience, and care.

“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

-Anne Lamott-

Above all, be patient and self-compassionate as you venture through this holiday season. There is no single way to be and no single way to feel; each one of us will have a unique holiday experience. Breath by breath, simply notice what arises for you, meeting any stress and tension that crops up with mindfulness and self-compassion.

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