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6 Mindfulness Tips & Tools to Calm Holiday Stress

Person obscured by a large stack of packages

The holiday season has its joys and wonder, to be sure. But it can also be one of the most stressful times of year as we navigate busy end-of-year work schedules, overfull events calendars, holiday travel and shopping, colder and greyer days that don't help, sick kids (and selves!), so much going on in our world now, and more.

Fortunately, there are many great, super effective mindfulness tips and tools to help us calm seasonal stress and find a bit more holiday hush amid all the rush... Here are my favorites:

  • PAUSE & CHECK IN WITH YOURSELF One of the MOST effective mindfulness tools around, this can take as little as 1 minute. When you start to feel overwhelmed, simply pause, close your eyes, and ask yourself with compassion, as if you're talking to a precious child: "How is my breath?" Watch a few in and out breaths. "How is my body?" Scan gently and notice what you feel and where. "Where are my thoughts and emotions?" As Pema Chödrön says, you are the skynot the weather. So see if you can observe without getting caught in the storms. "Is anything ready to release?" Imagine yourself exhaling it. "What do I need right now?" Can you start to breathe some of that in right now? Checking in with ourselves alone helps cultivate calm, and gives us a better sense of where stress is coming from and how we might shift or reprioritize accordingly. This is one of my regular practices and it always helps me feel better and more supported.

  • GROUND INTO YOUR SENSES With the cold, grey days and bare trees, winter doesn't feel like a very nourishing time, but actually, the holidays are FULL of beautiful sensory details that can reconnect to our inner peace and joy. See if you can find and focus on JUST ONE and realllllly breathe it in for a moment, like the sweet spice of pine needles, the glittery twinkle of holiday lights, the rich flavors of a special seasonal food.

  • GO FOR A WALK OUTSIDE (of any duration!) Mindful walking, be it for 5 or 50 minutes, helps break the stress cycle on soo many levels. It changes the scenery, fills our lungs with fresh air, shifts our focus away from thoughts and into our bodies and surroundings, releases mood-boosting endorphins, and makes it easier for us to tune into calming sensory details around us. By alternately engaging both sides of the body, walking also draws on the powerful brain-soothing benefits of bilateral stimulation, the basis of the highly effective therapy tool EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). If we're around any nature or greenery, this has its own additional resetting effect.

  • ASK "HOW CAN I DO LESS?" This question, one central to the resting yoga practice known as restorative yoga, is something we all could benefit from asking ourselves more often. How can we live more sustainably, with less physical and mental tension? Shift out of an always-on state that depletes us and into a place where we are more nourished? This holiday season, you might sit and ask how you can do less. Can you ditch that party this weekend, the idea of making alll that food from scratch, pressure to get the gifts "just right"... In doing less, you'll likely find more meaning and joy in your holidays.

  • MAINTAIN ANY EXISTING SELF-CARE PRACTICES I get it. It's really hard to maintain your routines amidst all the changing schedules and travel and relatives and holiday plans and (gasp)... BUT! Remember your "why"! Remember how much better you feel when you (insert self-care/self-maintenance verb here) regularly. And see, just see, if you can try to continue some version of that routine. You'll thank yourself!

  • GIVE YOURSELF GRACE Be gentle with yourself, keep expectations low, and celebrate every small victory. EVEN ONE MINUTE OF PRACTICE COUNTS! A lot. Taking 10 deep breaths is an important and beautiful practice. As is wandering outside for 5 minutes and feeling the brisk wind on your face. As is eating a gingerbread cookie mindfully, using all your senses, and feeling gratitude for all the efforts and inputs that went into all the ingredients and the final product. Doing something to refill your cup doesn't have to be complex or time-consuming. So keep practicing in whatever ways you can, whatever ways feel good and help you find some more sky.

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