Keeping Christmas Anxiety in Check: 2 Easy Mindfulness Exercises That Work
The “holiday season” starts with Thanksgiving and ends on New Year’s Day. If we think of this season like a drama, then Christmas day is, for most people, the climax.
With up to 65% of people reporting increased stress during the holiday season, this climax then can be the most stressful day of all!
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
You deserve a happy holiday, and we’re here to help you seize what you deserve.
These quick and easy exercises will put your brain into a state of calm-focus, so you can enjoy this special day and contribute feelings of peace and joy to your holiday table.
The science of Christmas stress
The holiday season is characterized by extra responsibilities: Shopping for gifts, decorating the house, preparing to receive guests or to travel, preparing special food and meals, etc. All these holiday tasks come on top of, not instead of, all our usual responsibilities.
As we need to accommodate these extra responsibilities, it puts a demand our brain’s attention-regulation system, kicking the prefrontal cortex into overdrive. In other words, heightened stress.
Stress decreases our ability to self-regulate — to think through our words, actions and choices.
By the time Christmas day arrives, the accumulated effects of this seasonal stress can mean we are extra susceptible to sensations of anxiety and other negative emotions.
One late guest, burnt side-dish, unhappy gift-recipient; anything can become the proverbial last straw.
It doesn’t need to be this way.
Mindful presence is the perfect stress escape
There is a simple trick that can be used at any place, at any time, to help you keep calm and centered. It’s not really a trick, but it’s so incredibly easy it can feel that way. We are talking about the practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is sometimes seen as a precursor to meditating. We define it as paying attention to the present moment, in a specific way, on purpose.
Mindfulness is brain-exercise. It improves your cognitive fitness. Its benefits are wide and far-reaching, as a growing body of research continues to show. Regular practice can reduce stress, depression and anxiety, and even improve your ability to control your attention, thoughts, actions and emotions.
Even just a few minutes of mindfulness can give you a noticeable shift from anxious to calm.
So how do you do it?
Another way to think of mindfulness is simply as super-focused attention. To do it, you must first decide to do it.
Choose something to be your “anchor,” the place where you will fix your attention. Thoughts will appear in your mind, as they always do, trying to steal your attention. Just let these thoughts pass as you would watch clouds pass by in the sky, and return your attention to your anchor.
The goal here is to observe, entirely without judgment.
Christmas Mindfulness Exercise #1: Mindful Eating
Take your attention out of the room and just focus on the food on your plate. Look at it carefully. Zoom in on the details, the colors, the textures. Spend several minutes just focusing on the visual imagery of the food in front of you.
When you feel ready, pick up your fork. Feel the weight of the fork in your hand. Notice how the light reflects off the surface. Carefully assemble a forkful of food. Feel the weight of the fork as you bring it towards your face.
Before eating it, smell the food. You can close your eyes if you wish. Notice how all the smells come together to create the scent of the dish. Feel how the smells travel through your nose and into your mouth.
Slowly open your mouth to receive the food. Feel the sensation of the food arriving to your tongue. Allow the food to sit in your mouth a moment before you begin chewing. Feel the different textures. Try to distinguish the different flavors from the different ingredients. Feel your own tongue and mouth and how your mastication changes the flavors and the textures.
Swallow slowly, feeling the food travel down into your stomach. Feel the sensation of how food nourishes your body. If you like, feel a sense of gratitude for this nourishment. Return your focus to the food on your plate.
Christmas Mindfulness Exercise #2: Christmas Tree Appreciation
Sit in front of the Christmas tree and, with eyes open, gently fix your gaze to admire the beauty of the tree. If it is a real tree, inhale deeply and seek the scent of the pine. Breathe deeply and slowly throughout the exercise. Listen to your breath as a way to turn your audio-attention away from the noise of the room.
Moving from one ornament to the next, slowly, admire the details of each ornament. Notice what material it is made from, notice its colors and textures. Notice its shape and form. Allow each ornament to show you its uniqueness, as though each ornament on the tree were its own work of art. Browse through these artworks as you might slowly browse through a museum exhibition. Remember to breathe slowly and deeply.
If you like, you can touch the tree and the ornaments, too. Touch each piece delicately and with care. Pay attention to the sensations of the pine needles on your hand, the sensations of the different ornaments. Are they smooth? Rough? Bumpy? Glassy? Soft? Hard? Wooden?
Spend as much time as you like with the tree. Feel a sense of gratitude for the specialness of this Christmas tree. Take a few more deep breaths before returning to the bustle.
More Mindfulness with Peak Brain
In the spirit of the coming New Year, Peak Brain is hosting a 30 day online community-based Mindfulness Practice group.
This 30-day mindfulness group includes:
• Daily guided meditations
• Once per week virtual group meetings
• Daily mindful Challenges
• Journal prompts
• Text-Based feedback and support
The material will be offered in a closed Facebook group and will include live, weekly group meetings over Zoom, an online meeting platform. Zoom meetings will be held on the following Wednesdays at 8 pm PST: January 2nd, 9th, 16th, and 23rd.
To be a part of this amazing group and build mindfulness into your 2019, CLICK HERE and register today!
To learn more on how to get your peak brain, we’re here.