The holiday season brings something different for each of us. For most of us, the holidays bring time with friends and family. Anticipation for the holidays and for spending time with loved ones is often coupled with planning around busy schedules, figuring out accommodations, added expenses, and individual expectations. These factors can often lead to added stress, anxiety, or disappointment, making it difficult to actually enjoy the holiday season. However, if we equip ourselves with the right tools, the holidays can be an enjoyable time.
Stop Snowballing | Be open to the moment
While it is important to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings (good and bad), if we practice staying in the moment, we may be able to alleviate some stress and enjoy the time with our friends and family a bit more. One major deterrent that will keep you from staying in the moment is snowball thinking. This is the type of thinking that keeps your thoughts in the past or future, both of which prevent you from enjoying the present moment. For example, if your mother always criticizes your cooking, you may already have your guard up and assume that she will start criticizing you and then you two will get in an argument. This type of thinking will not allow you to be open to hear when she may give you a compliment about your cooking (or something else). Try not to think about what will happen when you see her. Turn your focus simply to what is happening in the present, actual, moment and let it unfold, rather than preconceive how it will unfold.
Try This: Dean Sluyter, meditation expert and author of Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice, recommends that you sit down and visualize family members (that you don't get along with) as a toddler. Thinking of them as an innocent child may allow you to have more patience with them.
Cherish Each Other | Be present in the moment
Tomorrow is not promised to any of us, yesterday cannot be changed. Focus on the present moment before that moment is gone. Be mindful of your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? Engage in conversation and really listen, don’t just focus on your turn to talk. Mindful awareness of your surroundings requires that you see and hear without categorizing, summarizing, labeling, or jumping to conclusions. Take each moment simply for what it is, not what you wish it would be. Let go of the expectations you have to allow yourself enjoyment for what is.
You never know when it may be the last holiday for grandma, grandpa, or anyone else for that matter. It seems a bit silly to think that we would let our preconceived notions ruin our quality time with loves ones, yet we often do this very thing. When we’re spending time thinking about things that have happened in the past, things that may happen in the future, or just simply being on automatic pilot, we are not allowing ourselves the freedom to enjoy the moment. Wouldn’t it be much more gratifying to sit down and have a long, meaningful conversation with a dear family member, than to sit and think about what has happened in the past with that person – or what might happen in the future?
Try This: If you are having difficulty staying in the moment, sit down with your feet flat on the ground and close your eyes. Focus on what sounds you hear and what smells you smell. Engage your senses and don't try to block out anything. Maybe you hear children laughing or music playing. Do this for a couple of minutes. When you open your eyes, you should feel more relaxed and in the moment.
Practice, not Perfect | Practice in the moment
Staying in the moment is all about practice. No one is perfect at it, and it is natural for the mind to wonder and to focus on things that we are worried about. This holiday season, try to set aside time each day to practice staying in the moment. Practicing in the morning is a great way to start your day that will help clear your mind and prepare you for the day ahead.
Try This: Find a quiet place and take five minutes to focus on the present moment. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Going hand in hand with staying in the moment, breathing is a great way to relax and increase your awareness. Developing a “breathing awareness” will not only allow you to relax now, it will also help you to stay calm and focused during stressful holiday events. To get a full, deep breath close your mouth, breathe slowly through your nose, feel your diaphragm rise as you gradually fill your diaphragm and lungs with air. Hold for one second. Exhale through your nose slowly. Repeat.
It is also a good idea to practice staying in the moment throughout the day, as you are interacting with your family members. Try to focus on the present conversation you are having. Actively listen to what the person is saying and truly cherish the person you are talking to. This will help you to reduce some stress and truly enjoy your quality time throughout the holiday season.