With its crowded malls and traffic jams, overindulgent eating, and the strain of trying to please everyone, the silly season can end up feeling more stressful than special. This year, forget ‘bigger, better, faster, more’ and make a point of slowing down to really enjoy the magical moments of Christmas. These six mindfulness tips will help you to embrace the gentle art of being completely present with yourself and those you love.
First, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply observing all our experiences with attention and compassion and most importantly, without judgement. It means accepting that thoughts are visitors that come and go, and in our awareness of them we find a ‘space’ that allows us to respond (with intention) rather than (over)react.
Ultimately, Christmas is a time of connection with people we care about, but sometimes its meaning gets a little lost in the shininess of commercialism. Bringing it back to the simple pleasures of the present moment can make the season a lot more soul soothing.
1. Eat mindfully
Who doesn’t love a little pavlova and Christmas cake? By all means indulge but aim to do so mindfully by tuning in to your body. Eat when you have hunger cues, not because there’s an entire box of Scorched Almonds in front of you. Chew slowly, savouring each mouthful and relishing the flavours and textures. Stop eating when you are full and be grateful for the wonderful food you are fortunate to be enjoying.
2. Enjoy a mindful walk
A walk is always a good idea, so enjoy some fresh air – alone or with your family – but make it mindful. Don’t think about tomorrow’s plans or stress about that annoying comment your Uncle made. Get REALLY present with your surroundings by taking a minute to observe each of your senses one by one. What can you see, hear and smell? Flowers in bloom? Birds singing? What can you feel underfoot? Soft grass or crunchy gravel? What can you feel on your body? The breeze against your cheeks? The sun warming your back? Even a quick five-minute mindful walk is incredibly restorative and relaxing.
3. Let it RAIN
Most of us enjoy time with friends and family, but sometimes this time of year can be a little complex, bringing up old wounds and increasing tension. If you feel triggered, just let it RAIN; this mindfulness technique is really useful in moments of distress or anxiety.
- Recognise what is going on (I am feeling stressed/overwhelmed/angry)
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is (Just pause, take a few deep breaths and ‘be’ with this feeling)
- Investigate with compassion (Why do I feel this way? What does it look like in my body? Is there anything else going on that has affected this? What is the unmet need beneath this feeling?)
- Nurture by responding to yourself (or others) with compassion. (What do I need right now? How can I show compassion to myself?) Taking some mindful breaths will engage the parasympathetic nervous system and naturally induces relaxation (see point below).
4. BREATHE mindfully
Many of us take shallow breaths or even hold our breath… it’s what humans do in fight, flight or freeze mode. A few mindful breaths are very calming, and can be done anytime, anywhere; I like to call them ‘micro meditations’. Begin by taking a deep inhalation, feeling your breath fill your tummy, pause and then gently exhale, feeling the tummy fall again. Do another three rounds and just keep following the breath as it enters and exits the body. Practice belly breathing whenever you feel stressed – in a queue, in traffic…or just whenever you remember to – before a meal, before driving anywhere, when you open your eyes in the morning. Doesn’t that feel better?
5. Practice gratitude
I love to practice gratitude and it’s proven to help us to focus on what we have, instead of thinking about what ‘could’ make us happier. When I’m filling the sink for (yet another!) load of dishes from my children’s love of snacks, I like to take a moment to be thankful for the clean tap water and a pantry full of food. Consider starting the day with three things you’re grateful for and ending the day with three more. Keeping a little gratitude journal beside the bed is the perfect way to do this and begins and ends your day on a positive note.
6. Reflect on the year
If you’re lucky to have friends or family join you at Christmas, why not consider some thought-provoking conversation starters? What was the funniest moment of 2020? What was the most rewarding experience of this year? What was the most memorable moment of the past 12 months? What life lessons have you learned – good or bad? What habits would you like to take into 2021? What habits would you like to ditch?
You may like to pop these questions a jar and have everyone pull one out and then take turns to share their perspective. If you prefer a little more self-reflection, they make great journal prompts too.