Mindfulness During the Holidays
As the days grow shorter, darker, and colder I just want to light some beautiful candles, make myself a hot cup of tea, cuddle with my dog, Zoe, and read. Does that sound amazing? I’m sure many of you share my vision of the perfect winter evening. However, I haven’t had that kind of evening yet. And as the holidays quickly approach so many more demands encroach on my time. The holidays tend to increase stress levels. Greenberg and Berktold (2006) found that the holiday season brings on more stress, especially on women (not to say men aren’t stressed during the holidays, it’s just that more women report this time of the year more stressful). The stress comes from financial pressure to buy more and to even buy expensive gifts. The number of social events increase at work and home, which means more party planning, cooking, cleaning, decorating, which women tend to be responsible for. In addition, people tend to struggle during this time of the year in having enough time at work to wrap up projects, while also managing their time to spend with family and friends.
I can definitely relate to the report on holiday stress, and especially as a teacher the pressure is especially high. I always feel like I don’t have enough time to complete the many tasks on my multiple to-do-lists. Yes, you read that right...MULTIPLE to-do lists that mysteriously grow longer as the hours pass. Much of this has to do with the end of the semester falling during the holiday season and ensuring that all projects, papers, exams are in and graded before winter break. In addition, all the school functions that teachers support and attend. Not to mention all the small tasks, such as preparing holiday cookies for faculty, staff, and students, secret santa gift giving, and the small gifts that many teachers prepare for their students. It’s no wonder people report increased stress during the holiday.
The irony is that the holiday season is a time to retreat, to be quiet, to reflect on all the important aspects of life. However, the commercialization and increased demands limit our time to withdraw, be silent, and reflect. So, how do we stay sane and find some quiet during the holidays? Here are some tips on how to remain mindful during the busy holiday season.
Let go of Perfection During the Holidays
We tend to have high expectations of what the holidays should look like. Well, forget about the Norman Rockwell picturesque portraits of the perfect holiday. Those images are far from the reality and don’t depict the hard work it takes to cook a meal for 12 people, to decorate hundreds of cookies, and shop for gifts. I’m here to give you permission to lower your expectations of the holidays. The holiday season is already stressful enough, why do you need to add more stress to your life. So, what if the frosting on your cookies don’t look like the ones on Martha Stewart’s magazine. Guess what, it’s literally her job to sell you images of perfection. I’m sure Martha Stewart has burned some cookies in her life, because she’s human. And so are you! The tree lights are not going to be perfectly lying on each pine needle, and they don’t need to be. The meal doesn’t have to be perfect, the conversations will not always be peaceful, but the best thing about the holidays is that no matter if your ideal vision of the holidays isn’t met, you can still enjoy being surrounded by people you love.
Find those Sacred Moments
I find that I’m in lines and stuck in traffic a lot more during the holiday season, which is usually the time of the year when I’m rushing between errands. It’s hard to not get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season. However, I’ve been finding myself these days welcoming the long lines. You’re wondering, has this woman gone mad?!? No, I’m not crazy. I just shifted my perspective. Instead of being annoyed by the long lines and minor delays I just say to myself, “What a great opportunity to be still and quiet.” While in line I can do a standing meditation and gently close my eyes and focus my meditation on either my breathing or on the sounds that are around me. During the holiday season I find it hard to focus on my breath while in a line because of all the noise (Christmas music, conversations, etc.). So, I just focus on the sound waves coming into my ear and feel it as a wave. During this type of meditation I don’t focus on what the sound is, but that it is just sound and that it moves like a wave. In and out; slow and fast, appearing and then disappearing. It’s a great way to challenge your meditation practice. You’ll be surprised by how your meditation and mindfulness practice can grow from these small mindful moments that can be so sacred.
Be in the Moment
Sometimes the moments we cherish the most are the times we or others were spontaneous and in the moment. The holidays are a great time of the year to cherish every moment of your holiday cheer and fun with family and friends. Being mindful is all about living in the present. What a better time to live in the present then during the holidays. So, put away the smartphone, turn off the television, walk away from the piles of work, and just be present with others. You’ll find that the moments that you are most present are those moments you feel most alive and happy.
Be the Light
During the winter holidays there are spiritual and cultural celebrations around the theme of lights. You’ll notice that as the daylight grows shorter and colder, people begin to add more lights inside and outside of their home. The symbolism of light conveys deep emotions attached to life, love, and hope. Each of us carry that same light of love and hope within us and can spread those intentions to our family, friends, community, and to the world. So, as you rush between holiday festivities, cooking, and last minute shopping, remember to pause, breath, and to share the light of love, joy, and peace that you hold within you with your loved ones, with strangers you encounter, and with all beings on Earth.
I hope all of you enjoy the holiday season! Thank you for reading my blog, and I look forward to continuing this work and writing more about mindfulness for educators. As a gift to you I recorded a meditation for the holiday season. To access it click here.