Getting through holiday stress with Mindfulness


December 15, 2020

Stress is an overwhelm of emotion – so perhaps it’s a cliché to say that the Christmas holiday period is a stressful time, and to suggest it this year of all years, is a massive understatement – the impact of our global crisis will be felt even more over the coming weeks, mainly in part due to the reduced number of friends & family we may spend it with. So, acceptance of our current situation can only help but enable us to be with, maybe even enjoy, the festive period however it may unfold.

It’s inevitable the traditional stresses will still arise…here we explore the ways in which practicing mindfulness during the festivities can help to cope with and minimize the effects of stress.

What is Mindfulness? Neda Gould, clinical psychologist and director of Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program describes Mindfulness as “bringing your attention to the present moment, with an element of non-judgement and acceptance. Noticing when we get caught up in thoughts about the past or future and bringing our attention back to the present – the only reality.” Another way of looking at it is the opposite of being mindful is being on ‘autopilot.’

And it’s important to know, mindfulness can be practiced informally in our daily lives, no matter what it is you are doing this holiday period.  

So, how can mindfulness help us get through the holidays’ inevitable stress? Here are 5 ways that may be useful for you:


1.       Accepting things and situations just as they are:

Each year many of us will set high standards for the holiday– whether the best possible presents for the children, organising a wonderful gathering for family or outdoing last year’s dinner. If things don’t go as planned or the people you made efforts for are not too appreciative, we can feel let down. This year will be very different to past Christmas gathering and celebrations, so it is helpful to let go of the usual set of expectations, so that before you start preparing you can acknowledge that things might not go to plan this year…and that it’s ok if things are not perfect, actually imperfection is healthy!

2.      Letting go of old habits or patterns:

This links into the first point. Holidays throw up traditions and memories, and whilst these can be warming, sometimes old patterns can perpetuate negativity and if we’re not aware of them, it’s easy to fall into familiar patterns. For instance, you may have annoying in-laws who choose to bring up the same drama on the 25th of each year or find that stress arises when trying to get the family to help with some of the organising. This year why not try to notice the thoughts and feelings that show up, and bring some curiosity to what is happening, instead of being stuck in thoughts and feelings you may beholding onto from the past. In this, there is the potential for a new experience in the interactions, even reduced feelings of frustration or boredom.

3.      Practicing Self-Compassion | Care:

It’s easy to forget about ourselves during this busy season of giving - wanting everybody around us to be happy, we willingly make every effort to do so. But taking care of oneself is one of the best gifts we can give to others – in doing so, naturally we may be more attentive, present, calmer and kinder to those around us if we’re feeling it inside. So, aim to get some good quality and regular sleep, exercise and movement where possible and take the time to do things you find fun to help re-charge and unwind. If you know that during most Xmas days you find yourself getting really worked up at least-once, schedule in two or three times where you will take 3 minutes for yourself, take a pause and a few deep breaths before returning. It will help you enjoy yourself during all the efforts for everyone else.

4.      Being open to the emotions of others and in yourself:

As we all know, holidays can trigger in us the full spectrum of emotion – happy, sad, excited or frustrated; and for all the celebration, the holidays can be reminders of loss or loneliness for many people. Taking a moment to acknowledge the emotions that come up whatever they are, can allow yourself space to experience these emotions, instead of trying to get rid of them. This can also help with being attentive and receptive to others - observing how those around you are feeling too can lead to more open communication.

5.      Realistic Resolutions:

How many times have you set a New Year’s resolution with verve and motivation, then felt like a failure third week of January having slipped? Me too. Whether trying to quit smoking, alcohol or get fitter, usually, our resolutions set us up for failure and why not this year try a different, somewhat more manageable approach?

Ø Break the goal into small chunks over the course of the year. For example, if the resolution is to get into better physical shape, instead of aiming to go to the gym 5 times a week in January, why not try to introduce 2 days per week of exercise and build up there. Any important lifestyle change should be nurtured and expected to be a long-term process.

Ø Be kind to yourself if you didn’t hit last year’s goal or slip off the path this time round. We often are our own worst critics, and the negative self-talk often adds to the stress. With practice, and the intention to go easy on ourselves, we can actually notice this self-critic and let go of the drama it creates in our minds, and pick our goals back up again without guilt and a little more wisdom!  

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