“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie
It is easy to become disconnected from mindfulness during the holidays. The holiday season is often filled with copious stimulation from the external world of the senses and the internal world of thoughts, emotions, and sensations. When the neighborhoods become magically lit up with twinkling lights, people hustle to stores for last-minute Christmas shopping, and relatives fly in and out of town, life can feel busy and stimulating.
During times like this, it is not uncommon to react to situations by going through the motions on automatic pilot. This method of coping with stress can be adaptive and useful at times, just as it can be deleterious at other times. For instance, when you are wrapping a pile of Christmas presents, it is in your best interest to efficiently cut, fold, and tape the wrapping paper without pausing to think through each little step. On the other hand, if you are cooking food on a hot stove while bickering with someone, lack of mindfulness could result in injuries or mistakes. Stress manifests itself as eustress or distress, depending on the context and whether or not it is used constructively.
There is nothing inherently “good” or “bad” when it comes to mindfulness, since a mindful attitude is open, nonjudgmental, accepting, and curious. This doesn’t mean that becoming more mindful will turn you into an amoral individual. While mindfulness requires acceptance, it does not require approval. These are two very different concepts. You can choose to accept that a family member is being disrespectful during the holidays, but you don’t have to approve of the behavior.
The holidays often lead to significant changes in your regular routine that can feel distressing at times. Acceptance means that you fully recognize (and even embrace!) whatever is occurring in the moment, whether you “like it” or not. A great deal of things have already happened, are happening right now, and will continue to happen whether you “approve” or not. When things aren’t going your way, you have three choices: (1) fully accept whatever is happening with open arms; (2) apply problem-solving skills to change the situation; or (3) remove yourself from the situation.
Holiday stress can also be handled ineffectively and lead to unnecessary levels of distress. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, there is always the option to employ coping mechanisms that might bring about short-term relief without truly alleviating suffering. We all use defense mechanisms at times… often without conscious awareness. These defenses can be adaptive when they are protecting you from immediate or intense pain that you are not yet ready to face head-on; they can be maladaptive when you persistently defend yourself from authentic self-knowledge, growth, and development.
Practicing Mindfulness During the Holiday Season
Mindfulness during the holidays involves cultivating a sense of awareness, acceptance, and engagement. This might mean increasing awareness of your own emotional responses to family members, acceptance of a loved one’s empty chair at the dinner table, or engagement with the experience and expression of gratitude. Gift yourself the gift of pausing for a few moments to reflect on some unique ways you can strengthen your overall levels of awareness, acceptance, and engagement during the holidays. How might practicing “everyday mindfulness” provide the benefits you seek?
This holiday season, challenge yourself to practice mindfulness in a way that will be especially meaningful for you. As you reflect on holidays from the past, do you notice any themes within your typical style of interacting with others, interpreting events, or emotional responses? Increased awareness of your intrapersonal processes and interpersonal patterns that emerge during the holidays can provide useful information about potential areas for growth.
Try directing your mindful awareness toward just one aspect of your typical ways of thinking or behaving that you’d like to improve. While you cannot control the thoughts, emotions, or behaviors of others, you have the freedom to mold your own cognitive interpretations and behavioral responses. The new year is quickly approaching. Consider the potential benefits of cultivating mindfulness as you move toward your value-based goals in the new year and beyond. Are you ready to get committed to your goals this year?
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Baer, R. A. (Ed.) (2006). Mindfulness-based treatment approaches: Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
Tartakovsky, M. (2011). 6 Mindful Ways to Minimize Holiday Stress. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 25, 2012, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/11/21/6-mindful-ways-to-minimize-holiday-stress/
Featured image: My Favoritest Things by Nomadic Lass / CC BY-SA 2.0