Use Mindfulness to Cope with Holiday Stress

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” – A.A. Milne

The holidays are a busy and emotionally laden time of the year for many people. There is a tendency to become easily reminded of holiday memories from years long past, stress about the present holiday, and thoughts or concerns about future holiday seasons. All of these worrisome thoughts and emotions can easily take us away from truly enjoying and being present in the moment. When our minds are stuck in the past, stressed about the present, or worried about the future, we are not truly noticing and participating in the present moment. Life is what is happening right now, all around you.

We all attribute different meanings to the holidays. For some of us, we associate this time of the year with time spent with friends or family. Or perhaps our minds wander to memories of sharing the holidays with friends or family who have passed away. Or maybe we are concerned with creating new family traditions of our own. Whatever the case may be, these are all stories that we tell ourselves about what the holiday season is “supposed” to be about in some way.

We generally get ideas about how things are “supposed” to be based on our past experiences. Perhaps the way that you have experienced the holidays in the past has set the tone for your future expectations. When those expectations go unmet or things are “different” in some way, there can be a tendency to be disappointed, emotional, or stressed. While there is great value in feeling a sense of tradition around the holiday season, consider the importance of letting go of your expectations for what the holidays “should” be like, and simply allowing them to be just as they are.

Maybe things are different for you this year with the addition or passing of family members.  Or perhaps you are celebrating the holidays with family you don’t normally see in a different location.  Maybe you are spending the holidays alone this year. No matter what life brings to your doorstep this holiday season, you always have the choice of how you will respond and the meaning that you will attribute to the holidays.

This year, you have the opportunity to use mindfulness to experience the holidays in a completely new way. You have the choice to release your expectations of yourself, other people, and the world. It is up to you if you wish to tune in to the present moment and express gratitude this holiday season. Rather than focus on what you do not have, people you can no longer celebrate the season with, gifts you cannot afford to purchase, or unwanted requests from other people, choose to focus on all that you do have. The way that you direct your attention is your choice.

At any given moment, you can change your mindset by releasing your attachments to expectations and intense emotions and simply be present to this moment. When you let go of the need to control, you paradoxically become more mindfully in control of your thoughts and behaviors. How might this holiday season be different if you began to truly and authentically welcome things precisely as they are, rather than fight against them? You might find yourself released of unnecessary stress and more able to savor the present moment.

Simple ways of coping with stress this holiday season:

If you feel lost in the chaos of the season…

  • Choose your priorities carefully.
  • Take time out for self-care.
  • Let go of the small stuff and the need for things to be “perfect.”

If you feel stressed from too much to do…

If you feel emotionally overwhelmed…

If you experience stress in your important relationship(s)…

If you experience financial stress…

  • Be realistic about what is truly affordable.
  • Pause to reflect on the true significance of gift giving.
  • Openly communicate with your partner/friends/family about expectations and set realistic limits to purchases.

Begin to consider how you can adopt a more present-focused, open, and accepting attitude of mindfulness this holiday season. Consider the potential benefits that choosing to be more mindful might have on your enjoyment of the holidays and your relationships with friends and family. Actively let go of expectations, fears, and stress that you are placing on yourself and those around you. When you begin to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and true awareness in the present moment, the stories that you tell yourself about how things “should” be will begin to fall away. All that you have is this moment. Make the choice to savor each passing moment of this holiday season with an open heart and mind.

Becker-Phelps, L. (2011, December 14). [Web log message]. Retrieved from

Featured image: Merry Christmas by aussiegall / CC BY 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.

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