5 ways to have a merry and mindful holiday season

The holidays are often an added source of stress, but they don't have to be. Relaxation begins with looking at each situation a little differently and keeping in mind that it will change, as all things do. Chris Germer, Ph.D.*, co-founder of the Mindful Self-Compassion curriculum, has some ways we can put mindfulness into practice over the next few weeks.

When you notice your own mind or body reacting to stress or showing signs of stress, take a moment to pause, relax and open. Pausing means to stop and pay attention to your internal experience. When we find the stress, we can choose to relax (take a few breaths) and release any felt tension, tightness, irritability or stress in the body. Finally, try to open to the experience — allow things to be as they are (stop resisting, step back and see if you can bring a different perspective to the situation/stressor). Often it is our perception of things that leads to the stress, and our perceptions are usually conditioned and habitual.

Next time you feel yourself giving in to stress, try the following:

Be aware. Stop and take three deep breaths often. When we bring awareness to how we are feeling, we can learn to practice self-care in the moment.

Keep your mind on being kind. Place your hand on your heart and breathe in goodness, compassion or kindness for yourself and breathe out kindness and compassion for anyone else who might be struggling.  When we place our hand on our hearts and stay kind words like, "may I be happy" or "may I be free of suffering," we can activate the release of a chemical in our brain called oxytocin into our blood stream that reduces stress and calms our nervous system. It's a natural stress reducer!

Take a self-compassion break. When stress is apparent, especially in a difficult communication with someone, place your hand on your heart or give yourself a quick hug or squeeze and identify that "this is a moment of struggle." Take some time for yourself, even in the middle of a difficult situation. When we recognize that something hard is happening, we can consider that we are not alone, and many others in this world also suffer.

Think about your feet. When you're standing in line at the grocery store or in line while you're shopping, take time to bring some awareness into the soles of the feet, in order to keep your mind from wandering and to help stabilize your mood or stress. Notice any sensations in the soles of the feet and offer a moment of gratitude for all of the work these two small surfaces do for you each day.

Practice gratitude. Gratitude is scientifically proven to reduce stress, enhance mood and inspire healthy communication. So, take a moment to count on each finger one thing you are grateful for in your life, and don't forget the small things. During these types of exercises, we tend to focus on the more significant areas of our lives, but remembering things like fresh sheets on the bed, or a warm cup of tea, helps teach our brains to appreciate all of life. Take some time each day to acknowledge the things you enjoy about yourself and others. 

Interested in learning more about practicing mindfulness? Register today for Mindful Self-Compassion or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction with Lorraine Hobbs, both beginning in January. 

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