De-stressing the Holidays

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As a former business executive in the fashion industry, I always viewed the last quarter of the year as a blessing and a curse. Yes, sales would skyrocket, but the relentless pace of major holidays, combined with planning for the next year brought stress that always took a toll.

As a mindfulness practitioner and crusader, I instinctively knew that various mindfulness practices could play a major part in our ability to focus, manage stress, and maintain awareness about what is most important in life. Fortunately, many organizations actually “get that” and incorporate mindfulness training into employee well-being and leadership programs.

Now comes scientifically valid evidence that even a few minutes of mindfulness a day can “make employees more helpful and productive,” according to Wharton management professor Lindsey Cameron, co-author of the research findings. In a recent interview, she noted that the research finding that surprised her the most was that it doesn’t matter what type of mindfulness individuals practice, it produces the same result. This gives individuals great freedom to choose a practice that resonates most personally.

So, as we move further along into the holiday season—arguably the most stress-charged time of the year—I thought I’d take a few pages from the corporate stress reduction playbook I preach to my corporate clients. The following are three practical ways to incorporate mindfulness into your hectic days made even more stressful by end-of-year pressures at work and in your personal life.

Notice Pleasant Events

Despite all the talk about peace and joy during the holidays, our brains often betray us. Why? We are hard-wired with a built-in negativity bias. Our brains are Teflon for the positive and Velcro for the negative. Scientists report that it takes five positive events to counter-act one negative event, because we notice and hold on to the negative with such ease.

Fortunately, we can build and strengthen the neural pathways connecting us to the region of the brain responsible for pro-social behavior, like compassion, empathy, and kindness. How? By turning our attention to the pleasant—to the positives—more regularly. Here’s a very practical way to let more joy, peace, and contentment stick and stay:

Each day use your phone, a notebook, or even a loose sheet of paper to write down three pleasant events that you have experienced in the past 24 hours. Then, write down the part you played in that event—even if it’s as simple as noticing the pleasant event. Finally, identify and write down the emotion, thought, or physical sensation connected to that pleasant event. Keep doing this for the next 14 days. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how something so simple can shift your mindset and expand your perspective.

Interrupt Your Autopilot and Reactivity

Hustle and bustle—two words often associated with the holidays—can take over our lives at any time of the year. As you navigate your daily life, try to practice STOP: Stop. Take a breath. Observe. Proceed. It’s not as simple as it sounds to put into practice, but it definitely works. And the more you do it, the more you cultivate an ability to interrupt conditional habits and reactivity.

You can STOP at any moment of your day, but it’s particularly effective when you notice your body beginning to tense, feel emotions rising, or become stuck on autopilot. That’s the time to stop, take a breath, observe the present moment, and decide how to proceed, hopefully more aware and prepared to choose a thoughtful path.

If you can spare three full minutes—and really, who can’t—here’s another stress-busting practice. Standing, seated, or lying down, scan the sensations in each area of your body as you breathe. Start with your feet, move up your legs, then through your pelvic and core region, and to your back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, and hands. End with your neck, face, and scalp.

Eyes closed or soft and open, focus on each area, then release your attention, and move to the next body area. Exercise no judgement about the sensations you feel or don't feel. You’re just an observer building awareness. Finish with a deep breath, pause, and release.

Unplug.

Ever notice how near the end of the holiday season after all the festive lights have been shining for days on end, that some lights invariably fade or completely burn out? Our brains can work that way too. The brain’s default mode would have us turned on and “doing” all the time. To fully experience the present moment and to be in the now, experiment with setting boundaries and giving yourself permission to fully unplug. Instead of doing, accept this as an invitation to just be.

Take a look at your schedule each day and identify three times during the day that you can fully unplug and create a purposeful pause. Your purposeful pause might be five minutes or less, or it may be much longer. Whatever length of time you commit to your unplug sessions, do your best to make it happen. Schedule these daily pauses on your calendar. Decline meetings or calls during this time and block your schedule.

Turn all devices fully off and move them to a location separate from you, out of sight and out of reach. If you believe you don't have time to unplug fully three times a day, take another look at your schedule and review again how you can adjust and re-prioritize to take care of you.

Explore for more

Other blog entries and the resources section on this site offer more suggestions you can use to de-stress during the holidays, and our guided meditations are always there for the taking. Or if you’d prefer a more hands-on approach, consider joining us for our Holiday Stress Reduction Workshop. In whatever way you choose to practice, I hope you find more serenity, peace, and joy this holiday season and beyond.

Mindfully yours,
Ashley

Ashley Nelson