12/18/2014 03:34 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Mindfulness for a Stress-Defying Holiday


It's in the air, that time of year -- the frenzy of the holiday. It's real, and it's happening right now. The energy swirling around is palpable, and some of it is definitely not good. Aggressive drivers, emotionally-charged people, the knowledge that the holiday is imminent, and there is still a lot to get done for Christmas, even if we only finish the bare minimum of everything we want to do, all impinge on our peacefulness.

How can we celebrate the holidays mindfully with all of the things going on in our lives and within a consumer culture? This is a challenge. Each of us is in our own place in life -- financially and emotionally, and we bring our experiences to our holiday. Real life doesn't stop happening while we prepare; problems and all the other daily things keep on coming. We know and feel the demand placed on us. We might be concerned if we can fulfill the wishes of others; we may wonder if the holiday will be as happy or as satisfying as we would like for it to be. So much to think about that can keep us off balance.

Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your enthusiasm, your vitality, your spirit, your trust, your openness, above all, your presence. Share it with yourself, with your family, with the world. -- Jon Kabat Zinn

We can stay mindful -- as awake. Not with a full mind, but more of an open mind, being awake to whatever feelings or thoughts we have in the moment we are in. Being aware of our breathing and our presence in the present moment. Let go of expectations and be open to whatever moments of joy you experience. Sit with the feeling and soak it up, just as intensely as we feel the negative moments of life. Forget about any script or agenda you might have for how the holiday will unfold and let it reveal itself. Enjoy what is.

As you complete your tasks and move through daily life, look around and be present in that moment. Breathe and realize how lucky you are and really appreciate what you have in that moment in this time. It sounds so simple, but it is not always easy. The season of giving is undeniably intertwined with the season of shopping and spending, which can seriously amplify one of the many challenges we face in living mindfully: finding balance between striving for more and contentment and gratitude for what we have.

The holiday season is a perfect time to focus on balancing gratitude and wanting and despite how busy and hectic the holidays can be, we can find moments to breathe deeply and just BE. Don't put off enjoying the holiday; it is possible in the midst of the swirl of holiday busy-ness to practice mindfulness and find unexpected moments of peace or happiness.

Simplify. Consider the possible activities you may want or need to do:

Finish decorating; get a tree; make those custom cards (yeah, right!); mail cards; make a gingerbread house; go to a holiday concert; attend kids' concert or performance; go to school holiday party; make something to take to school; gifts for friends, family, teachers, coaches, etc; go to place of worship; purchase and drop off donations or gifts for less fortunate; make cookies; prepare for houseguests or to be a houseguest; care for older parent; care for children; go to work; go to your or significant other's work party; go to spouse's work party; make crafts with kids; order stuff online; finish that shopping and wrap those gifts.

Realize not all of the possibilities are all possible.

I present an alternative holiday list:

  • Get done what you can
  • Find time to be still and enjoy
  • Sit quietly
  • Listen to holiday music
  • Enjoy food or drinks that you only have at the holiday
  • Watch a holiday movie
  • Get out and shop, wherever you an afford to shop
  • Walk around and look at lights and decorations
  • Soak up the positive holiday vibe whenever and wherever you can
  • Enjoy time with your loved ones
  • Cuddle up with your kids
  • Giggle when you're starting to get grouchy
  • Donate to charity -- there's always someone with less than you

Buying gifts is fun and joyful, but it can also trigger some anxiety and possibly even financial stress. We can get caught up in feelings of obligation, frustration, and resentment that definitely put a crimp in our serenity, especially if our resources are limited.

Gratitude is an essential practice for our mental and emotional well-being, but the consumerism of the holiday does create delightful temptation to want, buy, get, receive, give, shop, and indulge. It's better for our serenity to be content with what we have, but it's also natural to have ideas about what gifts we would enjoy to buy for others and also what we'd like to receive, since it's natural to want and need things for our earthly existence.

This adds another dimension to the push-pull of the holiday buying dilemma when our contentment is set off-balance by our own or our loved ones' desires. Buying within our budgets will help us to feel much less stressed and more peaceful in the months after the holiday. When we stay balanced during the holiday, it will ripple out from there and into the new year.

If we get too preoccupied with desire for material things, we will miss many of the amazing blessings and joys that the holiday brings. We can take refuge in whatever peacefulness we experience and share compassion for others who have less than ourselves.

We overcome suffering by taming this unruly mind -- Dalai Lama

We can tame the "unruly mind" by giving gifts mindfully, doing things to help others, spending according to our budget and being creative. We can be present for our loved ones, and present in whatever we do so we don't miss what we are experiencing.

Be kind to yourself. If we let go of expectations and encourage our loved ones to do the same, it makes room to enjoy the small moments of emotional and spiritual gifts that the holidays offer us if we are quiet enough and willing to receive them.

Leigh has practiced yoga and mindfulness for years and incorporates them into her work with young people in therapeutic behavior/emotional support. She writes about action sports, which integrates mindfulness, creativity and athletics. Follow her on Twitter