As the holiday season is officially here, it couldn’t be a better time to revisit how meditation can help us combat holiday stress. A new poll conducted in November by the American Psychological Association showed that while a majority of U.S. adults enjoy positive experiences this time of year, 89% of all people surveyed said that something still causes them to feel stressed during the holidays. In fact, 72% of people said they would describe the holidays as “bittersweet”. The most common causes of holiday stress, according to the survey, are spending too much money or not having enough money to spend (58%), finding the right gifts (40%), and missing family or loved ones (38%). Other causes of stress include having too much to do and feeling overwhelmed, feeling pressure to make the holidays special, experiencing or anticipating family conflict, and others. Further, a study by the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI) found that 64% of people with mental illness say the holidays make their conditions worse. So, what can we do to maximize the joy of the holiday season and minimize the least joyous aspects of it?
According to NAMI, prioritizing your self-care, exercising daily, and engaging in meditation can be very effective strategies to help manage holiday stress. Many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation—where you practice keeping your attention fully in the present moment—can be especially effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Here are some ways you can build mindfulness meditation into your daily routine this holiday season:
- Take five—Even just 5 minutes of meditation in the morning can help your day start out calmer and reduce the amount of stress and anxiety you feel throughout the day. Consider trying a basic breathing meditation and utilizing free resources online to help guide you through it, like the Insight Timer or Calm app—or one of University of Houston’s free online guided meditations. Remember, meditating any time of day can help you feel less stressed, not just in the morning.
- Mindfully transition between work and home—Another great time to build in a short mindfulness meditation is in your transition from work to home. Some people find that taking a few minutes to focus on their breathing once they are home, but before going into the house, can make it easier to let go of work-related stresses and worries and give their loved ones (including pets!) their full attention. Or, if you take a train or bus from work to home, this can be a great place for a meditation—keeping in mind that you don’t need to close your eyes to meditate.
- Make a little deal with yourself—Whether you watch TV, stream movies, read a book, or listen to music to wind down in the evenings, try making a little deal with yourself to help you get motivated to meditate. Here’s an example: “If I complete 10 minutes of meditation, then I can watch my show.” By doing this, you are holding yourself accountable to fit meditation into your day. Of course, other “rewards” you decide to give yourself for meditating can work just as well—like rewarding yourself with a special treat at the end of the week if you’ve met your meditation goal that week. Research studies have shown that incentives can help us create new routines.
As you can see, finding time for a little meditation in your busy holiday season is easier than it might seem, and it can go a long way to help ease the stress, anxiety, pressure, and strong emotions that sometimes dampen our joy this time of year. And, as the saying goes, “To take care of others, start by taking care of yourself”. It’s okay to take a meditation self-care break around the holidays—and all year round—when you need one. Sometimes, you just need to give yourself permission to do so.
The YMCA of Greater Houston offers many ways to learn more about mindfulness and bring meditation into your daily life. Join a group meditation class, like our weekly ZOOM Mindfulness Meditation on Tuesdays at 6:30PM for YMCA facility members. Visit the YMCA of Greater Houston’s website for more information or to join the Y today.
Finally, the holidays can be a very difficult time for some people. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, know that help is available. Visit the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for a list of resources. For immediate help 24 hours a day, call or text 988.
About the Author
Wendy Saunders is a Certified Teacher and Facilitator through Emory University in CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) and SEE Learning®, a K-12 educational program designed to build social, emotional, and ethical competencies through attention training, compassion cultivation, and trauma-informed resiliency skills. Wendy is also a facilitator of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) ®, a program of the Trauma Resource Institute, the Founder of Compassionate Leader, LLC, and has worked with thousands of people in business, non-profit, education, and healthcare organizations across the country and internationally to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and leadership skills.