The Christmas holidays are fast approaching and this year, they will be very different from past years.
The holiday season is supposed to be a happy time; it conjures up images of comfort by the fireplace, gingerbread cookies, giving and helping those in need, and stepping away from the daily routine to focus on family and loved ones .
But it can also come with a lot of stress, especially this year - worrying about extra expenses, staying healthy and maintaining social distancing from loved ones.
With all the changes this time of year brings, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress and lose focus on the essence of what the holidays are all about: feeling and sharing the joy, kindness and gratitude for everything you have in your life.
Meditation is a great way to help you refocus on what matters most this holiday season.
You can't control events, but you can use meditation to help you overcome anxiety.
A meditation to cultivate joy
Stress this time of year can sometimes wear you down, often zapping the joy the holidays are supposed to bring.
Meditating not only helps you be more joyful and present, but it can also help you spread joy (virtually) to those around you.
And spreading joy, uplifting others, and being joyful are at the heart of the holiday spirit!
Simple steps to cultivate this feeling of joy:
- Find a quiet place - this could be in a room in your house, in an area of your garden or next to the fireplace when everyone has gone to sleep.
- Sit in an upright position. Close your eyes and inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- Continue with five deep breaths. Pay attention to how you feel, find any discomfort or pain points, and adjust your position to be more comfortable.
- Continue to breathe. Focus on the feeling of your chest rising and falling.
- Pay attention to your thoughts. Your mind may wander to your holiday to-do list; If so, visualize yourself crossing out the items. Know that you are taking this time for yourself, so that you have the energy to tackle this list with joy.
- Think about a vacation memory from your past when you felt deep joy. It could be a happy holiday moment from your youth or a recent memory. Focus on the details of that moment, trying to relive it in your mind, as if you were watching a movie of that memory.
- Dive into the heart of your memory. Bringing this moment to the center of your awareness, pay attention to the joyful emotions and sensations you experienced, to the smells.
- Recreate these feelings in your life today. Perhaps this can be done with different people, a different place, and a different activity, but working to cultivate the same mood of joy for yourself and those with whom you would like to share these feelings.
- Take 10 deep breaths. Release this visual and take 10 deep breaths, inhaling to fill yourself with the spirit of holiday cheer and exhaling to send joy into the world.
- Sit quietly. When you are finished, sit quietly for a few moments before gently opening your eyes.
Practice this meditation daily, focusing on cultivating and spreading joy. With repetition, you will be able to tap into these feelings more easily, even in the face of the stress of this time.
A meditation to cultivate kindness
Kindness is about extending grace, compassion, and love to others, and you can use meditation to improve your capacity for empathy and compassion.
Try these simple steps, an offshoot of loving-kindness meditation:
- Before you begin this mediation, set a timer between 5 and 20 minutes and think of a few phrases that invoke kindness and compassion toward others.
- String three or four short sentences together. Write them down if it helps you remember them. If nothing comes to mind, here are some examples: “May you be at peace.” “May you be healthy.” “May you feel free.” “May joy fill your life.”
- As before, find yourself in a comfortable place where you can concentrate on your meditation without distraction.
- Sit in a comfortable position and begin to take five deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, tuning in to any discomfort in your body and adjusting as necessary.
- Continue your rhythmic breathing and choose someone, yourself or a group of people to whom you will channel loving-kindness (for example, your family, your neighbors, your community, your country or refugees around the world who you read in the news).
- With this person or people clear in your mind, silently repeat your loving-kindness phrases throughout your meditation.
- When your timer goes off, sit quietly for a few moments, smile at the kindness you've sent to others, and gently open your eyes.
Try practicing this meditation when you wake up and before going to bed, so you can start and end your day with kindness.
You can change the recipient of your meditation each time you do it if you wish. This will help you practice kindness to everyone this holiday season.
A meditation to cultivate gratitude
Being grateful is something you can practice all year round, but the Christmas holidays are often a time to especially reflect on your life.
This meditation will help you think about what you are grateful for and how to express that appreciation.
Try these simple steps to develop a gratitude mindset:
- Find a comfortable, quiet place to begin your meditation.
- Sit up straight and adjust your posture as necessary to relieve sore spots.
- Start by taking a series of deep breaths. Through the nose, through the mouth. Close your eyes slightly and continue rhythmic breathing.
- If you are sitting outside on a sunny day or next to the fireplace, notice how the warmth embraces you and makes the winter chill disappear. Breathe and enjoy the feeling of warmth passing through your body.
- Start thinking about the gifts life has given you today. What can you be grateful for today, right now? You can choose something specific that happened today or even the simple fact that you are alive and breathing.
- Think about all the potential comforts you have in your life such as access to water and food, clothing, electricity, your roof, your friends, your family, health,...
- One by one, think about all the special people who are part of your life, directly and indirectly (friends, co-workers, the farmer who grows your green beans,...).
- Now think of something in your life that you are grateful for that was new in the past year.
- Think of a talent or skill that you are grateful for.
- Now think about one thing you're really looking forward to in the future.
- Follow up by thinking about something that makes you smile or laugh and notice the emotions running through your body.
- Release the images of gratitude, take a few deep breaths, and finish with taking inventory of how you feel. Without judgment, just observe.
- When you are finished, you can gently open your eyes and bring feelings of gratitude with you into the rest of your day.
When you practice these three meditations, you are actively working to cultivate feelings of joy, kindness, and gratitude this holiday season, benefiting your well-being as well as those around you.
What better way to get into the holiday spirit, and in turn, make it contagious!
Mindfulness, a way to combat anxiety during this period
We're going through difficult times, but incorporating mindfulness practices into your daily routine can help calm anxiety and develop healthy coping skills.
Here are some tips to make mindfulness work for you and your family.
It doesn't have to be complicated
Being mindful means taking the time to focus on the present, being intentional and mindful of where you are and how you feel.
Try to center your thoughts and be in the moment. It sounds simple, but it takes work, especially now when concerns about what the future holds are so pressing.
Mindfulness can help and it doesn't have to be complicated. If you are unable to practice the meditation exercises we have just seen, you can start with simple things:
- Contract and release your muscles starting at your toes and moving up.
- Stomach breathing: put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Inhale slowly from your stomach (inflate like a balloon) and exhale slowly (deflate).
- Mindful Eating: Pay attention to the smell, taste and appearance of your food. No multitasking.
- Make soap bubbles: notice their shapes, textures and colors.
- Coloring: Color something and focus on the colors and designs.
- Listen to music: Focus on the whole song or listen specifically to the vocals or an instrument.
Take time for mindfulness
Right now, much of the personal time that used to be part of our daily routines—commuting, time alone at home, going to the store—is reduced.
Deciding to set aside time each day to practice mindfulness activities is a great place to start. Morning, before everyone wakes up, can be the perfect time to really come together.
Morning mindfulness can help set the tone for the day. Do some deep breathing, meditate, exercise, whatever mindfulness activity works for you.
Mindfulness doesn’t need to be elaborate. You can try practicing it while eating or drinking a cup of coffee. Sit there and just be in the moment. This is mindfulness.
Right now, it can feel like we're trying to do ten things at once. For example, trying to fold laundry, prepare dinner, and monitor your child during a video work meeting.
But multitasking rarely works and can actually increase stress. Multitasking is a myth, no one can sustain it for the long term.
Instead, set achievable goals for the day, trying to focus on one thing at a time.
For example, scheduling work calls during nap time, allowing the kids a little more screen time while you cook dinner, or asking older kids to help you fold the laundry.
Practice mindfulness as a family
Mindfulness is “anything that helps you take a moment to slow down, stay present and gather yourself.” Designating time to practice mindfulness activities as a family will help everyone feel less anxious.
This could be a daily family yoga session or a quiet walk in the woods, taking time to focus on the feel of the air, the sound of the birds and the smell of the trees.
Another good family mindfulness idea is to ask everyone to mention one good thing they heard or saw that day during dinner.
Make peace with uncertainty
This situation is characterized by extreme uncertainty. We don't know what will happen, how long it will last, or what things will look like when it's over.
One thing we do know, however, is that worrying about it won't change the outcome. Learning to tolerate uncertainty is an essential part of developing healthy coping skills for ourselves, which we then want to model for our children.
Right now, it's very easy to let yourself slip into negativity. Practicing mindfulness brings us back to the present and away from the abyss.