How to Manage Holiday Stress with Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the simple act of paying attention and being present in all our actions. Like meditation, mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety, while increasing feelings of calm and relaxation. This wellness technique can make a difference during the holidays when dealing with stressful situations heightened by COVID-19, financial worries, grief, loneliness and unrealistic expectations. 

Taking a mindful approach to the holidays can be as simple as pausing to admire the twinkling lights that adorn Christmas trees during the season or taking a moment to appreciate holiday music and the memories it evokes. Another way is to be fully present with loved ones by making eye contact, listening and cherishing the time together.  

Applying mindfulness to the holidays means accepting that stressors and imperfections are a normal part of life and instead, focusing on the things that bring joy. Here are some ways to use mindfulness to address the stresses that can mar the holidays for everyone: 

A sense of loneliness. Feelings of isolation can be more intense during the holidays when families traditionally come together. This time can be painful for those who are grieving loved ones or may have difficult family relationships. The inability to see or celebrate with family due to COVID-19 restrictions could exacerbate loneliness for more people this year. Use mindfulness by: 

  • Focusing on other ways to connect with neighbors, coworkers, friends and family such as through a virtual get-together. 
  • Reminiscing about pleasant holiday memories with lost loved ones. 
  • Learning about resources in case someone is having a hard time and needs to talk. Most companies have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which can provide free or low-cost counseling. 

Financial stress. During the holidays, people often feel financial stress more acutely due to pressure related to gift-giving. In general, money is a significant source of stress for 60% of Americans, according to a report by the American Psychological Association. Approach financial concerns in a mindful way by 

  • Being aware of finances and considering a budget before purchasing holiday-related items. 
  • Focusing on thoughtful homemade gift options like framing a special photo, putting together a basket of healthy food or giving a charitable donation in a recipient’s name.  
  • Spending time on a heartfelt card that describes the importance of the relationship with the recipient 

Unrealistic expectations. Lofty goals of bringing family together, always being joyful and giving the perfect gifts can be hard to reach. They can also result in painful disappointment. But there are some mindful solutions, including: 

  •  Accepting that it’s okay if things are not perfect. 
  • Allowing alone time to de-stress and practice self-care. 
  • Focusing on being present with family and friends. 

Overindulging in food. Those who manage holiday stress with food often end up feeling guilty after an unhealthy binge. This can contribute to further stress and a cycle of overeating. Here are some ways to mindfully manage food-triggered stresses: 

  • Accept that it is okay to indulge sometimes, and one meal or weekend of unhealthy eating will not result in poor health. 
  • Eat slowly and engage all senses: textures, smells, flavors and the conversations around the table. 
  • Listen to hunger cues before and after eating. Pay attention to stressors to prevent eating out of boredom or anxiousness.  
  • Try going for a walk, doing a quick meditation or calling a friend. 

Shanthi Appelö is a registered dietitian and health and wellness spokesperson for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more tips on mindfulness, visit ahealthiermichigan.org. 

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