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4 Mindful Tips to De-Stress This Holiday Season

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Not feeling particularly cheery this time of year? You’re not alone. Many find that the holidays bring as much stress as they do joy. But there are ways to ease through the season. To help make the most of your festivities, Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, shares some mindful tips.

What is mindfulness? “Mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment with an element of nonjudgment and acceptance. It is noticing when we get caught up in thoughts about the past or the future, and returning our attention to the present — the only reality,” explains Gould.

While mindfulness can be a formal meditation practice, there are also informal ways to practice this skill. This can give us perspective and decrease stress.

Gould shares four ways to make your holidays brighter:

Broken gingerbread man cookie

1. Accept Imperfection

Can good be good enough? “As we gear up for the holidays, we often set the bar impossibly high for ourselves and then feel upset when our celebrations don’t live up to expectations,” says Gould.

Before you start preparing, acknowledge that things may not go exactly as planned. “It’s OK if it’s not perfect. Imperfection is healthy and normal. For some of us, it might just take a little practice,” reminds Gould.

Grandparents and grandson lighting a menorah.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of What Really Counts

With long lines and nasty traffic, the holidays can get hectic. When overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, ask yourself:

  • Where does this fit in the grand scheme of things? If you’re frustrated by the long grocery line you’re standing in, remember that it is just a long grocery line — nothing more. Don’t let it spoil your afternoon.
  • Can I use this moment of frustration as an opportunity to reflect? While the cashier rings up the customers ahead of you, take inventory of the good things that have happened today or the things you are grateful for.
  • Even if this moment seems stressful, can I find a way to make it pleasant? Connect with someone else in line with a compliment or kind gesture, or notice what’s around you with fresh eyes and an open mind.  
Family baking holiday cookies together.

3. Respond with Kindness

You can’t change how others act during the stresses of the holiday season, but you can change how you respond to situations:

  • “Whenever I encounter a difficult person, I tell myself, ‘this person is suffering, and that’s why they’re acting this way.’ It softens my frustration, helps me be more compassionate and reminds me that it’s not personal,” says Gould.
  • Keep in mind that the holidays are especially difficult for those who are alone. See if you can extend an act of kindness to those you know are without family and friends during this time of year.
  • If things do get tense with someone, take a few deep breaths. “Those few breaths can shift things and give you new perspective,” says Gould.
Woman planning her weekly calendar.

4. Rethink Your Resolutions

“Typical New Year’s resolutions set you up for failure,” warns Gould. If you want to better yourself in the New Year, follow these tips for success:

  • Start small. Break your goal into tinier steps over the course of the year. If weight loss is your goal, it doesn’t have to be drastic. Try to eat more veggies during your first month and gradually cut back on sweets throughout the next, suggests Gould.
  • Be kind to yourself. If you didn’t achieve last year’s resolution or stray from the path this time around, let it go. “We often contrive these stories (‘I’m never going to quit smoking!’) that only add to our distress,” says Gould. “With practice, we can notice this self-critic, let go of that negativity and pick our goals back up without the guilt or shame.”

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