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How to Unlock the Secrets to Mindful Holidays

For most people, the holidays are a busy time of year. They can also bring about lots of pressure and conflicting emotions. A commitment to have mindful holidays can reduce internal stress and anxiety so that you can actually relax and enjoy each moment of the season that only comes around once a year.

What Exactly Is Mindfulness?

If you read much in personal development circles, you will find that mindfulness is a buzz term right now. Mindfulness means to be aware of your surroundings and to make a conscious effort to live in the moment. That means not worrying about your to-do list, your family, work, or anything else. Just be fully present where you are. Notice the little things that you usually are only vaguely aware of.

What is a Mindful Holiday?

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So often we get caught up in making the holidays “perfect.”  We want all the decorations in just the right places, the perfect playlist, the perfect presents, the perfect wrapping, and the list goes on and on.  There is no such thing as absolutely perfect.

Mindful holidays are ones in which you make time for yourself to slow down and savor it. Soak in the RIIIP of wrapping paper. Cherish the happy excited shouts of the kids. Take pictures and videos, but don’t stress over getting the perfect shot. Instead, pay attention to what is going on around you. Notice the little details that you usually take for granted.

Don’t think about what you have to do next week, the places that you have to go, or anything else that could be distracting you. Be right there in the moment in both mind and body. Laugh and dance along with the kids. Let go of your worries and frustrations for a little while. That’s how you have mindful holidays. 

What Areas Can You Practice Mindfulness for the Holidays?

Mindfulness is a great practice to start any time. The holidays are so busy, though, I think it’s especially important to breathe it in. They seem here and gone so quickly. There are several areas that you can practice mindfulness for the holidays.

Mindful Holiday Gift Giving

There are several ways to have mindful holidays when it comes to gift-giving. They include:

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  • Mindful spending – We all know that we should stick to a budget when gift-giving. It takes away the fun if you are making payments on Christmas till summer vacation.
  • Mindful selecting – I enjoy the shopping for Christmas gifts because it gives me an opportunity to think about each member of my family, and what gift they will like. I may not always nail it on the head, but I try to think about each family member’s interests. This includes what they like, as well as what they don’t like. (For example, my Dad hates going clothes shopping.) It’s like a fun puzzle to me to try to find something that fits their interests, that they don’t already have that’s in my budget. Instead of stressing about it, I try to enjoy the time to think about each member of my family.
  • Mindful Unwrapping – I remember trying several things when it came to unwrapping Christmas presents. At my Grandma’s house we all unwrapped all of our gifts at the same time. However, at my Nanny’s house and later at my parents’ we passed out all the gifts and went round-robin style. When I was a kid, it was hard to wait for my turn, but it taught me to enjoy the whole process – not just the receiving, but the anticipation of seeing someone’s face when they unwrapped the gift I got them. It also stretches out the gift time and lets me savor it more, plus I get to see everything.
  • Prayer of Gratitude – There is a new tradition that I want to start at my house this year on Christmas that I think will help us have a more mindful holiday. I want to say a prayer as a family and thank God for all His blessings before we start unwrapping gifts.

Mindful Holiday Activities

The holidays are a busy time. There are a LOT of activities going on and you may feel pulled in many different directions. If I feel rushed, with many things packed into the schedule, it’s hard for me to enjoy them. I just feel tired and stressed about getting to different places in time. I try to mindfully select the activities that mean the most to me and my family. It’s ok not to do everything. Do the things that you enjoy the most.

Mindful Holiday Decorations

Some people enjoy going all out for holiday decorations. If having a Christmas tree in every room and having the whole house decked out in Christmas decor is something that you enjoy, go for it!

For myself, I prefer one tree in the living room for Christmas. There are a few other decorations that I enjoy that I put out. If my tree has any theme, it’s memories. The decorations that go on my tree are ones that my Grandma made me, some that I got as gifts from various people in my life, and ones that the kids have made. To me, it is beautiful because each ornament reminds me of something or someone. Put up the decorations that you enjoy the most. Don’t stress about getting them perfect to show off. Your decorations in your house are for you and your family.

Mindful Holiday Eating

Just like with mindful holidays and gift-giving, there are several ways to be mindful of food around the holidays. I love holiday food just as much as anyone else. However, I am trying to make some healthier food choices. This is my plan to be more mindful of food around the holidays:

  • Eat more slowly and enjoy the taste of each bite
  • Eat my vegetables first
  • Remind myself that I don’t have to have 3 helpings to enjoy my favorite foods
  • Be mindful of when my body is telling me I am full. (Funny thing is the kids always do this, yet it’s so hard for grown-ups.)
  • Be more aware of how much I am eating
  • Stop long enough to take in the whole experience – my family around the table, the smiles, laughter, stories, music if it’s playing, how nicely Mom has set the table, etc.
  • Pick one when it comes to desserts or two smaller pieces of pie instead of one big one.

Little things that make a difference

Sometimes little things make a big difference when it comes to mindful holidays. For example, I never realized that we always put Christmas music on when we put up the Christmas tree until I went back and watched some old home movies. Now, we all put the Christmas tree up together. It’s a family event, as is taking it down. When it goes up, we play Christmas music. When we are unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning, I always make sure that I put Christmas music on then too.

Little things like hot spiced cider in the crockpot, putting on music, lighting a candle, starting a fire in the fireplace, or donuts for breakfast can become little things that stand out in future holiday memories.

Related: 10 Amazing Little Things to Enjoy This Holiday Season

Best Tips for Mindful Holidays

The best advice for mindful holidays all centers around stopping long enough to soak in the whole experience and making an effort to be fully present at the moment.

1. Don’t compare

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When making your holidays mindful, don’t compare your holiday to anyone else’s. If your gifts to each other are smaller, that’s ok. If you have simpler decorations or your tree is not perfectly themed, like mine, that’s ok.

The holidays are very personal and the experience is different in each family. As my Mom told me when I was a newlywed, part of crafting the perfect holiday for your family is deciding which traditions to keep from the husband’s side and the wife’s side, how to mesh them together and which ones to create new. Your holiday needs to fit your family; not your neighbors.

2. Remember your priorities

Your holidays should reflect your values and your priorities. Don’t compromise them to fit in with anyone. Stand up for what you believe in and the things that are important to you. You can do it in a respectful manner. Set an example that you would be proud for your own kids to follow.

3. Budget

Don’t go into debt over Christmas. It may mean that you have to start Christmas shopping in July and buy one gift a month, or that you save a certain amount each month for a year. Plan ahead. Paying off Christmas for several months afterward is no fun. At the end of the day, it’s stuff. What matters is the experience and love that you share as a family. Give what you can afford and don’t trash your finances for one day.

Related: Finances Without Fighting: How One Couple Does It

4. Cherish the Memories

There are certain Christmas presents that stand out in my mind as a kid. I remember the year that Santa brought us a Super Nintendo. (Laugh all you want – it was amazing at the time!) I also remember the year that I got a rocking horse that made noise and I’m sure drove my parents nuts with “clip-clop, clip-clop” sounds, and the year I got something that was so big and so special that I wasn’t sure that Santa was going to be able to deliver on it – a Hula Hoop!

Yes, you read that right – a simple hula hoop ranks right up there with a brand new game system in my Christmas memories. More than the gifts, I remember the memories. I remember my little brother throwing a bear out of his brand new little tikes car and it saying “Bingo!” as its head hit the floor. I remember Christmas music, playing in the snow, and the smell of special holiday meals. These little details are what you need to soak in. Take pictures, take videos, and take in all that is going on around you as best you can.

5. Be Flexible if Plans Change

There has been a LOT in 2020 that has changed. By now, we should be used to changing (or canceled) plans, but around Christmas time, it’s hard. If your plans fall through, stay flexible enough so that you can regroup. Changing your attitude can change the whole experience. Make new plans, create a new tradition, find something else to look forward to. Try to be fully present and live in the moment instead of mourning what might have been.

Related: 7 Tips for a Stress- Free Christmas

Mental Health Holiday Tips

Even for the best of us, and especially so this year, the holidays can be a trigger for mental health issues. Trying to cope with a COVID Christmas is not something that anyone has faced before. The Mayo Clinic has some tips if you are trying to have a mindful holiday with mental health issues.

  • Acknowledge your feelings – It’s ok to be sad if you have lost someone close to you, or if you miss someone during the holidays.
  • Fight loneliness by reaching out – Call your family and friends, volunteer, reach out to a church or community group.
  • Put aside differences – Right up there with reaching out is putting aside old grievances and forgiving. People are not perfect and they make mistakes. They may miss you as much as you miss them, but you may never know unless you make the first move.
  • Have realistic expectations and set aside perfectionism – Things do not have to be perfect to be enjoyable. People do not magically turn into perfect people at Christmas time. Go into this season (and into holiday gatherings) with realistic expectations.
  • Have a plan – Having a plan for the holidays can make you feel in control. Stick to your budget and to healthy habits.
  • Seek professional help if you need it – Seeking professional help if you need it is much better than suffering in silence. If you had a broken leg, you would not try to walk around on it and let it mend on its own. You’d seek help. Do the same for your mental health.

Coping With Christmas Stress

I find coping with Christmas stress to be at odds with having a mindful holiday, yet I would be lying if I told you that it wasn’t part of the holiday season. The above tips on having a mindful holiday apply for coping with Christmas stress as well, but here are a few more tips!

1. Manage Your Expectations

Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, but it can be disappointing when the reality falls short of your high expectations. That’s one of the reasons its so important to try to have a mindful holiday so that you can enjoy the moments and be fully present for them. Christmas may be magical, but people are still people. It’s ok if your kid is not zipping down the sidewalk on the new improved super popular and mega expensive thing-a-ma-jigger! If it’s not in the budget, it’s not in the budget, and it’s a great opener for teaching gratitude.

My oldest son asked for a $600 remote control nerf tank last year. He didn’t get it. But it didn’t ruin his Christmas. We just used it as an opportunity to talk about managing expectations and being grateful for the gifts he did receive.

2. Set Personal Boundaries

Nothing takes the fun out of the holidays like family drama. While you may not be able to control other people, you can choose how you respond to it and the boundaries that you set. You can politely ask people to stop certain behaviors, or you can remove yourself from the situation. Setting personal boundaries may sound hard at first, but it’s healthy for both you and other people.

Remember that “A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” –Proverbs 15:1 KJV

3. Don’t be Afraid to say No

Speaking of setting personal boundaries, it’s really easy to over-commit during the holiday season. Guard your downtime. You need that to rest and recharge for the next day. You don’t have to do everything with everyone every year. Say yes to the things that mean the most to you. Don’t be afraid to say no to the rest.

4. Limit Time on Social Media

When I am stressed I tend to spend more time on social media. It does not help. It still draws me in like a siren song, but when I start asking “is this making me feel better?” the answer is always no. Social media is good for a lot of things, but don’t let it be your entire social life. You will feel much better with a better stress relief outlet. Do something to fill your cup instead.

Related: Best Stress Relief Products to Help You Relax

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5. Focus on Making Connections

People do not do well in isolation. That’s one of the reasons that 2020 has been so hard – isolating is hard on mental health. Make this year the year that you reach out -whatever that looks like for you. It may be volunteering, it may be doing charitable work, or just texting a friend and asking them to go have coffee.

Anxiety During the Holidays

If you have anxiety, the holidays can be a big trigger. It feels like there’s a lot of expectations, there are tons of things to do, people to see and that starts the cycle of “What if…” Try these tips to continue having a mindful holiday and calm your anxiety this holiday season.

Focus on what you can control

I once read a book called “The Power of Self-Coaching.” In it, Dr. Joe Luciani gives my all-time favorite definition of worry. He says “Worry is the habit of anticipating chaos.” Do you know anyone that anticipates chaos? I do because I used to be a master at it. (And still am, sometimes, but I have learned to better recognize it now.) We all want to be in control of our lives, but worrying does not make anything better.

“Trust in yourself and your ability to handle life as it comes.” That’s another quote that I got from the book because it’s one that I repeated to myself often. When you find yourself worrying, shift from worry to concern. Worry deals with fiction and things that “might happen.” Often the emotions are overblown in proportion to the problem. Concern, on the other hand, is fact based and the emotional reaction is more in line with the actual problem. It’s geared towards problem solving.

Focus on what you can control, let the rest go and deal with it when and IF it comes.

Related: What to do when you are worrying too much

Stay Active

I know this one sounds cliche. I used to scoff at it too. But I have found that when I stay active it helps put me in a better mood. There are many benefits to physical activity on your mood. Stay active, even if it’s just going for a brisk walk. It helps you to deal with stress and will give you more energy as well.

Be Kind to Yourself

It can be really hard to silence our inner critic. The next time you find yourself thinking unkind things, ask yourself “Is this what I would say to a friend?” I used to talk myself into tears and feelings of worthlessness and not being good enough. Don’t do that to yourself. Instead, talk to yourself as if you were talking to a friend. Try telling yourself one of these things instead:

  • “I got this”
  • “It’s ok.”
  • “I can do this”
  • “It’s ok not to be perfect”
  • “Setting boundaries is healthy for me and for others.”
  • “I did the best I could – and that’s enough.”

You can Pop in and Out

If it’s holiday gatherings that are stressing you, remember that you can always pop in and out. You don’t have to spend the whole time talking to that one relative that drains your energy. Be polite, say hello, but it’s ok to step out for breathers if you need to.

Plan ahead

It’s very hard for me to have a mindful holiday if I feel rushed or late. Having a plan helps me feel more in control and it also helps with anxiety. I like to get things done before the last minute. That’s one of the reasons that I created the Mindful Holiday Planner – I wanted to go into this holiday season feeling organized and on top of things instead of feeling like I am buried under a pile of to-dos at the last minute.

The Last Thing You Need to Know About Mindful Holidays

The holidays only roll around once a year. They can be a time of stress or a time of joy. The choice is up to you. When you choose mindful holidays, you let go of unrealistic or perceived expectations. Instead, you choose to soak it in and live in the moment. You aren’t thinking about where you “failed” or what doesn’t look just right. You simply enjoy what is and choose to spend your time and money on the things that mean the most to you. We also talked about ways that you can reduce stress and anxiety around this time of year. What are your best tips for mindful holidays or what are you struggling with? Leave me a comment below!

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