5 Tips for a Mindful Holiday Season

The holiday season can be busy and stressful, even during a great year. In normal times, I’m usually doing a lot of singing in preparation for the Christmas marathon of services. I’m used to Christmas Eve being a fun, often hectic whirlwind of activity that ends in my friends and I having mulled wine at midnight. But this year, the pandemic has thrown all of that for a loop. Concerts, performances, and big parties are cancelled. Large family gatherings are out the window and I’ve received more packages from online shopping than ever before.

Riding out a global pandemic isn’t exactly filled with comfort, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be rid of joy. Although this holiday season looks very different for must of us, there are ways we can make the most of the festivities we can enjoy, even if it’s with a cozier crowd.

Here are 5 tips for a mindful holiday season:

1. Lean Into Imperfection

Do your perfectionist, super-planner tendencies go through the roof during the holidays? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Leaning into imperfection this year has been hard for me, but it has also helped me in so many ways. I’m the type of person that obsesses over tiny details and I get stressed if things don’t go exactly as I’ve planned in my iPhone notes. However, this year, packages have been taken from my door, have been late, and stores haven’t had exactly what I wanted which has forced me to ask myself many times “Can good be simply 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  Neda Gould, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of the Johns Hopkins Mindfulness Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Before you start planning, 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. Just think of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation… things definitely didn’t go as planned and it was still a special holiday.

2. Tune Into Your senses

One of the most wonderful ways to cultivate joy this season is to tune into your senses.

Sight: Lights are a big part of many winter holidays, whether they are candles, twinkling lights on trees, or big displays. Take a minute to notice them and how they make you feel. Even if you don’t decorate your home, you’re probably surrounded by them in your neighborhood. Take a drive and enjoy them.

Smell: One of the most defining characteristics of the holidays for me is the smell of my parent’s home after Biscochitos have been baked. The smell of all our traditional holiday foods instantly brings me comfort and joy when I tune into it. What holiday smells put a smile on your face and how can you bring them into your home this season?

Taste: Continuing on my food tangent, take time to truly taste and delight in your food traditions. Take time with each bite.  Experience the flavors, textures, and aroma.  Be mindful of how the food was created, prepared, and presented to you.

“When practiced to its fullest, mindful eating turns a simple meal into a spiritual experience, giving us a deep appreciation of all that went into the meal’s creation as well a deep understanding of the relationship between the food on our table, our own health, and our planet’s health.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh, Savor

Another way to elevate your experience this season is to pull out your fancy dinnerware.  Research shows that presentation alone enhances your experience. According to social psychologist, Dan Ariely, “When the coffee ambience looked upscale…the coffee tasted upscale.” How can you make your cozy cup of hot cocoa a little fancier this year?

3. Lose Yourself in Music

From Gregorian chant to the rich tones of Bing Crosby, music has been an important part of the holiday season for thousands of years. Is there a certain song that immediately reminds you of good holiday memories? Does a certain song pump you up? This holiday season, find some downtime to fully immerse yourself in a musical experience. Choose a song you find meaningful. It might be one that symbolizes a tradition, a memory, a loved one, an inspiring message, etc.

Allow the music to completely encompass you. Perhaps you want to lie down, with eyes closed, to bask in the stillness (Renaissance choral music is great for this…) or maybe the music makes you want to dance around your living room like I’ve been doing to Spotify’s Christmas Classics playlist. As my favorite yoga teacher, Adriene Mishler, says, “Find what feels good.”

NPR has also curated a diverse list of Holiday music for you to explore and immerse yourself in from the comfort of your home.

4. Immerse Yourself in Nature

In most parts of the country, winter can be a hard time to immerse ourselves in nature. Although many of us probably take a lot of time in the summer to experience the sun on our face, we probably don’t give winter the same amount of attention and appreciation. It’s cold, dark and gloomy and often our first response is to tense up and think “I hate the cold,” which actually just makes us colder and blocks us mentally from enjoying the invigoration that a quiet winter day can bring. 

Instead of immediately thinking ‘ I hate the cold!’, why not try using it to become more present? Challenge yourself to find the beauty in a grey winter’s day. Although there isn’t lush greenery and flowers, there’s a peaceful solitude that only a quiet winter day can bring.  Notice the chill on your face, how the wind feels on your skin, and the warmth of your breath in your face mask. If you’re lucky enough to have a winter wonderland this year, take some sleds for a spin with your family!

5. Give the Gift of Kindness

Last but certainly not least, don’t underestimate the simple gift of kindness during this season. How can you be a little kinder to the grocery store clerk? Can you be more patient and pleasant at the post office? How can you extend an act of kindness to someone that may be alone or having a hard time this season? Who can you send an unexpected card to?

“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”

– Scott Adams

Everyone could benefit from an extra dose of comfort and joy this year and mindfulness can help—- How can you use these tips to spread and feel the light of the season?

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