How to be less stressed and more present this holiday season, according to experts

The dose9:45 PMCan Mindfulness Help With Stress?

It’s the holiday season and for many, visiting the in-laws or organizing holiday parties can be a stressful time. Dr. Melanie Badali, a clinical psychologist at the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in North Vancouver, discusses how mindfulness can help people get through the holidays.

The holiday season is a time for many to connect with family and celebrate. But the holidays can be stressful, with family visits, travel, or the financial costs of hosting and giving gifts.

To deal with the holiday stress, psychologists and psychotherapists recommend using mindfulness.

Mindfulness describes a variety of practices that bring one’s attention to the present, without judgment and accepting things as they are. Common aids are meditation and breathing exercises.

“There’s no goal of reaching a certain state or feeling with mindfulness meditation. You’re not trying to feel a certain way, you’re just trying to be in the here and now and notice that,” explains Dr. Melanie Badali, a clinical psychologist at North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in North Vancouver, to CBCs The dose host Dr. Brian Goldman.

Badali says people often think of mindfulness as sitting, cross-legged with eyes closed. But in reality, mindfulness takes many forms, such as being present in a conversation, enjoying time outside, or enjoying a meal.

“It’s really more about being aware of what’s really happening in the present moment,” says Dr. Angie Kingma, a registered psychotherapist and occupational therapist based in Milton, Ont.

Mindfulness doesn’t change the external situations we go through, but it can “help us cope better with the experiences we have, to respond with more intention and awareness,” adds Kingma.

So if you’re looking for ways to cope with stressors, or to relax and unwind during the holiday season, here are some suggestions for practicing mindfulness.

What are the health benefits of mindfulness?

With roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is not a new concept.

Badali says mindfulness exercises can have several health benefits. For a, research has shown that mindfulness can increase one’s focus after just 10 minutes of short meditation.

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Author and meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn shares the value of staying in the here and now and making peace with mindfulness.

Mindful Meditation and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) may also help lower blood pressurelower the stress hormone cortisol and help with sleep, just to name a few health benefits.

Extensive research was done on MBSR too, adds Badali.

American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn is credited with creating MBSR, an eight-week group program that helps people cope with stress. It has been used by many since it was founded in 1979.

How can I exercise during the holidays?

Kingma suggests that people give themselves “permission to feel challenging emotions that come up.”

Whether that’s stress, anger, or sadness, she says it can be very helpful to learn to accept emotions without judgment and to focus your attention on the sensations of your breath.

For example, if someone is at a holiday party and is feeling overwhelmed, Kingma says the individual should give themselves permission to get some fresh air or move to another room.

“They shouldn’t feel obligated to participate in the traditions if they don’t feel like it this year,” she says.

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For those new to mindfulness, Kingma recommends being present with everyday tasks like washing dishes and being open to their five senses.

She says this can be a way “to build your mindfulness skills or practice mindfulness anytime, as long as it’s with the intention to focus on that present moment and a willingness to bring their attention back” without judgement.

She also recommends the free introduction from the Center for Mindfulness Studies online lesson.

Badali suggests that her clients use the STOP technique – devised by Kabat-Zinn – as needed.

LOOK | Try the STOP technique using this 2 minute video:

The technique uses the four letters of the word as mindfulness cues:

  • S is for stopping and taking a break.
  • T is for take a deep breath and use your breath as an anchor.
  • O is observing and not judging.
  • P is for continue and reconnect with your environment.

“You may not be able to do this in holiday traffic…but we can usually find a moment or two to focus on this scale,” she says.

Kingma says it’s important to be kind to yourself when practicing mindfulness. And if your mind wanders as you try this holiday season, it’s normal.

Mindfulness practice is recognizing that the mind will wander 50 percent of the time. So it’s just a matter of learning how to train the attention to bring it back to the breath or the body or the sounds that are in the present moment. .”

How to integrate mindfulness with the family

Dipti Swain, a family and social-focused mindfulness coach and CEO of U&Me Ritual in Toronto, says she often hears from her clients that it’s hard to work on mindfulness, especially with young children.

It can be tough, but it’s a skill and mindset that comes with time, says Swain.

Dipti Swain, a family and socially-focused mindfulness coach, recommends people be present with their friends and loved ones this holiday season. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For families, she usually suggests placing a lamp in the center of the room as a focal point and having everyone sit around it for 30 minutes.

“Just be together, be yourself and accept each other as they are. If the kids can’t sit for that [time]that’s totally fine,” she says.

She also suggests putting away appliances.

“Let’s just intentionally set aside time to just be together,” says Swain.

Who shouldn’t practice mindfulness?

Badali says mindfulness practices may not be right for everyone and for every stressful situation.

“It’s helpful to have stress management techniques and to have this repertoire of self-regulation skills that we can draw from…but our environment is also important and there are real stressors in people’s daily lives,” she says.

And there are situations where it’s inappropriate to focus on yourself and your emotions, she adds.

“When I’m at the point where I’m really trying to take care of a client and really listen to everything they have, I’m not going to focus my attention on myself,” says Badali.

“I’m going to turn my attention to the other person or a surgeon is going to turn their attention to their patient and in the car we have to focus all of our attention on the steering wheel and the road.”

How long should I practice mindfulness?

Swain usually recommends that people new to mindfulness sit down for 15 minutes first.

But that length of time is not a hard and fast rule. What’s really important is that moment of being present, she adds.

“It takes time for itself away from everything else. That’s one of the most important requirements for starting the practice,” says Swain.

Body scanning exercises — which are guided or self-guided scans of the different body parts — are also good ways to check in with yourself as you build awareness, says Swain.

People can use any of the various mindfulness apps on the market, which often include guided meditations and other resources, says Badali. She does recommend starting with free options, such as those from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center free resources.

Badali says it’s important that people take time to connect with themselves and others this holiday season. But not to be hard on themselves when their attention wanders.

“Mindfulness is…not about striving. It’s not about achievement, it’s about curiosity. It’s about taking that moment to connect with ourselves and where we are right now.”

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