by Jessica Graham
It seems like we all make a cultural agreement to go a little bit crazy during the holidays. Braving the shopping malls (and parking structures!) to buy gifts on the credit cards we swore off using, binging on whatever it is we are going to resolve not to eat in the new year, letting go of exercising, and maybe skipping our meditation for many days in a row. We chalk it up to it being “that time of year,” and assure ourselves that once the New Year hits we’ll get back on track.
We also spend time with family. For many of us this just adds to the insanity, as we act and react in ways not congruent with the self we would like to manifest. For most people I know, spending time with family can be a complex experience. Even when there’s lots of love and very little drama or trauma triggers, spending a chunk of time with your kin or your significant other’s kin can be challenging. It’s easy to go unconscious and devour a whole box of cookies, say something mean to your sister, or fall into old dynamics with your dad that leave you feeling angry and drained.
The good news is you don’t have to make this agreement to lose your mind during the holidays. You can infuse this time of year with extra mindfulness and remain free from suffering even when your mother in-law asks for the receipt for the gift you got her. Here are some tips to help you finish off the holiday season and ring in the new year mindfully:
1. Get Back to the Regularly Scheduled Program
If you have fallen off the yoga wagon, get to a class. If you are normally gluten-free, say no thanks to the holiday pastries at work next time. If you are going into debt buying gifts, make those last minute gifts of the DIY variety. If you haven’t meditated lately, do it now. Yes, right now. Just stop reading and set a timer for 10 minutes. It makes a world of difference. It can be easy to say, “Well this month is already screwed, may as well continue on in this way.” Instead redirect and your body and your mind will thank you.
It’s important for humans to have downtime, free of iPads, social interaction, and television. I find this to be especially true during the holidays and when I’m spending time with family. Plan to have at least 10 minutes a day to do nothing at all. Let your brain rest and recharge. This can seem impossible when you are visiting family and there are people and activities at every turn. It’s not impossible. Just do it. If 10 minutes of nothing is just not going to happen, take 10 minutes to read a book, hide in a room, or take a walk on your own. For more on the importance of downtime read this article.
3. Prepare for Your Challenging Person
If you know that seeing a certain family member is going to require you to be a ninja of mindfulness, prepare ahead of time. Lots of meditation and self-care in the days before you see your challenging relative can do wonders. I also recommend sending that person a lot of loving-kindness. Picture them happy, healthy, and free. Wish them ease and joy. Do this as a formal meditation and also take a moment just before you see them to do a mini version. This will help you to come from an open and compassionate place instead of shutting down or falling into old behaviors. Of course you won’t be perfect. You may have some negative thoughts come up. You may even have some negative words come out. This is a process and we are all practicing.
Just let it go. The tension in your eyes, jaw, and shoulders. Take a few deep breaths. Be mindful of how the perceived stress of the holiday season can take the form of tight muscles and shallow breath. Every moment is an opportunity to relax and stop chewing on your fingernails. Even difficult siblings or holiday traffic can be less troubling if you have a relaxed body. Avoid using excessive drinking (or an extra medical marijuana prescription) to achieve a relaxed state. Instead relax whatever you can and then relax around whatever you can’t. Try starting and ending your day with scan through the body to let go of any unneeded tension. Set an alarm on your phone for several times throughout the day to remind you to relax. Greet the new year with ease.