7 Mindfulness Tips to Manage Stress this Holiday Season

November and December are times associated with family holidays, which can be stressful for many of us. In this blog, we will focus on the importance of caring for those family relationships and on how we can better manage the stress associated with the Holidays.

Many items get added to our to-do list and overload our already busy schedule--shopping for gifts, mailing out cards, baking, decorating, and so forth. Consequently, we often experience increased tension and speed in our environment and household during this time.

Moreover, many of us return home to attend functions with our parents or extended family. Some of us may be hosting and entertaining family members or friends in our own home. There could be a lot of complexities about how these relationships play out during the holidays.

We might also need to pay attention to the kind of conversations we can afford to have with our family during the holiday season. We have all heard that it's best to not talk about religion or politics, right? When I grew up, we spent a lot of time talking about the weather on Christmas day, because it was the one non-threatening topic that everyone could speak about. The bottom line is that the frenzy of the holiday season often creates tremendous tension and chaos in our lives. The challenges of family karma can also add emotional stress as we get together with our loved ones. We find ourselves emotionally fragile and triggerable and the closeness and intensity become a ripe situation for misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and conflicts.

The quality of those relationships significantly impacts the overall quality of our lives, which in turn impacts our health and our longevity. A tremendous amount of research indicates that people who have maintained strong personal and family relationships are healthier and live longer. Moreover, our relationships affect our physical and emotional fitness and resilience--our ability to bounce back from challenging situations.

We long for relationships that allow us to be real, open and genuine--trusted friends and family members with whom we can relax, feel close and share what we are feeling. When these relationships get reduced to sharing mostly superficial things like the weather, it undermines the potential benefit of having a support circle and impacts our emotional resilience. In many families, hidden family dynamics and dramas take place in the background.

What can we do about that? How can we optimize the way we interact together during the holiday season?

Here are 7 mindfulness tips to manage stress during this holiday season:


1) Prioritizing Time

Try making a reasonable plan and choose specific family occasions to attend. You may feel that some are obligatory, but really I would encourage you to question this assumption. You always have the option to organize your schedule wisely. Forcing yourself will only lead to stress and, possibly, resentment towards your family members. They might also perceive your lack of enthusiasm, which might not be helpful.

Instead, build a cooperative relationship by planning events with your family members well in advance. You may have a sibling or a parent, or grandparent inviting you over at their home, every time. Try shifting these responsibilities year to year, or between different holidays in a year. Or at least, offer to lessen the work for them by participating in the cooking or preparations.

2) Staying on Budget

Are you bringing gifts just because you feel obligated or to express sincere appreciation?

The holiday season has become extremely commercialized, with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, among others. On the positive side, this time is an opportunity to give, share and celebrate and that's a wonderful custom, but again, are we keeping it reasonable?

We may feel some obligation to purchase expensive presents and many of them!! Why not make a reasonable budget, instead of overspending beyond our means. In this way, we can make sure that our generosity doesn't get out of hand. And we can also express appreciation in other ways, via homemade gifts of food or crafts.

Instead of trying to purchase gifts for every family member, some families enjoy the Secret Santa approach, in which each person gives and receives one gift only. This way, each can be mindful of one other person and really think of something special to offer them, that will bring them joy. It is also economically reasonable and helps us avoid the maddening crowd of holiday shopping. With some planning, we can lower the stress level a lot.

3) Setting Boundaries

Often during family occasions, alcohol is present and offered in abundance. If that is not well-managed and people get overly intoxicated, it can lead to situations where conversations get emotionally charged and could eventually get out of hand and end up hurting feelings.

In addition, some of us have issues with alcohol. If you are in recovery, the holidays certainly require some discipline, even though you may have been in recovery for a long time. We probably don't want to face it, but this may be a time of year when we need to attend our meetings and exercise caution. People will often encourage us to imbibe even though we have issues with alcohol.

It will require significant discipline and firmly letting people know what you can't do. One strategy could be to leave earlier if some of our family occasions tend to get a bit inebriated.

4) Managing GrieThis time of the year may trigger feelings of loss. Especially if it's a recent loss, the holidays can be a very difficult time. Because we celebrate with family, we tend to notice that a loved one is no longer with us. We may want to think about it ahead of time, rather than try to avoid it, letting ourselves reflect and honor that person in ways that feel healing and compassionate for us. This is a particularly challenging time of year for me, having lost my son Robert, a few years ago.

Grief can come up powerfully on holidays. Loneliness and depression may also become exacerbated. It’s important to remember that we are not alone and that we can reach out and ask for support. We can come up with strategies to help us navigate this time of year and turn it into a positive process. Maybe it's an opportunity to reach out, meet new people, and develop relationships that later could become like a surrogate family for us.

5) Mindful Eating

Our celebrations are all about food and drink. I grew up thinking that holidays were just a time when it was socially acceptable to gorge yourself--eating as much turkey as possible, with all the fixings and countless desserts. It felt like you didn't really experience the holiday unless you ended up sitting around with a big full stomach, slightly nauseated and overcome by guilt. Many of us are probably familiar with this mindset. Some of us end up resigning ourselves to gaining weight, and later struggle with getting rid of it in January and beyond.

But it doesn't have to be that way. We may put out a pound or two, but we don't have to get completely off our diet. We can instead plan to stay reasonable around our calorie intake over the holidays. It may include skipping a few meals or exercising more than we usually do. Or deciding to politely decline second portions.

Let us embrace mindful eating over the holidays. When we eat mindfully, we slow down, eat less, receive more nutritional benefits, and can enjoy the food even more. We make better choices. We can be more prepared to engage with our family members in conscious, mindful, beneficial ways. And we avoid the guilty feelings the next day!

6) Increasing Self-Discipline

As we get extra busy with all the shopping and preparation, if we are not careful, we could easily set our exercise routines and meditation discipline aside.

It is good to proactively do the opposite, sustain our self-discipline and even increase the amount of time spent exercising and meditating. Daily mindfulness meditation practice and exercise will help us lower our stress levels. It will keep us from engaging in things that would exacerbate our anxiety and help us make better choices with regard to shopping, diet, and topics of conversation with our family members.

Ask yourself the following questions several times a day:

  • How self-aware, reflective, or present am I at the moment?

  • Have I worked to develop a more positive, internal landscape within myself?

These simple contemplations will help you to:

  • understand emotional triggers around habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and attitude.

  • cultivate a greater connection to your innate goodness

  • lower the amount of self-judgment and negative feelings about oneself

  • understand where you have a lack of self-agency and increase your capacity for self-empowerment

Having a consistent meditation practice is an excellent tool to develop greater confidence in our innate goodness, resilience, and intelligence. And the greater self-awareness and self-understanding we have, the more we are capable of regulating our physiology, emotions and behaviors, and therefore showing up as our best selves and facing life’s challenges with skill and creativity.

7) Developing listening skills

How tuned in are we to the world around us and to the people we engage with? When we mindfully turn our awareness outwards, we tend to be warmer, friendlier, more compassionate, and more empathic with the people in our lives.

We can become more aware of what others are feeling and needing, as we're getting more accurate data about others in an empathic, compassionate way.

We can also practice all kinds of relationship and communication skills. For example, instead of reverting to blaming language, we can use I-statements and express ourselves in a way that is respectful and open-hearted.

We often want to simply talk about ourselves, express our opinions and share our experiences. But can we make a shift and become inquisitive about other people’s lives and feelings? One way to develop our listening skills is to make an aspiration and tell ourselves, “I want to spend some time sitting with family members over the holidays and really deeply listen to them, be curious about who they are and what is going on in their lives.”

That can go a long way towards enhancing the quality of our relationships.

Final thoughts on Managing Stress this Holiday Season

When holidays kick in, it is easy to let go of all the work we have done to become our best, optimal selves. We may regress around our family, as old patterns take over. It is crucial to make a conscious choice to do our best to avoid that.

These seven tips can really help you to manage the stress that holidays and family occasions might bring. This time of year is all about love and relationship, generosity and gratitude. Regardless of our faith or traditions, this is an opportunity for everyone to connect with something greater than ourselves alone, that transcendent capacity that we have, that transpersonal capacity.

When we feel mindfully connected with ourselves, we can feel more connected with others thus strengthening the quality of our relationships.

So again, wishing you all the very best Holiday Season with yourself, with your friends, with your family, your loved ones, relatives, and the world altogether. May you experience peace and joy throughout the holiday season and the New Year.

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