It's that time of year again. As if we weren't stressed out already, here comes November with family gatherings, disrupted routines, travel tie-ups and holiday hype. Try as we might to focus on the season of giving and gratitude, tensions can run high and patience can wear thin.
While the holiday season can seem like a challenging time to stay present, the fact that external factors seem so out of control actually makes this a perfect season to practice mindfulness.
1. Mindful eating
I'll admit, years ago when my mindfulness teacher had me chew on a raisin for a full three minutes, I felt foolish. But the exercise showed me just how little attention I was paying to my food. It's so easy to rush through meals or snacks. And often we pay attention to what we're eating, but not how.
So try this: The next time you eat something, tune in and notice the flavors and textures. Chew slowly. Try keeping the food in your mouth for a full minute. Notice how the texture of the food changes the longer you chew.
You can even try picking up food with your non-dominant hand, which increases focus and awareness by activating both brain hemispheres.
Mindfulness is all about paying attention to how things feel in the present moment, and studies show mindful eating decreases stress and increases well-being. So whether you're sitting down to a holiday party, a work lunch, a family gathering, or snacking in your office, taking the time to slow down and eat mindfully can ease anxiety by bringing you back to the here and now.
2. Metta meditation
If the mindful eater in me was a little hesitant, the Metta meditator was downright skeptical. Metta meditation is the practice of sending well-wishes to other people, including those with whom you're having difficulty.
I remember sitting on my mat and feeling less than yogic when my teacher instructed us to bring to mind someone with whom we were experiencing conflict. That was the easy. Then, she told us to silently wish them peace and happiness. I silently wished for the class to be over.
Metta meditation, also known as loving-kindness meditation, brings up tons of initial resistance. It's completely counterintuitive. But honestly, the more I practiced it, the better I felt. Studies show this type of meditation increases positive emotions.
Here's how to do it: Take a deep breath. Tuning into your heart, first direct the well-wishes inward, saying to yourself slowly: "May I be peaceful. May I be happy. May I be free from suffering."
Next, bring to mind someone you care deeply about. Direct the well-wishes toward them: "May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering."
Now, bring to mind that person with whom you're having difficulty. Welcome your resistance. Then, slowly and deliberately, wish that person well. "May they be peaceful. May they be happy. May they be free from suffering."
Notice how you feel.
Try doing this with demanding clients, difficult co-workers and holiday shoppers. If someone's annoying you on the subway, in a meeting, on a conference call or in the toy store, try silently sending them well wishes. And keep noticing how you feel.
Acupuncture has been scientifically proven to increase well-being and decrease stress. It works by using a series of points on the body to open up blocked energy channels. But you don't need needles to harness the benefits.
One popular acupuncture point for overall well-being is located in the webbing between your thumb and index finger. To find the spot, use your thumb and forefinger from the opposite hand to squeeze the fleshy area until it feels tender. Gently massage that area for anywhere from 30 seconds to one minute. Switch sides.
Holding your hands under the conference table or the Thanksgiving dinner table, this is a stealthy way to relieve stress. As a bonus, this particular pressure point also relieves stomach aches and headaches.
So this season, when you find yourself short on time and patience, remember these three tools. Share them with your family, friends and co-workers to help tame their holiday tension. Practice self acupressure. Eat mindfully. And maybe even find yourself unexpectedly in the holiday spirit, by sending well-wishes to those you thought you never could.