Send negative thoughts packing with these simple tips
By Marnie Blount-Gowan
The coming holiday season, Thanksgiving through the New Year, is almost upon us and already you may be feeling the stress. How much money will you spend? What events will you attend? Who will you spend time with? How will you make it “special”? Here’s a suggestion. This year, try to separate the holidays and stress, in your mind and body. Consider a mindful, active approach to the season to reduce the stress and enjoy the spirit of the season.
Just when you want to enjoy good times with family and friends, you may also feel the negative effects of stress, showing up in bouts of depression, sickness or fatigue. The stressors in our lives—difficult situations, illness, loss of a loved one, strained relationships or financial woes—are still present during the holidays. With special expectations and events, they can become even more apparent and difficult to deal with. If the holidays have been physically or emotionally difficult for you in the past, you may look forward to and dread the season at the same time. Since the holiday stress can be harmful to our health, it has become a topic for suggestions from healthcare providers.
Not every minute of the holiday season needs to be perfect. But you can experience moments that are meaningful, magical and joyful. Consider the idea of “moments.” The practice of mindfulness is defined as moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness and it can help you enjoy the season. For example, if it’s snowing outside, take a moment not to focus on any inconvenience it may cause and look instead at an individual snowflake. Follow one down to the ground.
Need a lift during holiday shopping?
Take a moment to watch children, notice their playfulness, energy and sense of wonder. Driving home at night from another event? Look for holiday lights and enjoy the way they light up the night. If you are baking holiday treats or setting up a live tree, breathe in the delicious familiar smells of the season. Any moment can become a stress-reducing, pleasurable moment that stops the holiday rush in its track.
“Everyone has a minute to create a moment of calm,” says the Rev. Tanya Atwood-Adams, a chaplain at Hospice of Central New York. “The hectic holidays can keep people from taking care of themselves.” She suggests people practice mini meditations, especially a oneminute meditation. “It can be used as a grieving exercise or anytime someone wishes to center themselves and achieve inner peace.”
The one-minute meditation was developed by Anne Webster, Ph.D, director of the Mind/Body Program for Cancer, at the BHI for Mind Body Medicine in Boston. “It’s very simple,” Atwood-Adams explains. “You breathe deeply into your belly. Three times, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then on the fourth breath, breathe in and say to yourself ‘I am’ and when you breathe out, say ‘at peace.’ Repeat this last step nine times, breathing in with ‘I am’ and out with ‘at peace.’ And that should be about a minute.
“Not everyone thinks they have the suggested 20 minutes for a deeper meditation practice but everyone has a minute,” she adds. “One-minute meditation should relax you, provide an overall sense of wellbeing and quiet, and trigger the relaxation response that brings you back to center.”
As described by Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, “The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress, the opposite of the fight-or-flight response.” Other contemplative teachers and traditions suggest similar short periods of calm and all can be used. The one-minute meditation gives structure to a healthy 60-second timeout. It’s just what you might find helpful during the holiday season.
Whether you are stuck in traffic or waiting in line at a checkout counter, take a minute and do a mini-meditation without anyone being aware of what you are doing, without an obvious break in your day, even if your eyes are wide open. It is all about focused awareness and where you place your attention for that length of time, even a minute.
If you have a particularly stressful day ahead or at the end of one, consider doing a five- to 10-minute gratitude meditation. First, adopt a calm mind and comfortable position, focus on your breath, then breathe in gratitude and breathe out any distracting thoughts. After you feel centered, reflect on the events and people of the day. Pause to mindfully, nonjudgmentally consider each one with gratitude. Renew your heart with thankfulness for the beauty that you have encountered, for all blessings, and whatever portion of peace has come your way.
When your gratitude meditation is over, see if the feelings of thankfulness linger long after the time of meditation and how gratitude may shape your attitude and actions during the holiday season.
aware of potential holiday stressors, trying simple steps to maintain a
healthy attitude and lifestyle, and practicing mini- and gratitude
mediations may help you give yourself a more peaceful, joyful holiday
Marnie Blount-Gowan is The New Times’ new Wellness Editor. If you have story ideas for her, you can contact her at marnie@ twcny.rr.com.