December 13, 2014

A Bah Humbug Guide to Surviving Holiday Pressure.


Photo: *christopher*

Silly season is upon us: Christmas and New Year parties, obligatory gift shopping, stress and general mayhem.

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas or New Year. Can you tell?

To me, it’s more about rampant consumerism and forced togetherness (as opposed to true connectivity) as we burn ourselves out mentally, physically, spiritually and financially while trying to live up to society’s idea of what “happy holidays” are supposed to look like.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not an out and out bah-humbug. I recognize that many people genuinely love this time of year, and more power to them.

I don’t begrudge their Christmas cheer and I do actually engage in it myself—to a degree.

But overall I like the year’s end to be a time of renewal. Soul renewal mostly. And in order for that to happen, I have to find a balance between the partying and spending, and the simply being. And if I didn’t prioritise the soul-renewing stuff, I’d be like an anti-Christ—not an appropriate mood for celebrating his birth!

Because, although the party season can be a whole lot of fun, it can also be depleting—on many levels. To guard against that, I usually make a concerted effort to take time out of the madness. Quite a bit of time! So, what I do like about this time of year is that it encourages me to be more mindful about bringing mindfulness into my day to day activities.

And the beauty of mindfulness is that we don’t need to carve more time out of our already hectic schedules in order to fit it in. We merely become more attentive to what we’re doing, in the moment that we’re doing it, and hey presto—we’re kinda multi-tasking, in the best possible way.

To benefit from the positive effects of mindfulness, all we need to do is bring our full awareness to whatever task is at hand. Notice bodily sensations. Pay attention to sounds and smells. Do one thing at a time and focus on it fully.

Of course, practicing mindfulness is something we can benefit from at all times. But a busy Christmas season is as good a time as any to make a start.

Here are some ideas for ways in which we can transform our daily tasks into restorative activities:

  • Showering in the morning—instead of whirring through our day’s to-do list in our heads, we have the opportunity to bring our full attention to this daily ritual. We can do this by noticing:

– the sensation of hot water hitting skin (How good does that feel?)
– the soap on our bodies
– the suds at our feet
– watching the water and suds drain away

From the moment we step under the water until the moment when we drop our towels, we have the opportunity to practice being fully present.

  • Washing dishes—bringing full attention to the sensations of our hands in the soapy water, on the movement of our hands as we wash each plate, on the sight of the plate transforming from mucky to shiny.
  • Preparing food—being fully present to each task: washing, chopping, cooking, plating-up. Being grateful for all involved in producing the food we are about to eat.
  • Eating food—taking the time to chew and taste fully. Again, feeling grateful for those involved in bringing this meal to us, both in producing and preparing all of the ingredients. When sharing a meal with others, it can be good to devote the first couple of minutes to dining in silence so each person can benefit from a moment of mindfulness.
  • Walking the dog (or just walking)—breathing fully. Paying attention to the feel of the air—is it dry, damp, cold, warm, humid? Noticing the scenery, drinking it in. When our attention starts to drift to busy thoughts (as it will), we simply bring it back to the sights, sounds and smells of nature that surround us.
  • Savouring a cup of tea or coffee—being fully present to each step involved in brewing up our beverage. Sitting down, inhaling and exhaling slowy and fully. Picking up our cups mindfully, taking in the aroma, feeling the temperature of the liquid in our mouth as we sip. Tasting it. Enjoying it.
  • Brushing teeth—from the moment we pick up our brush, until we replace it in its holder, noticing every detail: squeezing the toothpaste, wetting the brush, the sensation on our teeth and gums, the movements of our hands as we brush, the rinsing.

How simple are all of these! Nothing required except to be present to what we’re doing as we’re doing it. And the opportunities to turn everyday, mundane tasks into moments of pleasurable mindfulness are endless.

To start making it a habit, pick one or two things in your daily routine to begin with and set up a trigger to remind you. Maybe a post-it on your bathroom mirror or a sticker on your shower tiles? In time and with practice, just picking up your toothbrush or stepping into the shower will become the trigger.

Being present gives our minds a rest. And our minds can then give our bodies a rest. And rest allows healing and restoration to take place.

It’s like taking a nap. Except no time needs to be taken out of our day in order to facilitate it.

It’s really quite magical how simple acts of mindfulness can transform how we experience the rest of our day. According to the hype, Christmas is supposed to be a magical time. But the truth is, it’s up to us to define and create our own magic.

Mindfulness can help with this.

My wish for all of us this holiday season is to have a merry, mindful, restorative and magical time.




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Author: Hilda Caroll

Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

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