A 12 Minute Meditation to Defuse Holiday Stress

'Tis the season to give up the guilt. Here's a practice for taking a more mindful approach to the holidays.

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It’s almost a cliché to say the holidays can be stressful. Instead of peace and joy, the reality is we’re often just trying to stay sane. Not everyone gets along, dinner gets burned—it can be an emotional minefield.

Any picture-perfect image of the holidays we build up in our minds, filled with expectations of how life should be, rarely gets met for long.

It’s easy to get caught in the mental trap of the “the comparing mind.” We might think to ourselves: This is how things are—and this is what I picture they should be. We strive to recreate images of holiday bliss, and it exhausts us. Illusions portrayed in shows, movies, in our friend’s social feeds, or holiday advertisements set our more complex reality into disturbing relief. Consumerism itself leads to unhappiness, encouraging our endlessly hungry and restless craving for even more.

Any picture-perfect image of the holidays we build up in our minds, filled with expectations of how life should be, rarely gets met for long.

Instead of aiming for perfection and letting every detail cast us into bouts of worry, we can use the holidays to actively appreciate the people around us and our good fortune wherever we find it. We can enjoy those moments that feel like holiday bliss, and find humor in the moments that clearly aren’t.

Even when things fall apart, there’s often more to see.

Letting go of hard-and-fast expectations opens you up to more opportunities for connection and joy.

Explore this Practice to Ease Holiday Stress

A 12-Minute Meditation to Defuse Holiday Stress by Mark Bertin

  1. Start by settling your mind and body by taking a few deep breaths. Mindfulness practice is an opportunity to build an ability to observe without our normal reactive spirals. For a few moments, we take a break from escalating our holiday stress.
  2. Check in. Notice whatever is going on for you right now, and then come back to the breath. Whether you feel stressed, relaxed, or anything else, for a moment, let it all be. Without judgment or expectation, just notice it all, and come back to the next breath.
  3. Now, picture the next few weeks. Take a moment to notice what comes to mind when you picture the holiday season. How does your body feel: is it tight, or restless, or even nauseated, or exhausted? Notice that, and let it be, and then come back to the breath.
  4.  Label emotions. What emotions arise? Maybe there is some mix of excitement and joy and dread and tiredness. Where do your thoughts go? Perhaps there’s a conflicting swirl of pictures of what might be, stress over what seems possible, or ruminative planning over presents.
  5. Relax into the breath. Right now, there’s nothing to do, no one to be, nowhere to go. In this moment, sitting, this is all there is. Some other time might be for acting or thinking. Right now, take care of anything emergent, but otherwise let go of fixing and moving, and focus on the next breath again.
  6. Shift your attention to someone you care about. Now take a few moments to focus on your friends and family. Picture them, and wish them well,  wherever they are: peace, or health, or safety.
  7. Now focus on yourself. This is a time of stress, perhaps. Wish yourself whatever you did for your family: ease, or peace, or happiness. Take a moment to be grateful for whatever comes to mind.
  8. Practice, as best as you’re able, letting go. That picture of the meal, or that snub, or a storm derailing your plan—they’re all just thoughts. Notice craving and the hungry ghost who always wants more. Label it all, if you like, thought. Don’t wrestle with it, and don’t engage with it quite as much. Note: thought, and then come back to… Breathing in, and breathing out.

Allow the holidays to happen. Take care to do whatever keeps you grounded, like sleep and exercise. Enjoy it, plan what needs planning, and let go of the rest. Focus instead on whatever you value and find most sustaining this time of year. Happy Holidays!

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