Using Mindfulness to Recharge During the Holidays

Three immersive activities to add meaning to your bustling season.

Posted Nov 23, 2020

Joe Yates/Unsplash
Practicing mindfulness can help you let go of the past and future and allow yourself to be fully present in the moment.
Source: Joe Yates/Unsplash

This year has been a whirlwind of change and uncertainty.  With the holidays quickly approaching, flexible planning has become a virtue.  Stress is high and many of our normal routines are forced into new territory. Some traditions may be on hold or limited in scope.

A global pandemic isn’t exactly ideal for holiday cheer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an absence of joy. 

Minds are abuzz with what-ifs, and if-onlys. Practicing mindfulness can help you let go of the past and future and allow yourself to be fully present in the moment.  Not only can this help with stress and anxiety, but it can also make your season more meaningful.  Author David Kessler describes meaning as, “a heightened awareness of how precious life is.”

Three mindfulness activities that will deepen your holiday experience include:

1. Eat Mindfully.  Regardless of which holidays you celebrate, specially prepared cuisine is likely a staple.  This is the perfect time of year to relish your food traditions. Plan some time to be fully engaged in your meal. 

Use your dinnerware that’s only for special occasions.  Research shows that presentation alone enhances your experience.  Social Psychologist Dan Ariely demonstrated, “When the coffee ambience looked upscale…the coffee tasted upscale (p. 160).” Participants rated the taste of their coffee higher if the condiments were presented in fancy containers versus paper cups.

Take time with each bite.  Chew slowly while noticing how the food feels in your mouth.  Experience the flavors, textures, and smells.  Be mindful of how the food was created, prepared, and presented to you. When done this way, as psychologist Christopher Willard said,

It becomes effortless to experience and express gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort, the elements of the universe that contributed their share, our friends or ancestors who shared recipes and even the beings who may have given their lives to a part of creating this meal.

Give yourself permission to ignore any thoughts steeped in guilt or shame.  Calories are simply fuel for your body to allow you to participate fully in your life.  Be conscious of your body’s cues and honor feelings of hunger and satiation.

2. Lose Yourself in Music.  The holidays are lively with traditional music, filled with cultural or religious meaning.  Throughout history, every known culture has sung, danced, and drummed in some form.  But why?

Arun Sharma/Unsplash
Allow the music to completely encompass you and take control. Perhaps the music dictates that you lie down or sway.
Source: Arun Sharma/Unsplash

Evolutionary psychologists are still puzzling over the reason early humans developed and enjoyed music. Psychologist Steven Pinker refers to music as “auditory cheesecake,” a purposeless byproduct of natural selection. Some theorize that our early ancestors used music to deepen their tribal connections.

Regardless of the evolutionary advantages, it’s clear listening to music can have powerful effects on the mind and body.  Music has been shown to help blood circulation, reduce stress, anxiety, and blood pressure, improve balance, promote the brain’s plasticity, and increase endurance. The emotional effects of music are well-documented. It can help you feel calm, energized, joyful, connected, expansive, nostalgic, reflective, etc.

Find some downtime this season to be fully immersed in a musical experience, leaving the hustle and bustle behind. Choose a song you find meaningful. It might be one that symbolizes a tradition, a memory, a loved one, an inspiring message, etc.

Allow the music to completely encompass you and take control. Perhaps the music dictates that you lie down, with eyes closed, to bask in the stillness.  Or maybe it requires you to move and sway, morphing your body with the rhythm.

Notice the melody and words if any.  Then attune to the base, the beat, and the background.  Feel how each part weaves together to become one.  Greet any emotions that arise.  When thoughts wander, return them to the music.

Blend your attunement to the music with the experience of your body. If it seems natural, place your hand on your heart and feel its warmth.  Notice the effects of the music on each part of your body from head to toe.  Just as each instrument plays a role in a collective whole, reflect on the role you play within your family, community, and all living things.

3. Immerse Yourself in Nature. What most of us consider “the holidays” fall around the winter solstice. This is the perfect time to bask in the wonders of nature.  The physical and psychological benefits of being in nature are vast. As Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods, wrote, “Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning.”

One study found that walking among trees for 15 minutes helped to reduce anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion, and depressive symptoms compared to those who walked in an urban area. 

Andrew Hyder, used with permission
Walking among trees for 15 minutes can help reduce anxiety, hostility, fatigue, confusion, and depressive symptoms.
Source: Andrew Hyder, used with permission

Another study had participants look up at towering trees for 60-seconds.  This induced feelings of awe and generosity, which decreased attitudes of entitlement and selfishness.  As researcher Paul Piff wrote, “Experiences of awe attune people to things larger than themselves.”

What brings this feeling of awe?  Author Sue Monk Kidd described it this way,

Ultimately nature heals because it reminds us that as humans, we are nature. We are earth, water, wind, and fire.  The same cycles and rhythms that move the moon, drop the rain, and draw sap through tree veins operate inside us as well.

Carve out distraction-free time to be alone outside. Comfortably sit or lie on your back in a place with a good view of an expansive sky and take a few moments to breathe deeply. Concentrate on the air as it fills your lungs and expels into the atmosphere.  Notice the breath of your exhale becoming one with your surroundings. 

Picture yourself expanding into the vastness and reflect on the changing seasons.  Ponder what it means to be at the mercy of the sky each day, recognizing our powerlessness over Mother Nature. 

Whatever your holiday looks like in this unprecedented year, mindfully eating, listening to music, and immersing yourself in nature, are simple and low-cost ways to build resilience and find meaning.