Emotional Wellness During the Holidays
The holidays are great, aren’t they? They’re also exciting and fun, right? Sure, they’re stressful, expensive and busy, too . . . and can be nostalgic and a little sad, especially when we think of those who aren’t alive anymore, or who live far away, or have fallen out of our lives. Maybe we’re feeling a little isolated, or alone, and all this happiness around us is just making us more miserable. And wow, somehow another year has passed, and we’re kind of in the same rut – and now we have to put on our best mask to face family and old friends. Honestly, January can’t come fast enough.
Perhaps the best adjective for this season is “complicated.” For many people it’s a time of joy and happiness, but for others, sadness, depression and sorrow. Add to this potent mix the stress of running around, shopping, cooking, parties, cold weather and time and fiscal constraints, and we have the makings of a poignant spicy holiday chili and the accompanying emotional heartburn.
It’s important to find ways to calm ourselves in the moment, to find perspective and to reduce stress and anxiety. Some people find release through exercise or physical activity, others through music, cooking, reading or scores of other favored activities. But we can’t always just drop whatever we’re doing to prepare a meal, take a hike in the mountains, or practice yoga stretches. Sometimes, we need to simply catch our emotional breath.
Meditation and the pursuit of “mindfulness” are valuable approaches to gaining control of attention span, focus and concentration, and for reducing stress. Meditation takes guidance, practice and, for some, years to truly understand and incorporate. It’s a cognitive “cleansing” that allows us to relax, rest our brains, regain contact with our bodies, and establish context for things going on around us. Millions of people around the world incorporate daily meditation in their lives, and find it extremely valuable and healthy.
Mindfulness essentially means moment-to-moment awareness. Although it originated in the Buddhist tradition, you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice or find value in its benefits. In fact, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is being taught in colleges, yoga studios, meditation centers and workplaces across America.
The benefits can be dramatic — in addition to supporting overall health and well-being, mindfulness has been linked to improved cognitive functioning and lower stress levels. That’s even more important when we are being constantly bombarded by email, texts, Facebook, and Twitter.
When we are mindful we become keenly aware of our surroundings and ourselves by simply observing these things as they are. We are aware of our own thoughts and feelings, but do not react to them in negative or distracted ways. There’s no “autopilot” when we’re focused. Not labeling or judging the events and circumstances taking place around us frees us freed from our normal tendency to react to them, and shift from a subjective to an objective mindset.
Mindfulness experts teach us to not resist our mind’s natural urge to wander, but to train it to return to the present, and to center ourselves in the moment. Mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence, notably self-awareness, and the capacity to manage distressing emotions. It also reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves memory and lessens depression and anxiety. There are many classes offered locally, as well as books and online instruction. Additionally, here are simple tips that we can incorporate every day, even at work:
- Spend at least three to five minutes a few times each day doing nothing but breathing and relaxing in the moment, whether at work or at home.
- Manage distractions like noisy co-workers by tuning into them, instead of letting them drive us crazy. . . by noticing the sounds and their effects on our bodies, we rob the distraction of its power over us.
- Pay attention to walking by slowing our pace and feeling the ground against our feet.
- Anchor our day with a contemplative morning practice, such as breathing, Zen, yoga, meditation or even a walk.
- Before entering the workplace, we should remind our personal and professional goals, and ourselves of our organization’s purpose and mentally recommit in that moment to our vocation and to being a leader.
- Throughout the day, pause to make sure we’re fully present before undertaking the next critical task, call or meeting.
- Practice “strategic acceptance,” which is not seeing every setback in catastrophic terms. When we feel our stress levels rising, we shouldn’t try to force ourselves to cheer up or calm down — rather, simply accept how we feel. That doesn’t mean to ignore the problem, but instead, to observe and accept reality in that moment before making a plan to tackle the problem.
- Find time to unplug from electronic gadgets, phones, computers and video games — studies have shown that excessive reliance on technology can make us more distracted, impatient and forgetful.
- Get in touch with our senses by noticing the temperature of our skin and background sounds around us.
- Review the day’s events at the close of the day to prevent work stresses from spilling into our home lives
- Before going to bed, engage in some relaxing or spiritual reading.
There are so many simple, inexpensive things we can do to regain emotional control, and to help reduce or prevent stress in our lives – at the holidays, or any time of year. Learning to appreciate and be grateful for what we have is a wonderful gift, and seeing the New Year as a fresh start can be liberating. But we often need perspective and useful coping mechanisms to get us to this cheerier and healthier horizon, and to help us avoid the “holiday blues.”