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Keeping the Holidays Happy: Bringing Mindfulness into the Season.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year?? Well that's what they say at least. Experience tells me any time can be the best time of the year, depending on what we choose to focus on. Our mindset, attitude and openness to this holiday season really can make all the difference. Before we wait on another insanelylong line for electronicsthat will be considered “oldschool”by the end of 2019, maybe it would be a good idea to slow down for a moment and consider what it is we want to get out of this upcoming holiday season?

Do we want to pressure ourselves to make everything look perfect at the expense of enjoying the moment? Do we want to work so hard at shopping and “doing”that we lose sight of what and why we are actually celebrating? Are we telling ourselves things we MUST get done as opposed to leaving some space for things we WANT to do?

Every once in a while I enjoy a good meme on Facebook. As I was scrolling through my news feed, looking for nothing in particular (and probably uneasy with myself looking for some “digital soothing”), I stopped and noticed this fun little image a friend shared:

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

This simple little phrase made me rethink my priorities, my family, and myself. Was I keeping my main thing the main thing? Somedays, yes, somedays no.

As we enter into yet another fast paced holiday season, here are a few tips to help you stay presentand enjoy this “most wonderful time of the year”:

1. Practice imperfection.

Many of us hold onto this ideal image of what the holidays “should” be like. Things must be decorated just like past years and by a certain date. Everyone’s responses to our gifts will be met with awe and gratitude. Dinner will be cooked to perfection and there will always be a parking space close to the mall. The truth is all of these ideals are nice, but may not happen the way we plan. Parking spaces will be hard to come by, kids won’t fully appreciate the amount of effort we put into wrapping that gift (with the over priced wrapping paper) and someone may bring up politics at dinner, sending us all off into a long winded, political argument no one ever saw coming.

Understanding and accepting that things will not be “perfect” can give us all great relief. Things are perfectly imperfect just as they are. The trap of perfection drains us of the joy of the moment and sets us up for disappointment.

Take a moment to remember what is important and what you want to get out of this holiday season. Is it a perfectly cooked turkey with all the trimmings? Or is it really the laughter and conversations we have with loved ones while we prepare that turkey? The power of presence allows us to really enjoy every moment imperfectly or perfectly.

2. Let go of judgment, allow patience.

One of the keys to allowing things to be perfectly imperfect is approaching each holiday stressor with an attitude of non-judgement. This includes non-judgement of ourselves and of others. Blaming our loved ones for not helping enough or being critical of ourselves for things not being a certain way will only bring additional stress, pain and suffering.

Instead of judging, can we just notice what is happening? Is someone else's actions imposing on our expectations? Are we speaking up for our needs or expecting those around us to know what is in our minds? Trying to please everyone will only lead to exhaustion, resentment and burnout. Instead of judging yourself with harsh thoughts when frustrated or disappointed, we can pause to ask for what we need and make the effort to nourish ourselves with some extra time or space. In a season where everything feels like a priority, lets not forget to make taking care of ourselves a priority as well.

Patience and non-judgement is much easier to cultivate when we are taking care of ourselves. Basic needs like eating, sleeping, exercising and connecting with loved ones is something we all need, especially during busy times. When we jump to judgements with little patience, when that older customer in line is taking “too long” at the register, maybe it is time to recognize it is us that needs to change. When we care for ourselves and our emotional wellbeing, we are more likely to be kinder, more giving and enjoy each moment.

3. Move a muscle change a thought.

As we move closer to that big holiday get together, many of us will say “there is just no time to exercise”. Resist the temptation to drop exercise from our daily routine. During times of pressure and stress, exercise is one of the best ways to alleviate the tension and deal with stress in a healthy way. With each run, yoga or weight lifting session, your body releases endorphins that help you naturally feel better. Exercise is still proven to be one of the best anti-anxiety treatments around. Take that time to move as an act of love for yourself during this busy period. Your heart, brain and loved ones will thank you for it.

4. Keep it Kind & Smile.

The most simple way to spread holiday cheer is to smile. Isn’t spreading love, kindness and generosity really the entire point of the holiday season? Each interaction, exchange and get-together gives us new opportunities to practice loving kindness with ourselves and others. If we want to truly enjoy the holiday season, we will all need a little serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps regulate our moods and fights depression. Unfortunately, Serotonin is not found in apple pie and those amazing christmas cookies. If we want to increase our “feel good” chemicals in our brain, we must “do good”. We can do this by keeping an attitude of kindness and smiling as much as possible. This “feel good” chemical, serotonin, also helps us heal wounds, calm us down, and decrease depressive symptoms (which may come in handy at the mall).

Once we start smiling, we will see that smiles are actually contagious. A single smile towards another often triggers a smile in response, which in many cases gets spread on to the next lucky person. A smile and eye contact with a perfect stranger can also release more “feel good” serotonin in our body. Just try smiling at any moment in your day and see if you don't sense a slight shift in your mood.

5. Remember to Pause.

Calendars fill up quickly in December (also many other months). Make sure some of the time you are setting aside is for “sitting aside”. Things will go wrong, schedules will get backed up and engagements will run longer than expected. Expect it and allow time for it. Leave yourself time to be a human being and not just a human doingduring the holidays. One of my favorite authors, Tara Brach writes “Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving towards any goal. The pause can occur in the midst of almost any activity and can last for an instant, for hours or for seasons of our life.” Pausing is a simple, small act that can bring about clarity, joy and presence in this very busy season.

6. Unplug.

Imagine a weekend, day or even just a simple dinner without our electronics to distract us from each other. Enjoying simple meals without the electronics allows us to talk directly to each other, smile at each other, look each other in the eye and reduce our stress in a natural, simple manner. I think you will find it more pleasurable than you think. Science tells us, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has now been recognized as an emerging psychological disorder due to all the overwhelming technology in our lives. Social media is full of everything happening around everyone else, while we miss out on what is right in front of us. Turning off our constantly distracting media devices and finding contentment in our present moment is a welcome skill we can all benefit from.

7. Practice Gratitude.

Like kindness, there is no better time of year to practice this skill. We get better at recognizing things to be grateful for as we work at recognizing them. If you have the capacity to read this post, there's a very high likelihood that you have more people, experiences and things in your life to be grateful for than you can possibly count. If you think you know why you are grateful and thankful for your loved ones, try thinking of a new reason you are grateful for them. Looking for the good in others and ourselves often attracts good feelings. Jon Kabat Zinn often says “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong with you”. Take the time each day, and each hour, to recognize what is so perfectly right with your life.

8. Adopt a Mantra.

Repetition and attention is a great way to root yourself in the present moment. Are we keeping the main thing, the main thing? What do we want to get out of this holiday season? How can we remind ourselves, each day, of our intention? It can be a single word like “family”, or “love” or “laughter” or it can be another simple phrase to keep your mind from drifting off and being distracted by things that are really not what we want to give our attention to.

Each day of this holiday season is an opportunity to bring ourselves back to the present moment and enjoy all this season and this life has to offer. Excuse the “pun”, but being present in this moment may actually be the greatest present we can give ourselves and our loved ones.

The holidays can be an amazing time of year, a difficult time of year and anywhere in between depending on personal circumstances and history. Many times, old patterns of thinking and reacting can distract us from our "Main Thing". Always remember we never have to be alone. If you are having a difficult time, it is always ok to practice kindness with ourselves and ask for help or for someone to listen. Our partner, friend, neighbor, parent, child, aunt, uncle, mentor or anyone can be a tremendous support. If, for some reason, you feel you can't go to those that you are closest to, there are plenty of amazing mental health professionals on Long Island that are here to help.

The team here at the Gooding Wellness Group is always here to support anyone in need. From each of our families to all of yours, we wish you the very happiest, mindful, holiday season full of kindness and gratitude.

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