Here's an extremely helpful message that has kindly been written for us by Shamash Alinda, author of Mindfulness for Dummies.
Okay, okay, I know it's only November, but the holiday season is not far away! And although some of you may not be celebrating, almost all of you will be very busy.
The Christmas period can be manic. You could find yourself running around trying to get the shopping done, worrying about all things from money to who you'll be spending the day with. This kind of pressure, on top of an already busy life, can lead to a miserable December full of anxiety and stress. If you're feeling the pressure here are some ways to help you have a mindful Christmas.
1. Try some mini mindfulness meditations. It might be difficult, but find some time to sit still and think about what is good in your life right now. Sit comfortably and focus on your breathing. Try doing this before you go Christmas shopping, as it will help you to stay calm.
Later, when you're queuing to pay for your presents and starting to feel the stress, focus on standing tall, and breathing slowly and deeply. Accept that it's okay to feel frustrated in the queue. Who likes queuing? It's natural to be annoyed. Try to realise you are annoyed, and then look around you to appreciate the present moment aspects of Christmas. Smell the pine trees and cinnamon.
Appreciate the colours – when else do you see so much sparkle and glitter? Feel your breath filling your lungs, and appreciate how good it fees to correct your posture and stand still for a short while. Resist the temptation to get your Blackberry out and check your messages. Are your feet throbbing? Feel the throbbing, and visualise your blood pumping around your body and breathe deeply to slow it down.
2. Make giving more mindful. When you write your Christmas cards this year, take the time to include a few words that express the reasons why you love or appreciate the recipient. Thank people for what they have done, and show gratitude for any kindness.
Write them for those you have lost, or fallen out with too. This will help you to accept your life as it now is. Also, write a card for yourself, listing all the good things that you are experiencing in your life. You don't need to post this one of course, but keep it somewhere obvious, and read it when you feel anxious, or need a reminder about what is important here and now.
Write your cards slowly, and concentrate on forming each letter. Handwriting is usually rushed these days, if it happens at all, so take time to feel each curve of the pen and each full stop, be mindful of your handwriting.
3. Volunteer. You don't need to be a practising Christian to appreciate what the Christmas spirit is about. Practise mindfulness and help out at your local homeless centre, or offer your services to a charity. My co-author and I have put ourselves down to volunteer in a local soup kitchen for a couple of days after Christmas. There are many worthy causes, and in return, you'll find a sense of wellbeing that outshines any expensive gift you may receive. Keeping up this activity into the New Year will really help you to focus on what you already have, and highlight the good aspects of your own life.
If you don't have time to volunteer, then try little things such as feeding the birds in your garden, or the ducks at a local park because they will certainly appreciate it in the cold weather (unless you're in Thailand!). Which leads us nicely to...
4. Take a walk in the fresh air and live in the moment. Look at the leaves, are there any left at this time of year, what colour are the trees now? What are the clouds doing? When did you last look at the clouds? If it's raining, then wear a waterproof coat and take an umbrella. It may snow – after all it is Christmas! Just try to go out, the rain won't hurt you. Listen to the birds; they still sing in the winter. Breathe in the winter air. It's so clean, it will blow out all those central heating impurities.
If you have a child, take her/him with you. Don't tell them off if they get wet though, just try jumping in puddles or throwing snowballs with them. Chase the leaves and laugh. Appreciate them being this young, They won't be like this again. Create a moment and enjoy it.
5. Yes, you can enjoy Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner is often the climax of the Christmas period, but do you really enjoy it? Even if you had to cook this year, and are so stressed and sweaty that you don't feel like eating, try to sit back and look at each person around the table. Think of the ways in which you have been close to them, and the reasons you choose to spend time with them. Even if you don't get on particularly, there is a reason they are sat at the table with you. Think about them, appreciate their good points and accept their failings. Nobody is perfect.
Christmas is a good time to practice mindfulness. Your family may visit, you are seeking out gifts for your friends and relatives, and using a variety of decorations, fabrics, music and foods. Take notice of each person, material or sensation over Christmas. Each time you do this you will focus fully on the present. Each step you take is a step away from your former anxiety-avoiding self. Use this Christmas period to kick-start yourself into the New Year – a New Year where you practise mindfulness and feel happier and healthier!
How will you ensure your Christmas is a mindful one?