The holiday season conjures up all kinds of associations—some pleasant, some not so much: piling into the car to head to Grandma’s house (enduring bumper-to-bumper traffic in your own version of a clown car), flights, delays, cabin fever, flu fevers, arguing about politics over eggnog. Are you stressed yet?
In a perfect world, this time of twinkles and togetherness would bring about strictly positive emotions such as joy and connection, but in reality, it’s often colored with anxiety triggered by a mash-up of mixed emotions. In the coming months, use these mindfulness exercises when you’re feeling more mad than merry.
When you feel yourself getting triggered, the simple act of taking a breath will give you the chance to pause before you react. So rather than blowing up at cousin Tom for denying climate change, you might kindly point him toward the scientific research and quickly leave him to read it while you pour yourself some peppermint tea.
Taking the time to sprinkle gratitude over every moment and meal you share with family and friends will strengthen the pathways in your brain that recognize what’s going right rather than what’s going wrong. Offer thanks for the plants, animals, farmers, grocers, and everything else that’s making your day possible, and watch yourself sail past perceived imperfections with grace and gratitude.
Laugh a little
In my family, when disturbances arise, we like to practice various types of what we call animal laughter (think: making the “hoo-hoo-hee-hee” of a monkey or the loud “haaahhh” of a lion as we gape our mouths wide and stick our tongues way out). You don’t have to resort to this type of forced laughter (though if you’re curious, look into the Laughter Yoga movement started by Madan Kataria, author of Laugh for No Reason), but try not to take anything too seriously. Bringing a lighthearted approach to stressful situations or family upsets can remind you that life is short (and sweet)—and that laughter really is the best medicine.
Take a walk
Moving meditations force us to connect with the sensations in our bodies and get out of our heads and into the present. Move in slow motion, like you’re walking through water. As you pull one leg forward, notice the contraction of your quadriceps, and then be mindful of your knee joint as you straighten your leg. Note what you feel beneath your feet as you lean forward, readying yourself to bring the opposite leg into motion. Taking time to notice each small action of this complex task will anchor you squarely in the moment, capturing your attention so fully that you’ll cease ruminating about Grandma’s meltdown over mashed potatoes.