Mindfulness is a valuable self-care tool for managing holiday stress.

Conquering Cognitions

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

The holidays can be a wonderful season of celebration with lots of quality time with loved ones. It can also be a time of stress. For some people, the holidays are a lot of stress!

As you navigate this season, protect your mood and health by setting aside time for daily self-care. One quick, easy, and portable self-care tool is mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an active process of focusing attention on the present moment without being overly reactive or judgmental. When you pause and pay attention to your environment, emotions, and thoughts, there is an opportunity to notice things you might otherwise miss.

What do you notice when you stop moving?

Mindfulness has numerous health benefits like decreasing stress, improving sleep quality, and strengthening attention skills. It creates space between our emotions and our responses which is helpful in interpersonal interactions.

You can experiment with mindfulness through breathing exercises, meditation, mindful eating, and daily activities like brewing tea or brushing your teeth. Mindfulness can be easily incorporated into your day.

Here are a few suggestions:

Mindfulness while preparing and drinking tea

  • Hold your cup of tea while it is steeping.
  • In those few minutes, clear the mind of your to-do list or lingering concerns and focus on the tea.
  • Feel the warmth of the cup, inhale the scent and notice how the water changes color.
  • As thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them and then gently refocus your attention back to the tea.

Mindful breathing

  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes and breathe naturally.
  • Pay attention to how your breath feels on the inhale and exhale.
  • Complete a body scan — how do your legs, back, shoulders, neck, and head feel?
  • Focus your full attention on your breathing and body.
  • If thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them and then return your attention to your breathing. With every breath, notice how relaxed your body is starting to feel.

Mindful eating

  • Pause before you eat and answer this question: why am I eating?
  • After each bite, put down your utensil and chew the bite thoroughly.
  • Eliminate distractions by putting away your phone and turning off the TV or computer. Focus your full attention on eating. Savor the food.

The “five senses”

This activity is a grounding technique that uses mindfulness. Make note of:

  • 5 things you see (clouds, tree, a favorite photo, colorful pillow)
  • 4 things you feel (warm blanket, breeze on your face, heaviness of your shoe)
  • 3 things you hear (hum of the heater, birds singing, traffic)
  • 2 things you smell (clean air, your favorite lotion, fresh flowers)
  • 1 thing you taste (chewing gum, a drink of ice-cold water, a sip of hot tea)

"The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness. Mindfulness means being awake. It means knowing what you are doing."
Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindful Meditation

Meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably, but they are distinct concepts that overlap. We can practice meditation to become more mindful. We can also be mindful without meditating such as engaging in mindful eating, mindfully brushing our teeth, or practicing gratitude.

Mindful meditation is a health-enhancing daily habit. A 2019 study,  “Brief Daily Meditation Enhances Attention, Memory, Mood and Emotional Regulation”, found that non-experienced meditators benefitted both emotionally and cognitively from 13 minutes of daily guided meditation. These improvements appeared after just four weeks.

Daily meditation decreased the participants' negative mood states and enhanced both their attention and memory.  Just like regular exercise, meditation strengthens the brain and makes it work more efficiently. These benefits can occur at any age.

I enjoy meditating using the free Insight Timer app.  This app has guided meditations to help you manage anxiety, cope with stress, and improve sleep. The meditation scripts range between 5 to 30+ minutes allowing you to tailor the activity to your schedule.

This app also has a timer option where you can personalize the background sound. The available sounds include birds, raindrops, crackling fire, and crickets chirping, and this is one of my favorite features.

Whether you have one minute or 30 minutes to meditate, this free app is a great resource!

"Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different. Enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will) and being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won't)."
James Baraz

Final Thoughts

Mindfulness is a great addition to a daily self-care routine. You can easily implement mindfulness during daily activities or through more structured mindful meditation. By focusing your attention on the present moment, you are more in tune with both yourself and the world which creates a better balance in your life. A minimal time investment with far-reaching impact.

Please follow me for more articles on healthy living, self-care, and personal growth.

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Clinical psychologist turned writer | PsyD | Outdoor enthusiast | Museum lover | We are stronger together | ConqueringCognitions.com - healthy cognitions can conquer almost anything

Colorado Springs, CO

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