Christmas is coming, and this time of year can be challenging enough as it is, without a pandemic to take into account!
According to Mintel, 36% of all adults in the UK say that they feel stressed at Christmas- and that’s in an ordinary year. I wonder what those stats will be like this year! We’ve been given the green light to gather with family and friends, but there will still be those who are worried about loved ones in hospital, care homes or nervous about meeting in large groups.
One way to having a more merry Christmas, is to introduce mindfulness into the coming weeks.
Instead of rushing from one activity to the next, it’s been shown that paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says “An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
Let’s look at how to have a mindful Christmas with these simple ideas:
How to have a mindful Christmas
Stay calm in the queue
If you find yourself in a line getting impatient or stressed, it’s the perfect time to practise mindfulness.
Pay attention to the way you feel. If you feel ‘stressed’, ask yourself what stress is like in your body – are you holding your breath? Are you breathing fast and shallow? Are you feeling heat rising in your body? Are you noticing your heart racing? A pounding in your head or a clenched jaw?
With mindfulness, you recognise that not all feelings are pleasant, but rather than adding further suffering by resisting, fighting or trying to change something that you cannot control, mindfulness helps you accept what it, without trying to change it and without getting caught up in it. Instead you become the observer.
As you’re experiencing stress in your body, notice what is going on in your mind and with your impulses. What are you saying to yourself? What are you thinking about other people? Do you have the urge to shout, sigh, tut or get away? Again, just notice, as an observer, everything you are experiencing. Notice too, that all these sensations are constantly changing and evolving. They rarely stay the same for long.
For many people, preparing the Christmas meal can be enormously stressful. It can feel like a conveyor belt of things to do that need to be executed with military precision. This is another perfect opportunity to practise mindfulness and you can engage all senses when in the kitchen.
When you handle ingredients, notice – with curiosity – what you see and feel. Look at a food as if you’ve never seen it before; examine the colours and shapes. Not many foods are uniform, there are flecks, dents, shadows… As you pick things up to prepare or chop, be mindful of how things feel in your hand, the difference in temperature between your knife and a wooden chopping board for example, or something you take from the fridge or freezer, or handling a hot pan.
A kitchen is rich in sounds. What do you hear? The sound of a knife slicing through different textures and hitting the cutting surface, running water, the sound of appliances, voices, doors and drawers closing, water boiling, timers beeping. As you notice each sound, try not to judge it or label it, but invite the sounds to arrive in your ears, as sound waves and see what sensations they bring.
Wrapping gifts can be a wonderfully mindful activity if you choose. Notice the colours of paper and wrapping materials, feel the cool metal of your scissors and become aware of the sound of scissors cutting through paper or tape being pulled off a reel.
Does your paper have a smooth, slippery feel or is it rough and textured? Are there sharp edges on your wrapped gifts or soft textures? Do gifts crinkle, rattle, shake? Can they be squashed or are they solid? Imagine a child exploring presents with curiosity (Ok, I know they usually want to rip the paper off, but just give it a go!)
One of the first things you’ll learn if you sign up for a mindfulness class is mindful eating. Have you noticed how many times you eat a meal and afterwards, you don’t really remember tasting your food? Mindfulness is the complete opposite; it brings deliberate attention to the here and now.
Begin by engaging your eyes. Before tucking in to your meal, take a moment to really look at your food. Notice the colours, the shapes, how things make contact with each other or the space between foods – allow it to be a feast for the eyes. Next, breathe in the aromas. Digestion begins with the nose, so notice the different smells, see if you can pick out sharp smells, or sweet smells. How many different smells can you notice?
Now go ahead and place some food in your mouth, but don’t chew for a moment. Just for a moment, allow the food to rest on your tongue or against your teeth. Then as you begin to eat, chew slowly, releasing the flavours into your mouth. Notice what happens to the texture as you chew. What’s the temperature of your food and how does it change as you chew? Chew a few more times than you usually would (this will help improve your digestion and help reduce that post-meal slump!).
You can apply mindfulness to anything from one chocolate to an entire meal.
After all that mindful eating, a mindful walk might be just the tonic! Getting outdoors in nature is the perfect place for mindfulness – it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the country or a town, mindfulness will come with you wherever you go.
You can choose a point of focus when outdoors, such as your breath or your feet hitting the ground. If you focus on your feet, see if you can become aware of the exact movements of your foot – the heel making contact with the ground first, then the sole of your foot rolling towards the front of your foot, before your toes bend and for a moment leave contact with the ground. Can you become fully immersed in all the intricate movements that your foot makes in just one step?
Another way to use mindfulness outdoors is through the breath. This can be particularly calming. Notice the air as it hits the ends of your nostrils, see if you can follow the air as it goes through your throat. Can you feel your abdomen expanding, your lungs filling, your ribs moving upwards and outwards as you inhale? What about the exhale – notice the abdomen deflating, the air coming back through the throat and out through the nose. What did you experience with the temperature of air going in through your nostrils on both the in and out breath?
Hopefully you’ve now learned how to have a mindful Christmas. These ideas will help you have a happier, calmer and altogether more peaceful Christmas. And by the end of this Christmas season, you’ll have learned a valuable new skill that you can apply to any situation in your life.
After all, mindfulness is for life, not just for Christmas!