The Holiday Season: Creating Mindful Routines to Prevent Burn Out

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The holidays are notorious for inducing stress. The holiday seasons can spark overwhelming opportunities to feel trigger, exhausted and out of balance: busy schedules and endless parties resulting in less sleep and reduced self-care (exercise, time alone, healthy eating). Uncomfortable friend and family dynamics can be highlighted over Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Mindfulness is a helpful practice to stay grounded during the often times chaotic waves of the holiday season.

Ruminating, worrying, problem solving and over-analyzing difficult loved ones and family dynamics or painful, uncomfortable emotions associated with the holiday season may increase unnecessary suffering. While unwanted emotions and triggers may be inevitable, practicing mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety, allowing one to be more fully present to the fullness of their experience, focusing on what aspects of the holiday season they can and cannot control. Ruminating on the “what if’s,” lying awake at night strategizing how to best interact with a family member, or saying yes to every event and party without mindfully considering what your body and soul needs - can contribute to holiday burnout.

Burnout is unfortunate; it steals one’s ability to appreciate the beauty, fun and celebration in the midst of difficulty. Mindfulness empowers one to be fully present to their needs and experience, in order to non-judgmentally embrace the craziness and the rest, the fun and the disappointment, the rejuvenating conversations and the hard, awkward ones - with acceptance to all the “good” and “bad” that the season brings.

A Quick Summary: What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. The Mayo Clinic defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you're sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” Mindfulness encourages one to be fully present. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

How can I practice mindfulness this holiday season?

What does it practically look like to practice mindfulness this holiday season? Below are a few practical tips and ideas:

Remember the importance of self-care. The busy schedules of the holidays, and the uncomfortable emotions holiday meals can trigger, may lend one to isolation and inactivity. In these instances, try opposite action, a key concept of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Emotions are beautiful and valid - telling us what we need and what is important to us. However, during stressful seasons, our emotions may create urges that are not in line with effective action and living. For example, the busy pace of the holiday season may evoke a feeling of excitement and anticipation, or perhaps a fear of missing out - creating an urge to dismiss self care activities.

What is your self-care routine? How can you schedule in opportunities to check in with yourself, to exercise, to prioritize good sleep, to nourish your needs?

Opposite action during the holiday season may involve prioritizing exercise, ensuring good sleep hygiene is followed and drinking plenty of water and eating balanced meals. When a strong emotion of urge presents itself during this holiday season, take a moment to assess if the emotion urge is promoting a behavior in line with health and balance. Opposite action may involve saying “no” to a few parties, prioritizing your sleep and emotional needs, or perhaps even engaging in conversation with a family member when everything inside of you says, “run.” While certain interactions with loved ones may not be healthy or productive, opposite action is a helpful tool when leaning into uncomfortable situations may actually be the most productive option.

Intentionally practice gratitude. By practicing mindfulness in the present moment, greater awareness of what to be thankful for in the moment in highlighted. Perhaps keep a daily list on your phone, reflecting each day what you are thankful for. Focusing on gratitude can be centering and reframing when holiday events feel difficult and chaotic.  

Set realistic expectations and give yourself the gift of the present moment. Before attending an event, of accomplishing a to-do task, it may be helpful to take a few minutes and step back, considering what are realistic expectations for your shopping trip or meal with loved ones. And when you are in that moment, remembering to let go of what cannot be control offers freedom to more fully embrace the holiday experience.

Victoria Barrett, MA, LMHC