“Mindfulness teaches us to become aware of our bodies, our thoughts, and our feelings without the habit of making something ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We become more compassionate toward ourselves, more forgiving ~ responding as a loving friend might rather than a prisoner, already guilty. Being mindfully aware when we approach food, we are able to welcome our thoughts and feelings as simply visitors, here for the moment, to teach us something about ourselves. In this way, we free ourselves from the tyranny of our thoughts and feelings and become able to wisely choose how to think, feel and act in difficult situations involving our relationship to food.”
Often the holidays are approached from a “more on an already full plate” perspective. There is a cultural expectation for joyfulness and accomplishment. Family and social gatherings occur. Often more money is spent over the holidays than planned and budget concerns can dampen merriment. Time, energy and sleep patterns become altered, leaving a person tired and close to burnout as healthy self-time becomes less frequent. For some, the holidays are a time of sadness and depression involving grief, sorrow and loneliness. And for nearly everyone, eating mindfully becomes more difficult and challenging during the holiday season.
Many articles and posts are written about navigating the holidays successfully. Tips and suggestions can be easily found with a quick search. However, making our way through the holiday season mindfully brings a unique and fresh approach to the days ahead and offers a way to live each moment of the season with focused awareness, intention and choice.
Becoming mindful in our thinking and behaving means we bring moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness to every situation and interaction. We pay attention deliberately, being fully aware of what is happening both on the inside – the body, heart and mind – and on the outside, in our environment. Mindfulness invites compassion rather than criticism. We are not comparing or judging. Rather we are simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts and emotions that arise not only during holiday times but throughout our lives as well.
In terms of reducing stress, especially over the holidays, mindfulness is our ally, our friend. By bringingmindful awareness to each moment, we are able to respond rather than react mindlessly to what occurs or doesn’t occur. We leave “automatic pilot” behind as we learn to bring focused awareness to our days, our moments, our decisions and our behavior.
The following tips for coping with holiday stress are meant as simple guidelines. Some tips may be more useful than others. See what has meaning for you and remember mindfulness, a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment, underscores each suggestion.
Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress
1. CREATE SIMPLICITY AND SERENITY
- Ask yourself: how can I create a more simple yet meaningful holiday experience?
- Is it possible to turn everyday “stressful events” into a mindful and pleasant experience? For example: when stuck in traffic, breathe deeply – purposefully using this time to relax the neck and shoulders
Envision the entire holiday “season”
- Put yourself in the picture
- Imagine how you would like to see yourself behaving – and do so!
- What results are the most important for you to achieve?
Be focused not foggy
- List your intentions and refer to them daily. For example: I will navigate each day calmly with mindful awareness, compassion and wise choice
2. BECOME ORGANIZED
- Be fiercely realistic
- Use a calendar, recording each event, including self-care and relaxation time
- Plan ahead – allow a realistic amount of time for each task
- Break down ‘big picture’ events into small, manageable steps
Prepare for gift wrapping and card writing
- Designate an area for gift and card preparation
- Have wrapping paper and writing materials ready and organized; including scotch tape, scissors and an assortment of pens and markers
- Clump errands efficiently
- Shop at off times
- Consider online shopping or gift cards, eliminating driving, parking and battling large crowds
Give gifts from the heart
- For example, a “coupon book” with offers such as: one week of dish doing and kitchen clean up
- An offer of a skill or talent: one free point-and-shoot lesson
Plan food and cooking ahead
- Map out meals and list all ingredients
- Allow time for shopping and storing groceries
- Keep an ongoing list for forgotten items
- Have healthful snacks and easy to prepare meals on hand
- Delegate when possible – say “yes” to help from others
Plan for each day the night before
- List three priority items that need to be done
- Do these three things first, staying prioritized
3. MANAGE YOUR MONEY
- Plan ahead for all expenditures: create a holiday budget to guide you
- Keep track of daily spending
- Prevent over spending! Refer to your budget often, shop sales and resist impulse buying
4. EXERCISE 30-40 MINUTES DAILY
- Choose an aerobic activity you will enjoy and do daily
- If possible, exercise in the morning hours
5. STAY NOURISHED, NOT HUNGRY
- Eat three mindful meals a day and snack when hunger is present
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water each day
- Always eat something nourishing and drink water before a party or gathering
6. GET PLENTY OF SLEEP EVERY NIGHT
- While everyone’s needs are different, 8 hours a night is a good rule of thumb
7. ALLOW TIME FOR RELAXATION AND MEDITATION (WHICH ARE NOT THE SAME THING)
- Relaxation is a goal – for example becoming more relaxed from head to toe:
- Try tensing and then relaxing each muscle group
- Breathe deeply as you are relaxing
Meditation is not goal oriented. Rather it means to:
- Bring a focused awareness to each moment
- Suspend judgment, being mindfully focused and aware
- Be compassionate and kind with yourself and others
8. CREATE A PEACEFUL ENVIRONMENT
- Play your favorite music in the background
- Light a candle or two (be sure to extinguish when finished)
9. SLOW DOWN AND ENJOY THE MOMENT
- Park a distance awayfrom your destination and enjoy the fresh air
- Drive more slowly and compassionately, breathing deeply
- Watch a sunrise or a sunset
- Enjoy the sounds of children’s voices, carolers and laughter
10. START AND END EACH DAY WITH GRATITUDE
- With paper and pen, list 3 things you are grateful for each morning and evening
- Remember: the simpler the better; we often easily overlook the blessings in ordinary moments
Since mindfulness is about paying attention and the awareness and freedom that emerge from being present in the moment, eating mindfully is enhanced by becoming more focused and aware. Mindful eating is an experience that engages all of us, our body, our heart, and our mind, as we choose, prepare, and enjoy food. Mindful eating involves all the senses: we notice colors, textures, scents, tastes, and even sounds while drinking and eating. Mindful eating practices increase our ability to observe hunger and satiety cues. We learn to handle our many feelings that previously led to mindless eating, becoming able to choose healthful behaviors in stressful circumstances.
Mindful eating replaces self-criticism with self-nourishing. Shame is replaced by respect for your own inner and inherent wisdom. At no time is this more needed than during the holidays, when eating and drinking experiences and options abound.
Let’s make “Eat, Drink and be Mindful” our motto as we navigate the holiday season. A good rule of thumb in nurturing a mindful eating practice is to pause before a meal or snack, being grateful for the nourishment. Then observe: what does the food look like, smell like, and taste like? Be selective: eat what you want and what is nourishing; eat just enough for your body at the time (eating slowly, chewing each bite before taking the next bite).Be aware of your feelings, thoughts and behavior as you complete your meal or snack.
The following 10 tips for eating mindfully are meant as a guide. Again, find the tips that will help you the most, as each of us are different in how we will experience the holidays and what our greatest needs will be. Feel free to add other tips or suggestions as your holiday journey unfolds.
“Make Eating Mindful”: 10 Simple Tips for Mindful Holiday Eating
1. RETHINK HOLIDAY EATING
- No need to avoid enjoyable foods and beverages. Rather, eat and sip slowly and with full awareness, stopping just before feeling full.
- Always have a healthy snack before a party or gathering
- Remember: “day by day, moment by moment, meal by meal”
2. EAT EVERY 3-4 HOURS
- Enjoy three meals a day plus occasional snacks, emphasizing fresh fruits, vegetables, lean protein, complex carbohydrates
- Have healthy snacks and last minute ‘meals’ on hand
- Drink plenty of water daily
Eat intuitively ~ with enjoyment and pleasure
- Listen to your body and follow its cues
- Stay tuned in – notice your hunger and satiety level
- Put your fork down between bites, chewing thoroughly
4. BE GRATEFUL
- Before each meal, take a moment to breathe and give thanks
- Think about the food, where it comes from and the nourishment it offers
- Use a smaller plate and notice how satisfying ‘less’ can be
5. EAT WITH ALL FIVE SENSES
- Look at the food, noticing shapes, colors and textures
- Smell the aroma, hear the sounds
- Notice sensations as the food moves into your body
6 . BE IN TOUCH WITH HOLIDAY EMOTIONS
- Accept any and all emotions you experience
- Pause and breathe before turning to food – asking yourself: “what do I need right now?”
- Remember emotions are not permanent, so “wait them out” as you bring focus to your breath
7. LOOK BEHIND AND UNDERNEATH THE CRAVING
- If “craving” is present, sit with it for a few moments
- Notice how cravings rise and fall, sometimes disappearing altogether
- Remember: cravings are learned processes which can be unlearned
8. PLAN TO TAKE HOME LEFTOVERS
- Come equipped with your own doggie bag
- No need to eat mindlessly if you know that you can savor something later
9. KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS AND BE PREPARED
- Pinpoint some of your most common mindless eating triggers.
- What sabotages your efforts to eat mindfully?
- Strategize ways to overcome these challenges
- Limit alcohol consumption
10. MOVE THE FOCUS OF GATHERINGS AWAY FROM FOOD
- Set up games and puzzles on the coffee table instead of chips and dip
- Make holiday decorations or crafts instead of cookies
- Display photo albums that will move attention away from the hors d’oeuvres
As a final note, I encourage you to not let your food choices be influenced by external cues such as comments or expectations from other people. Try to tune out comments made by others regarding your food choices and focus on your internal cues, becoming mindfully aware.
If you overdo it at one meal, get back on track at the next meal — or at least the next day. Remember: “It’s not what you’ve done, but what you do next.”
Above all be flexible with yourself. Healthful eating is like the practice of yoga: each day is different, each hour is different. Allow yourself to eat what nourishes you each day, following a mindful plan rather than a rigid routine. Eating mindfully is a practice, taking time and patience. Be kind to yourself and never do anything that is less than in your very best interest.