By Linda Miles
Managing Family Stress During The Holidays
Peace, joy, and gratitude – feelings we all wish for, but ones that can be hard to come by during the holidays. In addition, when we’re bombarded with our own negative thoughts, it can seem as though we’re in a self-made prison of blame and judgments, making it feel impossible to relish the good in our lives. Fortunately, the science of mindfulness gives the whole family tools to calm down and experience the gifts of the present moment despite holiday stressors.
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention in the present moment with awareness, curiosity, and acceptance. Simple practices help remind us to stop, breathe, and connect with ourselves and others with an attitude of compassion and loving-kindness.
According to The UCLA Mindful Awareness Center
“In the last ten years, significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as lower blood pressure, increased attention and focus, reduced anxiety and depression, foster well-being, reduce emotional reactivity, and thicken the brain in areas of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.” The Journal for Family (2013) reported that in a study of 400 children, mindfulness training resulted in significant increases in students’ attention, self-control, classroom participation, and respect for others.
Research shows that we can take steps toward creating a positive and healthy mental space, despite the stresses of living in a demanding existence that tends to be amplified by the social demands of the holidays.
So how can Mindfulness practice help your family cope with holiday stress?
By focusing on simple pleasures and practicing a mindfulness of the present moment, we can get out of our own heads and into the world around us, allowing for an increased awareness and connectivity to the blessings and positivity in our lives.
As I write this, my husband, Robert, is smiling because I am alternating between talking about mindfulness strategies and shouting at my recalcitrant computer. Mindfulness works like that… I can find peace and solace and then revert to stress reactions in a flash. Mindfulness is like training a puppy… my mind wanders away into anger and reactivity and I have to gently lead it back. So, I wish for you and your family many moments of pure blessings and peace amidst the holiday clamor and challenges.
As neuroscientist Dr. Wayne Drevets attests, “In the brain, practice makes permanent.” If you would like to try to foster peace of mind for your family, here are some suggestions:
Focus on your breathing.
When breathing in, think “be.” When breathing out, think “calm.” Breathe in and out slowly and purposefully.
Spend 30 seconds (or more) allowing your attention and senses to be fully in the present. Focus on simple, tactile pleasures: the colors of nature, a fabric’s texture against your fingers, or the taste and aroma of homemade bread.
Label your negative thoughts. Categorize them as “judgment,” “fear,” or “reliving the past,” as they pass through your mind. Then, redirect your attention back to the here and now.
Understand that you may have been programmed to engage in a negative way of thinking, Recognize that you have the choice to practice turning toward positivity instead. Many of us come to realize that negativity has somehow become our “default” way of thinking. That we had been moving through life on autopilot.
Repeat these phrases of Loving Kindness in your mind:
May I be at peace
Send out loving kindness to others
May you be at peace
Be filled with loving kindness
Notice when you feel moments of joy, and focus on what brought you that joy.
Notice when you feel jealous or resentful and ask yourself why that happened. If a negative thought finds its way through, simply notice and acknowledge that thought, then return to the moment.
Forgive yourself. Say, “For the times I was jealous or resentful, may I forgive myself.”
Give appreciation to yourself.
Appreciate when you have offered kindness and love to others.
Notice the many blessing around you. Consider writing down these blessings as the day ends.
Intend to look for joy, love, and miracles around you. If you have trouble noticing such things, ask yourself why.
Set “mindfulness alerts” as reminders to stop during the day and experience the moment.
Remember the acronym NOW as a reminder:
N is for Notice… Notice colors, lights, aromas, textures of the holidays and allow your attention to rest on some object for thirty seconds.
O is for Opportunity… See the holidays as an opportunity to develop and practice family rituals, loving kindness and awareness, and appreciation of the gifts of the present moment.
W is for Within… Go within yourself and work toward treating yourself as you would a friend so that you take care of yourself in the midst of holiday demands.
About the Author
Dr. Miles has appeared on national television, radio and in magazines such as Woman’s World, Parents, and Entrepreneur. She wrote the award-winning book The New Marriage, Transcending the Happily Ever After Myth with her husband (Dr. Robert Miles) and has recently published All Aboard The Brain Train: Teaching Your Child to Live With Purpose.
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