– Little things make a big difference when it comes to navigating stress and being able to enjoy the moment–
It’s hard not to get caught up in the busyness that seems to plague our culture at the best of times, but often during the holiday season, the busyness can hit overdrive. Luckily there are some simple things that you can do to arrive back in THIS moment and enjoy it and the holidays for all the beauty and joy that they can bring.
Mindfulness is a simple tool that helps us to arrive in the current moment. So often as modern humans, we find ourselves being pulled mentally to things that have happened in the past or, as I affectionately like to call them, ‘disaster fantasies’ of what might happen in the future. We so often miss the very moment we are standing in (which to be perfectly honest, is exactly where LIFE happens).
By using simple tools such as our breath, which is always with us, or our senses (smell, touch or feel, listening, tasting, what we see) to help us arrive back in the moment, we can more fully appreciate the joy and wonders that are here right now.
Now, I know that every moment isn’t necessarily a pleasant one, but studies show if we’re able to ‘be’ with all our feelings and emotions and ride them out instead of trying to push them away or bury them, we end up being happier and more at peace.
Try some of these simple mindfulness techniques daily as a practice, but also if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, anxious or irritated from sitting in traffic, standing in line, or just thinking about all the things you ‘have’ to do.
Go to your breath
Breath is the core of many mindful meditation practices, mostly because the breath is always there. The breath is also our trigger to a stressed state of being or a more relaxed one. We tend to breathe in to our chest area only and with shorter breaths when we’re anxious or in our ‘fight or flight’ state. When we breathe into our abdomen, and when we make our exhalations slight longer than our inhales, we send the message to our body that we’re relaxed and everything is oooook.
So the next time you’re feeling hurried, anxious, overwhelmed or just aware, take a moment to focus on your breath. Experience what it feels like to breathe in through your nose, the expansion in your belly and then feel the slow letting go and releasing feeling as you breath out.
Sometimes it’s easier for people to count their breathes, particularly if they have a busy mind, so a simple trick is to breathe in for 4 counts and out for 6-8 counts. Perhaps imaging all the stress, fears or worries being blown out with each exhale. Try it for 5 breathes, focusing on all steps of the inhale and exhale and see how you feel at the end.
Go to gratitude
Stuck in traffic and feeling your temper flare? Standing in line getting frustrated by the person taking WAY too long in front of you? Seize the moment to remember what you’re grateful for. Try to think of 5 things – and get specific. Instead of “I’m grateful for my health”, try “I’m grateful that I have the energy and ability to get up everyday and walk around, that I have food in the fridge that I can make a healthy meal that nourishes my body, that I have arms that I can hug the people I love”. And imagine what that feels like. I’m grateful for my friends and family that I can reach out to when I need support, or that I’m able to be there for the ones I love and support them because it feels so good to know I’ve helped. Get into the nitty gritty’s of the gratitude. Notice how your mood shifts when you think and FEEL all the things that you have to be grateful for. It actually can change the chemistry in your body from the cortisol or adrenaline stress hormones pumping through you, to the serotonin or oxytocin feel-good hormones that are taking over!
Go to your senses
If you’re rushing to get somewhere or to get something done and your head’s a mile ahead of your body, take a second to get into your senses. If you’re cooking something for a party, what do you smell when you’re cutting or chopping or when something is baking? If you’re out and about, what does the ground feel like under your feet as you walk, the cool air on your cheeks? What are some of the sounds you hear when you’re out shopping; do you hear laughter, familiar cheerful songs? Or perhaps just the sound of silence if you have a moment before the news comes on or people get up. Savor the sound of stillness if you get a moment. When you’re eating, try to really take the time to taste your food (and chew it!). Take the time to sit and eat and focus on the task at hand instead of multi tasking your way through another meal. Stopping to eat not only slows things down, it directly affects our digestion and ability to absorb nutrients.
These may all sound like little things, and it’s easy to go to ‘who has the time’, but all these little things really help bring you back into the present. And really, that’s exactly where life is happening!
So the next time you’re in a line, at a stoplight, waiting for someone, or just finding yourself a little overwhelmed, take the opportunity for a mindful moment. And you might just notice, that over time that you feel a little bit lighter, a little less stressed, and a lot happier!