Use Mindfulness to Shrink Holiday Stress 

6 MinsArticle| Meditation & Mindfulness

Here’s how mindful awareness can help you notice when stress starts to take away from the spirit of the holidays, so you can get back to enjoying what matters most.

Reducing Holiday Stress with Mindfulness

The holiday season is known for being magical, but it can also be, well, stressful. With extra expenses, family dynamics, and trying to cope with a disrupted routine, it’s easy to forget what all the cheer is about this time of year.

Whether it’s light irritation from an aunt’s snide comment about your career choice, or simmering panic as you scroll past another low balance alert, stressful feelings can feel all-consuming this time of year.

But practicing mindfulness can help. It’s more about accepting that challenging emotions will inevitably arise, rather than trying to get rid of them, says RoundGlass senior scientist Rebecca Acabchuk, Ph.D. Mindfulness involves using nonjudgmental awareness to notice what negative emotions come up during difficult interactions. Putting some distance between you and your emotions reduces the risk of them negatively influencing everything you do and provides space for you to find healthy ways to process your feelings.

The most common causes of holiday stress include financial strain, navigating family relationships, and changes in routine. Using mindful awareness can shift your relationship with each, so you can fully enjoy the season. Here’s how.

Types of Holiday Stress, And Mindful Ways to Cope     

1. Practice Mindful Spending to Ease Financial Strain  

Mindful spending is one way to set and stay within a budget that aligns with your goals and values so you’re not anxious checking your bank account at the start of January. Financial education instructor Bola Sokunbi via CNBC suggests treating the practice like writing down a grocery list tied to a fixed amount. Tally the total cost of everything you need to spend money on. If you’re way above budget, consider finding creative ways to offset costs so you can stay within it such as offering to cook instead of getting gifts, attending Christmas dinner via Zoom rather than traveling, or swapping trinkets with handmade cards in this year's secret Santa.

Drop into mindful awareness by questioning and sitting with the core motive behind wanting to spend money on things and experiences. You’ll learn to decipher between what you think you want and what you truly need, while finding ways to put money toward what’s important to you.

Research suggests that practicing mindfulness can help you notice how celebrity  endorsements can manipulate you into buying things you otherwise wouldn’t. By questioning what’s driving your purchasing decisions, and not identifying with judgy thoughts that come up, you’re less likely to engage in emotional spending (buying things to feel happier) and impulse spending (purchasing what’s in sight) because of an ad you’ve seen.

But if you're still feeling tempted to spend money on things outside of your holiday budget, Acabchuk recommends the following noting and labeling practice:  

  1. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, observe all sensations in your body.
  2. Name the physical parts where you feel any tension, and as you continue to breathe, imagine softening this area, and allowing energy to flow through it with each out-breath.
  3. After scanning for other areas to release, come back to your external environment by paying attention to your feet feeling supported by the ground.
  4. Ask yourself, “What is most important to me right now? What need am I trying to fulfill?”
  5. Repeat this process as many times as you need. You might be surprised to see how your answers evolve. 

2. Process and Release Expectations Around Spending Time with Loved Ones

With commonalities like blended families, aging parents, divorce, stepsiblings, and grief, it’s easy to get caught up in expectations about spending time with family. But these assumptions can bring unnecessary tension into your interactions that takes you out of enjoying the present moment.

Dropping into mindful awareness can help. If your family has an uncanny ability to get under your skin, honor your anxiety by recognizing that you will likely get triggered while spending time with loved ones. RoundGlass meditation teacher Vishvapani Blomfield says this can help you put together a plan to turn to after a triggering experience, so you’ll feel less anxious about your time together.

The results of a study published in "Sage Journals" found that verbalizing your feelings in the moment makes them less intense. Labeling emotions helps trigger the part of your brain responsible for processing feelings, rather than reacting to them. You learn to observe emotions, without judgment, instead of getting swept up in the experience. Acabchuk suggests simply saying “rude behavior” to yourself the next time a family member utters something impolite to see if it helps your internal reactions subside.  

You can also try using the STOP Method to Reduce Stress, from RoundGlass meditation teacher Lisa Kring, to learn how to regulate your stress from the inside out.  

3. Prioritize 'Me Time' to Cope with a Disrupted Routine

Remember, you’ll need to keep a healthy state of mind to practice the awareness needed to mindfully manage money and navigate spending time with family. And no, celebrating the holidays alone — by choice or default — isn’t an excuse to only engage in the bad health habits that align with the spirit of Christmas: Overindulgence, and  brainless screentime are some of the collective behaviors associated with celebrating the holidays that Bloomfield says keep us in unawareness.

And while indulging in holiday treats with your favorite cousins might feel good in the moment, it’s important to balance out any excess with daily check-ins of how you’re feeling so you don’t get caught in a cycle of self-soothing with behaviors that take away from your wellbeing. Meditation is one tool, but you can also take some time to enjoy cooking a nutritious meal, call a friend, or listen to music.

Remember to bring a mindful awareness to each activity, says RoundGlass senior researcher David Vago, Ph.D. Noticing how each experience affects your body and mind can keep you grounded in the present to get the most out of this time, fully repleting some of the resources that start to disappear during high stress.  

Take some time for yourself over the holidays to reset and restore with this guided session by RoundGlass wellbeing and performance coach Christina Dufour.  

We have a library of practices to help strengthen your focus. Download the RoundGlass app to find what's right for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Notice what parts of the holidays are triggering so you can find mindful ways to cope.
  • Question and sit with the core motive behind wanting to buy things, to decipher between what you want and need.
  • Learn to label difficult emotions so they don’t take away from spending quality time with others.
  • Throughout the holidays, make time each day to do what replenishes your body and mind.

About the Authors

Jerusha Kamoji

Jerusha joins RoundGlass with over six years of experience at digital and print publications. She grew up in Kenya and was introduced to traditional sitting meditation by her high-school football coach; the whole team would have a visualization practice before each game. During her last year of college in San Francisco, Jerusha interned at a Rome-based digital magazine where she wrote about sustainable development and systemic racism. Here she realized her passion; prioritizing sustainable development through incentivizing circular economies at a grass roots level. Jerusha believes wholistic wellness is a tool to achieve this goal. In order to take care of the planet we first have to learn how to take care of ourselves.

Rebecca Acabchuk

Rebecca L. Acabchuk (Becky) is a senior scientist at RoundGlass with a PhD in Neurobiology and Physiology. She has 18 years of experience in the health and wellness industry, and is a Research Professor Affiliate at the University of Connecticut. Her research focuses on evaluating the scientific benefits of yoga, meditation and mindfulness for a variety of health conditions, including pain, hypertension, mental health and concussion recovery. In addition to teaching university courses on the Neuroscience of Meditation and Health Psychology, Becky teaches mindfulness workshops for a variety of audiences, including workplace groups, athletic teams, recovery groups, clinicians, and others. She has also provided consulting services to assist schools and universities in implementing and assessing school-wide mindfulness programs. Becky has been teaching yoga, meditation and other wellness classes since 2005, with over 1000+ hours of yoga teaching experience. Becky is a passionate leader, offering a unique combination of spiritual insight and fact-based science, which she communicates in an accessible manner to inspire people to reach their full potential. In her free time, Becky enjoys hiking, skiing, trail running, traveling, competing in triathlons, and spending time with her family, including 3 daughters.

Did you like this article?