Warm, fuzzy lights wrapped around the Christmas tree. Evenings spent with family around the dinner table. Giving and receiving presents.
Shopping malls, long lines and traffic jams.
The holiday season should be about spending time with loved ones, but for many it can also be one of the most stressful times of the year.
“Lots of people are overwhelmed this time of year, and some even dread the holidays,” said Dr. Bernard Davidson, psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. “One of the main causes of holiday blues is having unrealistic expectations. We sometimes set our hopes so high that the slightest setback nearly ruins things.”
Dr. Will Bryant, communications professor, is an expert on mindfulness. Recently, he’s been working on infusing meditation into everyday actions.
“I’ve developed a mindful practice centered on the notion of gratitude,” he said. “What’s wonderful about it is it’s adaptable to any age group.”
Bryant has a 4-step method he recommends using to keep the stress from becoming overwhelming. This method can be used at anytime, anywhere.
Step 1: Look.
Try to identify something in your immediate environment that you’re grateful for. For example, when you’re in a crowded department store and becoming impatient with the large crowds of people, you may notice a smiling child sitting on Santa’s lap.
“When you identify that and become thankful for that moment, it takes you out of yourself and out of your discomfort,” Bryant said.
Step 2: Listen.
If you’re stuck in a traffic jam, take the time to focus on your favorite carol that’s playing on the radio.
“I think we are all very attuned to our own anxiety,” Bryant said. “We know when we’re stressed. That should be a trigger to remind you it’s time for some mindful meditation in the midst of the chaos. It’s hard to entertain both stress and gratitude simultaneously.”
Step 3: Feel.
When you’re standing outside in the cold or waiting in a long line at the store, take the time to feel your hot coffee cup warming your hands. Be mindful of your ability to walk or the coat that’s keeping you warm.
“It’s been very helpful for me,” Bryant said. “It allows me to get out of myself and recognize big pictures. I think the holiday season is the perfect time for some people to begin some meditative practice.”
Step 4: Breathe.
Take a moment to recognize each breath you’re taking. Be grateful for the fact that you’re alive. This will help remind you the season is not about the stress but about being thankful for what we have and who we have.
Likewise, be charitable.
“Some of the greatest joys can be found in giving, so look for ways to help out those who are less fortunate during the holidays,” Davidson said.
He also cautions people to not overdo everything throughout the holiday season.
“We need to resist this temptation,” Davidson said. “Or we are surely leaving the door open for disappointment.”
Above all, enjoy the holiday season and appreciate the time spent with family and friends.
“If you’re able to find some stillness in yourself in the midst of all this chaos, then you can really adapt to anything,” Bryant said. “You can really overcome a lot.”