We all know time flies when you're having fun - sadly this is all too true over the Christmas holidays. However we can make it seem longer and remain more present in the moment with mindfulness - it's a great time to practice a skill which when mastered can bring a number of benefits to life all year round.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness has become popular over the past few years and for good reason! It has been scientifically proven to improve our physical and mental well-being by helping us to shift our thoughts away from our usual preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment, and become more present in our everyday lives.
It has also been proven to help relieve stress, help heart disease and blood pressure, reduce chronic pain and improve sleep. When we manage to be mindful, it feels great - it helps improve mood and focus on what's important in life. At Christmas time, it can help us focus on those around us and give them the attention and focus we all deserve.
So how can I be more mindful at Christmas?
It's much easier to talk about being mindful than actually being mindful! And even harder to maintain mindfulness over an extended period like over the Christmas break. Like all muscles, the mindfulness muscle takes practice to build its strength, so the more often we actively practice these techniques, the easier it gets:
1. Create an anchor to remind us regularly to be mindful
It's natural for our minds to wander and move from a 'mindful' state focused on the present, to a non-mindful state thinking back over a past event or planning for something in the future. The trick is to regularly bring the focus back.
There are a number of ways to do this, each of which should remind us through the day to come back to the present every time we see it:
It can be drawing a star or a reminder on the back of your hands;
Placing an object in an unusual place (eg a cuddly toy next to the TV or a chair in a different place to usual;
We can also set a trigger, for example associate the action of walking through a doorway (which normally happens regularly throughout the day) or whenever we start a new conversation with someone, as a reminder to reset and be mindful again. Another activity to associate with mindfulness is eating (which is something we often do lots of over Christmas!) - at each meal, take your time and focus on every mouthful, what are the tastes and textures you are experiencing?
We've talked about journaling in the past before; it's one of the easiest and most effective ways to make regular, positive change in your life.
Journaling over the Christmas period (and beyond through 2020) is an effective tool to help you become more mindful. There are many activities you can do when journaling but the two we recommend most to help mindfulness are:
Plan your day ahead each morning. Although this might seem excessive for what is relaxing 'down-time', by taking just 5 minutes before we start each day to plan what the day ahead looks like and what we want to achieve, we go into the day with intent. It means we don't rush from one task to one engagement without thinking, it allows us to be mindful about what we're doing and make sure we achieve what we want to with this precious time;
Reflect on your day in the evening. Take 5 minutes before bed to recount the day - what were the main activities, what went well, what didn't, how well did you achieve your plans? This active reflection helps make the holiday seem longer at the end of it and also helps cement stronger memories, helping you remember Christmas 2019 more clearly!
Meditation is another powerful (and low cost) tool helping us maintain mindfulness throughout the day. We recommend taking 5 or 10 minutes at the start and end of the day (or just at the start of the day if you're short on time). Either use an app like Headspace or Calm to guide you through the meditation or simply set a timer and try and focus on your breathe for the allotted period.
Meditation helps us be present on the current moment and nurtures longer mindfulness throughout the day, as well as reducing stress and a host of other benefits.
4. Breathing reminders
Another effective method to develop mindfulness over the festival break is to set reminders throughout the day. We recommend setting one every hour, on the hour - they can be subtle like a vibration alarm on your phone or fitness watch / smartwatch.
Take just 20 deep breathes, focusing on each inhale and exhale. This has a amazing calming effect and stimulates mindfulness which should help you be more present over the following hour.
These tools might seem small, but practiced regularly they have a powerful cumulative effect. Perhaps considering adding these practices to your new years resolution and daily routine in 2020.
In the meantime - have a very Merry Christmas!
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