How Mindfulness Can Help You Stay Sane Over the Holidays

Welcome to my new blog, A Healthy Mind and Body. I felt compelled to write my first blog post about mindfulness now since we are approaching the holiday season.

Mindfulness - Relationships - Holiday Season - Karen ChincaThis season is by far my favorite time of year. I love the brisk sweater weather, the fresh air of November and December, and being surrounded by family, friends, and delicious holiday treats. One of my fondest memories is of sitting in the kitchen taking in the aromas of my grandmother cooking pierogi, latkes, and blintzes for Hanukkah and Christmas. (Yes, I am lucky enough to celebrate both!) But despite such delights, the holidays can also be one of the most stressful times of the year. Buying presents, cooking, and going to parties and get togethers can cause us all so much heartache and fatigue.

What I have found is that many people look forward to the holidays for months, but once the season starts, they can’t wait for the holidays to be over. To get through this special yet trying time, it is so important to step outside of ourselves and be mindful. We need to pay close attention to our surroundings, from our environment to the many people around us who may be suffering from depression, loneliness, and/or hunger. Being mindful can go a long way toward improving our relationships and overall quality of life!

Fear of Missing Out

As a therapist, I witness first-hand the negative effects of our busy society on my clients. Hence, I am compelled to incorporate mindfulness into my own life as well as my private therapy practice.

Often, I notice that my clients can’t even focus on our 50-minute sessions. They often have their phones next to them and look at their text messages through the corners of their eyes, not wanting to miss out! Instead of focusing on our conversations, I notice my clients’ minds wander to what they need to do next, or what they haven’t done. They look like they are somewhere else. Not being present is a subject which comes up over and over in my sessions, and we can’t resolve this issue quickly. This can delay the solution to why they are seeing me in the first place. Ironically it also causes them to miss out on the personal growth that they need here and now. (Plus they are essentially paying me to watch them look at their cell phones.)

Mindfulness = Focus on Being Fully Present

"When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we're sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future." - The Great Good Magazine

As a therapist I can’t slow down time, or make life simpler. Instead, I recommend that we all take time to be more present in our daily lives. Not just physically present, but emotionally present and connected to whatever we are doing.

Greater Good Magazine defines mindfulness as “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”

Here’s an example of how I put mindfulness into practice with my client Jane (not her real name).

A few weeks ago Jane and I decided to take a mindful walk to the park close to my office. Jane, being a high-energy and talkative woman, wanted to converse during our stroll. Instead, I asked her to be silent, slow down, and be present, taking in her surroundings using all of her five senses. Once we completed our walk, we discussed this exercise.

Here are a few comments that Jane made:

“It was weird to walk with you without talking.”

“I had a hard time not thinking about whether I was doing it right.”

“I’ve never really noticed the beautiful trees around your office.”

“I could actually take in the cold wind on my face.”

“I never thought it could be so great to focus on the smells and sounds of my surroundings…What a great feeling!”

“It’s hard staying focused because my mind kept going back to all the things I have to do today, but I kept hearing your voice in my head saying, don’t judge your thoughts, accept them, and keep bringing your focus back to the experience.”

“I never thought walking would be part of my therapy.”

These are only a sample of the comments Jane made in her journal about our mindful walk. I have encouraged Jane to continue to develop her mindfulness practice on her own.

Practice Makes Peaceful

Mindfulness is so simple, yet so difficult to incorporate into our daily lives. Imagine how much richer our experiences would be if we stayed present and accepted our thoughts without judging them. I challenge you, colleagues, and fellow bloggers, to consider purposefully engaging in at least one mindful activity per day for the next week, and then reflect and journal about each activity. After this week-long experiment, think about whether it has affected your mood in a positive way. My bet is that it will!

Stay tuned for my next blog post in this series on mindfulness.

Happy Holidays to you all!!

Karen Chinca - LICSW | Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Wellness - Brookline MAAbout Karen Chinca: Karen Chinca is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) located in Brookline, Massachusetts, with over ten years of experience in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for treating individuals and families who are dealing with academic, personal, and professional stress.