How Mindfulness can help with the Holiday Season

For many, the holiday season brings a great deal of joy. The festivities can bring a celebration of family, friends and good food. It is a time to relax, unwind and reflect on the past year. However, this period can also bring stress and may not be a joyful time for some. It can be a difficult period for those who are going through a tough time, or even for those who just find that they have too much to do, in too little time. It can feel like a very rushed, chaotic time for many, and before we know it, it has passed, and a new year has begun. So, what can we do to help ourselves during this time to ensure that we at least make the most of the goodness it offers? Being mindful during the holiday period is a great way not to get completely caught up in the busyness, allowing us to appreciate the subtle moments of calm and joyfulness it may bring.

Managing expectations and being aware of what’s important

At a time when the shops are full to the brim with people rushing around, intent on getting every single item written on their list, making a conscious effort to be more present can shed some perspective on the whole situation. It is easy to get caught up in the madness and feel like we need to be rushing around and doing as much as possible, just like everyone else. But it is fine to accept that our celebrations don’t need to live up to some perfect, idealistic standard which we seem to be bombarded with through the various forms of media and advertisements. Reducing our stress levels around this time involves accepting that how we choose to celebrate is entirely dependent on ourselves, and no one else. Keeping in mind what is really important to us can also help with reducing feelings of frustration or negativity. When we are clear about what truly matters to us, we are less likely to compare ourselves and our situation to others’, allowing us to be more appreciative of what we already have.

Choosing how to react

In stressful moments, being mindful can also help us to think about what small things we can change, which might make the situation more pleasant. Even when change is not possible, we can always choose to pause and be mindful on how to respond to negative situations or to other people. This may be difficult at first, but it is a mindset shift which can be hugely satisfying. Responding with kindness, for example, removes ourselves from the negativity which may otherwise affect us and stay with us as we go about our business. Tuning inward and listening to how we are feeling and reacting to things as the holidays draw closer is a useful tool which can help us to slow down. A calm approach to a chaotic period can prove invaluable for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Accepting what is

This period is also a time to let go of old patterns. While it may not be helpful to set unrealistic expectations for the new year, it is a time when we can celebrate the year we’ve had and say goodbye to it as we look forward to a fresh start. Rather than feeling like we need to get everything perfect in time for the holidays, we can simply let things go and appreciate this time for what it is. Avoiding burn out at this time means being realistic about what we can achieve and what we want for ourselves over the holidays. Living in the moment can help to address any unrealistic expectations, allowing us to focus on the here and now, and appreciate the present moment without worrying about the future or ruminating about the past.

Being more grateful

Counting our blessings is something that should be a part of our routine, but for many, it is all too easy to get caught up in the scarcity mindset. It is easy to feel like we are not doing enough, we don’t have enough, or even that we are not enough, but this mindset is damaging and will only lead to negativity. Researchers have proven time and time again that being mindful and grateful of all that we have is one of the most beneficial ways of increasing our happiness levels. Our possessions tend to have minimal effect on our mood and wellbeing, despite what advertisements may want us to believe. At a time when gift-giving is part of a long-held tradition, distancing ourselves from any emotional attachment to such things can be difficult. Learning to be mindful of how we react when purchasing or receiving gifts can be a curious exercise. Of course, we need not feel guilty about gifts either, but certainly, a healthy and balanced approach can help to keep things in perspective.

Dealing with feelings and memories

Experiencing contradictory feelings around the holiday period is natural. A lot is going on, and a whole range of emotions may crop up. It is often a time when we may reunite with friends or family whom we have not seen in a while, we may settle in old traditions, and we may have to deal with specific scenarios which we would otherwise avoid. Memories can emerge associated with the holidays which may be joyous or painful or both. Guilt or grief can also be challenging to deal with at a time that is portrayed as being the most joyful part of the year. Awareness and reduced judgment can help to make this time more bearable. Self-compassion is also essential as it helps us to react kindly to any of our inner experiences no matter how difficult they seem at first. Being mindful and compassionate can help us to distance ourselves from unwanted attachments or difficult memories. Recognising our thoughts as just thoughts can also go some way as to avoid getting ourselves into negative thought patterns.  Whenever we experience something difficult, we can stop, take a deep breath, observe what is happening at the moment and choose to proceed in a kinder manner and more in line with the person we want to be instead of reacting on automatic pilot.


The holiday season, while an important celebration, is similar to many others throughout the year, which we have learned to associate with various rituals, expectations and traditions. It is up to us how we spend our holidays. And if we find ourselves having to go along with certain things we would rather avoid, then it is up to us how we react. Being mindful can help bring perspective to a time which can be overwhelming, chaotic, anti-climactic and fleeting. Mindfulness can be hugely helpful in providing a more realistic and balanced outlook on this period. Mindfulness is a simple but effective process that can ease a great deal of emotional and mental turmoil, allowing us more space to feel happiness and joy. As stated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is simply “awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” This holiday season, try and remember to be mindful, no matter how hectic things may get. Remember that you are responsible for how you react to situations, and for protecting your own peace of mind. Mindfulness is just a useful tool to be used in achieving such things.

Filipe Bastos

About the author

Through my personal experiences, I have always held a strong interest in human suffering and satisfaction; this greatly influenced my career path. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy before completing a master’s degree in psychology at Regent’s University London. I then completed a postgraduate diploma in philosophical counselling before being trained in ACT(Acceptance and commitment therapy). I've spent the last seven years studying the encounter of meditative practices with modern psychology. I've found that besides the known benefits meditation can bring to our lives, such as reduced stress and anxiety, improved quality of sleep, decreased blood pressure; the greatest benefit of meditation is the possibility to feel at peace, despite the external circumstances of our lives.

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