The Holidays are always a time of celebration, but they can also prove to be a time of increased stress. Cooking, cleaning, visiting with family and friends you may not have seen in a while, and all sorts of preparations can lead to little free time; and as much as we enjoy the time we have with our loved ones, it is important to remember to take time for ourselves. Even just a few, focused moments can make a big difference in our moods, attitudes and sense of peace. Feeling peaceful and relaxed is a gift to yourself, and everyone you come in contact with over the holiday season.
Taking the time to focus on the moment is a practice of mindfulness. In short, being mindful means taking the time to check in with yourself, sometimes for as little as two minutes. You can practice mindfulness in simple moments, like while you are standing at the counter, ready to dive into a sink full of dirty dishes. It is in these moments that we can just pause, take a couple slow, deep breaths and tune into our bodies: let all thoughts be still to just the task at hand.
- Relax your shoulders, relax your forehead, cheeks and chin
- Listen to the sounds in your house or focus on the smells
- Breathe deeply and slowly
- Be present to where you are and present to what is
- Bring your mind to the moment…for just a couple minutes
- Set aside the “to do” list running through your mind.
With your deep breathing and your relaxed mind and body, you can actually slow your heart rate and even feel more energized and productive.
The term “mindfulness meditation” can be a bit intimidating, but you can begin your practice just as described above. Some people like to use the privacy of the restroom for a couple moments to calm themselves, and to focus on their breathing before they rejoin the busy world. You can also make use of your time in stopped traffic, standing in a check-out line, or while waiting for houseguests to arrive.
One of my colleagues described mindfulness as being present to life and being a witness to it, a bystander watching things unfold. This is where the attitude piece comes in—as you watch life unfold, you hold acceptance and curiousness about it; you are free of expectations, judgments and required outcomes. This type of attitude can be the more challenging aspect of mindfulness. Most of us are pretty attached to how we think things ought to be, or ought to appear. With mindfulness, you learn to let those expectations go.
Take the time to stop and breathe…this is an excellent way to start…you will feel calmer and may find there is more time in the day to get done what you want to do. You may find you are kinder to yourself and others. With practice, you may find your calm state has slowed your heart rate and lowered your blood pressure. We are even learning more about how a calm peaceful state enhances your immune system. So in this season of giving and spending time with loved ones, remember that the gift of health is the best gift that you can give.
Because it all begins with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection of diseases that affect women the most; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.