Handling Holiday Stress

Take a look at three Mindfulness Tips for surviving the holiday season, even when you’re not having that much fun.

By Scott L. Rogers
Special to UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (November 27, 2013) — At the University of Miami Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative we are actively working with students, staff, and faculty to introduce mindfulness trainings and coordinate research exploring the enduring brain and behavior changes that may accompany mindfulness-training programs.

Below are three tips that introduce you to mindfulness and practices you may find helpful during the holidays and winter break.

The holiday season offers us many opportunities. As school responsibilities recede into the background, we are able to devote more of our time to more personal matters that have great meaning and allow us to feel a sense of accomplishment.

Think family, friends, charity, gifts, travel, projects, and sleep.

Yet, as we step into this season, full of expectation and with a smile on our face, it is likely we will run into situations that, from time to time, take the smile off our face as we grapple with disappointment, frustration, anxiety, and sadness.

Mindfulness exercises can be very helpful in dealing with some of these situations. Mindfulness influences not just our attitudes and moods, but the very core of who we are—our brains and bodies, and the vast complex of our cells and neurons, maybe even our DNA. It is the potency of mindfulness, not just to offer us relief in the moment, but to bolster our ability to be present for the unfolding of our lives in a way that is vibrant, optimistic, compassionate and wise, that has so many taking notice of this ancient practice.

Below are three mindfulness tips for the holiday season—tips to help with stress reduction, family connection, and working with tender emotions.

Tip No. 1: Stress Reduction
Practicing mindfulness will help you find greater ease amid daily stresses. Just five minutes a day can help smooth out some of the rough spots—without even trying.

The instruction is straightforward and easy to remember. Set a timer for five minutes so that you do not need to keep track of the time.

1. Find a comfortable place to sit.
2. Lower or close your eyes.
3. Bring your attention to the breath.
4. Follow your breathing.
5. When you find your attention wandering, bring it back to the breath.
6. When the timer goes off, lift your gaze or open your eyes.

Tip No. 2: Family Connection
Even though the holiday season is considered a joyous time to be with family and friends, things can get hectic.

If you find yourself becoming irritated by something someone is saying or asking of you, rather than overreacting with an undercurrent of agitated emotion, engage this two-part response: communicate (1) that you heard the person, and (2) would like a little time. Something like “I’m glad you shared your feelings. I’d like to take a little time/few minutes to give it some thought.” Then, find a room or head outdoors and practice the mindfulness exercise in Tip No. 1 for a few minutes. Doing so you will begin to break old patterns of reactivity and also insert a meaningful pause and perhaps alight on a better way of responding.

Tip No. 3: Working with Tender Emotions
The holiday season can be a paradox of emotionality. We might experience moments of great happiness and joy and also feel the tug of tender emotions that can leave us feeling confused or sad. An important mindfulness insight is that we are more than our thoughts, we are more than our feelings. What this means is that we can experience a sad thought or feel an emotional tug and, rather than get lost in it, we can notice and observe it arising within us. We can befriend this challenging emotion. And in doing so, we might create a little space between the arising of the emotion and the effect it has on us. That space is the space of freedom.

When you begin to feel a tender emotion rise in your body—or notice your thoughts begin to turn in this direction, practice the mindfulness exercise set forth in Tip No. 1 for a few moments. Even a three-minute practice of sitting and paying attention to your breath and body can begin to shift your mood, opening up room for a more diverse range of responses, allowing the moment to be as it is, like smiling amid the sadness, getting up and exercising, taking a brisk walk.

To learn more about mindfulness resources as well as the various trainings and research taking place at the University of Miami, contact Scott Rogers at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or visiting the Mindfulness Initiative’s website at www.mindfulness.miami.edu.

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Scott L. Rogers is a Lecturer in Law, founder and director of the Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami School of Law, and co-director of the University’s Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. He is the author of Mindfulness for Law Students: Applying the Power of Mindful Awareness to Achieve Balance and Success in Law School which is being used in law schools across the country, The Six-Minute Solution: A Mindfulness Primer for Lawyers, Mindful Parenting: Meditations, Verses and Visualizations for a More Joyful Life, and co-author of Mindfulness and Professional Responsibility A Guide Book for Integrating Mindfulness into the Law School Curriculum.


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