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Practice mindfulness to ease holiday stress

Financial or other stress may occur during the holidays.

Christina Rittenbach
Christina Rittenbach, extension agent, Family and Consumer Sciences division of the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Stutsman County.
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The holiday season is often referred to as the happiest time of year. Words like “joy” and “merry” are a part of the season and show up in songs, advertisements and decorations. However, we may not always feel joyful or merry as the holidays approach. For many, stressors abound this time of year.

Financial strain may cause stress as we try to purchase gifts for everyone on our list, shop for groceries for all of our holiday baking and cooking, and find just the perfect decorations to fill our homes with holiday cheer.

We may experience familial stress as we spend more time with extended family members — some of whom may not get along very well.

We might also overload our to-do list, trying to get everything done just in time for the holidays. This can also put quite a bit of strain on our mental well-being.

Unchecked stress can lead to a variety of physical, mental and emotional troubles. Headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, forgetfulness, irritability and anxiety are all potential symptoms of stress. If not properly managed, excessive or ongoing stress can lead to more serious problems.

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Fortunately, there are things we can do to help manage our stress before it gets out of control. Practicing mindfulness is one of those things. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a mindfulness expert, defines it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

Here are some mindfulness strategies that you might try as you start to notice yourself becoming stressed:

  • Mindful breathing. Pay close attention to your natural breath. Notice the movement of the air as you inhale the oxygen and exhale the carbon dioxide. Notice how it feels moving through your nose or mouth. As you breathe in, notice the beginning, middle and end of that breath. Notice the pause before you breathe out. Then notice the beginning, middle and end of your exhale. You can also pay attention to other things, like the expansion and retraction of your stomach as you breathe, or the sound the air makes as it goes in and out of your body. Do this as many times as you’d like.
  • The body scan. Get in a comfortable position either sitting or standing. Notice the way your body feels on the furniture or floor. Then bring awareness to one body part at a time, breathing in and out, imagining you are pulling your breath in through that body part and then pushing it out through that body part. Here is an order that you might like to use: left foot, left leg, right foot, right leg, abdomen/belly, upper body/chest/shoulders, back, hands/arms, head/face. Do at least three breaths for each body part. When you’ve finished, check in with your entire body to see if any areas have more stress or tension than others and may need a bit more attention.
  • Mindful walking. You can do mindful walking at any time — as you are walking as a part of your daily activities, or as a part of your exercise routine. Synchronize your breath with your steps as you walk. You can experiment with the rhythm and the number of steps you take with each inhale and exhale. Do not let your mind wander. Pay attention to your surroundings. Notice the air, the light, the people, the structures, etc. Appreciate these things as you notice them — we usually take them for granted!

For more information on stress management, contact Christina Rittenbach, NDSU Extension agent in Stutsman County, at christina.rittenbach@ndsu.edu or (701) 252-9030

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