Mindfully manage your holidays

Welcome to the most wonderful time of the year… except when it’s not. For as much beauty and love this season holds, the holidays are also full of busyness, sensory overload, and unrealistic expectations. It can overwhelm the best of us. Chicago’s Chill Meditation + Massage instructors offer some tips for managing holiday stress with mindfulness and intention.

Be gentle with yourself

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For too many, the holidays simply shine a light on our loneliness and loss. If you’re grieving, your usual traditions can be difficult. Give yourself permission to evolve them or create new ones entirely. Chill meditation instructor Rhonda Duffaut shares, “Loss can present itself in many different forms, not just permanent loss. Nevertheless, the change we experience can feel permanent. It can feel like emptiness. Choose the memories on which you'd like to meditate. Gathering memories you'd like to keep and creating new experiences during this holiday season can help fill the hole left behind so that it no longer seems quite so empty. It fills up and becomes whole.”

Focusing on others, perhaps through volunteer work, can also be a way to lessen feelings of isolation or loneliness. Intentionally doing for others and incorporating a loving-kindness meditation into your practice may help you navigate these next few weeks.

When it’s just. too. much.

The crowds, the noise, the traffic can put our nervous system into overdrive. Especially in Chicago, where we natives welcome an onslaught of tourists during the holidays. To combat sensory overload, Chill meditation instructor and yogi Erica Bray shares, “I keep a peppermint-lavender essential oil stick in my purse. It's extremely useful during the swirl of the holiday season. When I feel myself getting anxious or unsettled, I'll roll it on my temples, close my eyes and inhale-exhale deeply for a few breaths. The scent coupled with concentration on my breathing -- if even for a few breath cycles -- is deliciously soothing.”

When your senses seem to overflow, put them to work. Enjoy at least one thing each day with your senses — a cup of hot chocolate, a scented candle, holiday music. Even the sound and feel of wrapping gifts can be meditative. Erica suggests, “Instead of blindly wrapping Christmas presents for my loved ones, or doing so in a rush, I set aside a special time to wrap each one with love and creativity for the gift receiver. Each crease made, each decorating decision decided -- I give it my full attention.”

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Self-care is not selfish

We’re all in favor of January goal-setting but don’t set yourself up for a rough post-holiday road. Celebrations have already started, but it’s never too late to infuse mindfulness at mealtime. Chill’s General Manager Darrell Jones offers, “I let myself have a cookie or other treat. I take a deep breath before picking it up. This supports me in enjoying what I have, but not being tempted to eat treat after treat.”

Travel and special occasions inevitably keep us from our routine this time of year. The cornerstone of maximum sanity is sleep. Whether your stress stems from checking off gift lists or meeting end-of-year goals at work, the first thing that often falls away is sleep. When we’re overtired, we overreact, overeat, and overspend.  Our goal should be 7-9 hours each night. To help in that endeavor, stop eating a couple hours before bedtime and store your phone somewhere other than your nightstand. Should you need a little extra help taming nightly brain spin, join our rest meditation classes on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Snoozing is always encouraged.

Putting it into practice

The beautiful thing about your breath is that it’s always with you. You can meditate anywhere. Chill instructor Steven Andrew recommends a complete breathing meditation for holiday stress:

“Begin with a complete exhalation to ensure the abdomen is relaxed.  Upon inhalation, aim to expand the abdomen in all directions. After your pelvis and abdomen fill, your chest should expand passively as the breath fills it. Your collar bones lift and expand as the breath fills the upper chest and throat area.  When your lungs are full, exhale in reverse order from the top of the lungs to the bottom of the lungs; from the center of your throat to the center of your heart to the center of your navel. Finally, contract the abdominal muscles in to remove all your air. Repeat this exercise as many times as you’d like.”

Steven explains this exercise promotes physical, spiritual, and mental health. A necessary trifecta for keeping our composure this season! Balancing your system improves stamina, increases focus and concentration, prevents insomnia, relaxes the nervous system, improves immune and respiratory system functionality, and reduces stress and anxiety. What a gift!

You deserve to enjoy this time of year for everything it’s meant to be. Perfection is overrated. Set your own intentions and realistic expectations for what you want to get out of this season. In the meantime, everyone at Chill wishes you calm and fulfilling celebrations!