The Gift of This Moment

This time of year gets pretty busy. There are family functions, work parties, and school events. I have food to prepare, cards to send and shopping to do. Throw in some unpredictable weather and you have a perfect recipe for holiday stress. Lately I find myself attached to the calendar and to-do list on my phone, checking, adding or marking off items as I go. I’m constantly reviewing what needs to get done, and planning how and when I’m going to do it. I have to admit that I feel frantic at times, because my mind and energy are all wrapped up in what needs to happen next.

I’m starting to realize that the constant planning and thinking aren’t really helping me stay organized. It is actually making me feel more stressed out! When I worry about the next 6 items on my to-do list while I’m doing the first thing, I find myself scattered and distracted. I am not as efficient, and may wander the aisles instead of going directly to what I need. When I have my head bent over my phone to check my list I may even run into something (yes, I’ve done this. Don’t judge…) Multi-tasking is not increasing my productivity, and dividing my attention between this moment and the future isn’t reducing my stress, it’s making it worse.

Many people get to the end of the holiday season and feel like it has passed in a blur. This is because a distracted mind doesn’t notice what’s happening right now. Imagine driving through the beautiful snowy scenery, all the while planning your list for Costco. Someone else in the car points out a brightly decorated tree, and you murmur mmmhmmm without really looking at it. Your mind is somewhere else, so you will not remember this drive later on. This may not have been a particularly memorable moment, but the same thing can happen when we are trying to enjoy ourselves with loved ones. If we aren’t present in this moment, we will not enjoy it fully or remember the details later.

The best plan to reduce holiday stress right now is to return to the present. Mindfulness brings us back to this moment, where we can handle each thing as it comes up without worrying about what comes next. Try these simple techniques any time you feel overwhelmed, disconnected or scattered.

1. Take things one at a time. Do one thing, complete it, then move on to the next thing on your list.
2. Single task. Do what you are doing, and nothing else. If you’re washing the dishes, just scrub and notice the temperature of the water and the scent of the soap. When you get distracted by thoughts or worries, gently let them go and return your attention to your activity.
3. Take time to pause and check in. Take a few moments in silence, just noticing the rise and fall of your breath. If you are out and about, open your awareness to all the sights around you. Notice each and every color you can see. Hear every sound coming into your ears.

The holidays don’t have to be frantic if we take them one moment at a time. Then we can focus on what really matters, and we will remember it all vividly later. This holiday season, take in the gift of the present moment, and enjoy every breath.