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Mindfulness for the Season

Dec/17/2023 / by sweta-vikram

Simple practices to help you enjoy the holidays

Smiling South Asian woman wearing red Santa cap next to a Christmas tree
Photo via Shutterstock

Holidays can be lovely, but also stressful. Studies show that holidays can trigger anxiety and depression, even as they bring joy in people’s lives. No matter where you are in life or your situation, mindfulness practices can make your holiday season a bit more relaxing. 

Choose Kindness Even When It Feels Impossible

I am human and sometimes bad behavior triggers me. I fall into the trap of asking myself why mean people exist and good ones like my parents died early. I then consciously stop and remind myself that we have no control over who lives and who doesn’t.

Honestly, you can’t change how others act during the holiday season, but you can change how you respond to situations. I take a deep breath before I react or engage. The difficult person has their own suffering and that’s why they act unkind. I am not suggesting that you enable bad behavior. Instead, I’m sharing how I navigate unkindness from expected and unexpected corners. 

Eat Mindfully

I don’t like how our eating habits are challenged during the holiday season. I have a sweet tooth, so I have been on a no-white sugar detox since before Diwali. For three months now, I haven’t eaten desserts.

Yup, you read that right. No balooshahi or other decadent Indian sweets at Mayor Eric Adam’s Diwali Party. No mithai on Dussehra. No lemon meringue at the Ayurvedic Conference. No Diwali mithai bonanza (other than the besan laddoo prasad). No pies or carrot halwa or cheesecake or gujiya or crumbles or cookies or banana pudding at Thanksgiving dinners. No cake at my friend’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah either. My kryptonite is my cousin’s homemade pecan pie with Haagen-Dazs’s vanilla bean ice cream. I enjoyed a slice of it for Thanksgiving but that’s about it.

Accept People For Who They Are

People don’t change for anyone but themselves. If you accept this simple fact, you will be less disappointed. Don’t expect that introverted friend to become the light of the party, or the unsympathetic cousin to check in on you, or the alcoholic uncle to behave, or the self-centered colleague to have your back.

People are a byproduct of their environment, choices, relationships, genes, and so much more. Also, remember that everyone is dealing with their daily struggles, their untold stories, and unshared grief. If you start to accept people for who they are and adjust your expectations, you’ll be less perturbed and happier. 

Reconsider Your Resolutions

I am not a fan of cliches like “New Year, New Me”. It’s too much pressure on a person to evolve and perform within a specific time frame. Why not break your goals into tinier and more attainable steps, so it becomes a long-term lifestyle choice? For instance, instead of your goal being, “No junk or processed food in the New Year” maybe start by introducing more fruits and veggies into your diet throughout the year. Gradually, cut down on the white sugar and fast food.

Same thing with workouts—it doesn’t have to be from couch to marathon. Start with exercising thrice a week, slowly build your body and stamina, and then look at the bigger goals of running a 10K. Sometimes, people aren’t able to achieve their goals for a plethora of reasons. Let it go and be kind to yourself.

Accept Your Needs

If you need something, say it. Recognize what your triggers are to help you prepare for stressful situations. For example, old Hindi film music from my parents’ generation is a trigger for me. I am generally a happy person and designated entertainer at every party. But those songs make me sad and create a heaviness within. My cousin loves to play them as she cooks during the holidays. When we stayed with her over Thanksgiving, I shared with her that I would work on my deadlines when the old songs were playing. She shouldn’t have to change what soothes her, and I don’t need to traumatize myself either. 

Don’t Lose Sight Of What Really Matters

My husband is a very patient man, but he’s an impatient driver during our holiday travels. While I can understand his frustration with drunk, nasty, and reckless drivers, I use that moment to reflect on what’s still working. If we are safe, that matters.

My cousin had a new oven, which failed her at one of the Thanksgiving gatherings. She didn’t like the way her sweet potato soufflé turned out. Honestly, we all thought it was delicious and nourishing. I told her that people came together for love and warmth, and food is secondary. Then I shared how everyone was raving about the soufflé and her son made a meal out of it.

Become Best Buds With Gratitude

I teach, preach, and practice gratitude almost daily. But on some days, gratitude can feel distant and too much hard work. It’s not always obvious. To make it easier, in the smallest of things, look for gratitude.

At a Thanksgiving dinner, my older cousin’s friend’s daughters brought a board game. We had two generations doing word play and an R-rated prompt showed up. You should have seen the awkwardness and humor as each person came up with their interpretation of the prompt. Gosh, I haven’t laughed this hard in all of 2023. That night, I was grateful for laughter from unexpected corners.

Be Realistic

No one’s family is as happy as they are shown in commercials or portrayed in social media posts. No one is a superhuman and can put 30 dishes on the table with a smile on their face. Family gatherings include tension along with hugs and food.

And dinners with friends might bring up awkward conversations or untold secrets. A friend once confessed that he had proposed to his wife’s best friend and when she turned him down, he asked out her best friend (his wife now). That holiday dinner was very stressful and amusing.

My point: perfection is a myth and fictional happiness exists only in Lifetime and Hallmark movies.

“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” ~ Max Depree


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