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How to Be Present Instead of Buying Presents This Holiday Season

Let us focus our attention on a simpler time, 2006 to be exact, prior to the invention of the iPhone. Back when meals with friends and family were more about being together and less about taking selfies of our food. We called our family on phones that were in the house, in some cases attached to walls and if we missed them, we would leave a message to be returned later that day or week. Holiday cards were thoughtfully handwritten and required the person writing to take the time to mindfully think about each person as they wrote a personal note and addressed the envelope. Perfection? Doubtful. Certainly a simpler time.

Am I suggesting you break up with your smartphone? Not exactly. However, if you are seeking a less stressful holiday season, you might consider being mindful of the impact your phone and other modern habits has on good old-fashioned communication and your relationships.

How present are you during the holiday season? Do you feel so stressed and anxious that you are unable to enjoy time with family and friends? You are not alone if you said yes.

Here are a few ideas of how you and your loved ones can enjoy a more mindful holiday season.

Notice What is Good

When someone does something nice, such as: a child smiles and waves at you, your neighbor helps you take your packages in your house, or an old friend called out of the blue and left a nice message. Allow yourself to take a moment so those positive feelings sink in. Give yourself permission to sit with those feelings and truly experience the joy of another person’s kindness.

Sometimes it truly is the little things that make life so rich. It used to be that when we were standing in line, or at the bus stop, waiting for a child to get out of school we would talk to the humans standing next to us. Sometimes it was small talk about the weather, sometimes it was deeper. Even those chats acknowledging we needed rain was a chance for connection, and on occasion those kind words or a smile from another person would unknowingly brighten our moods.

Take Time to Observe

The holiday season is a wonderful time to stop and take a moment to remind ourselves of all that we are thankful for — we forget at times, these reminders are there every day if we choose to observe. So much is happening in an instant, if we look up and observe, watch other people, animals or nature you might just witness something wonderful.

Not in the mood to observe? That is OK. Did you know there is no documented case of a human dying of boredom? It is OK to be bored; it is actually wonderful for our brains to have a moment to think — not watch a video or speak with a friend on speaker in the bathroom stall.  Just think, or don’t — either way, your brain will thank you (not to mention the person in the next bathroom stall).

Stay Present With Others

When you are with a person, give them your full attention. We have all seen the couple out on a date, heads down, back lit by the glow of their phones. Ever feel sorry for them? Have you ever been that couple? Technology just might be the one thing that keeps us from being present with those we love.

Consider trying this: Ask your friends and family to consider “checking” their phones in a central location during holiday meals so you can savor the food and company. Hosting? Great! Make a request ahead of time with your guests by explaining mealtime will be a “no-phone zone,” and explain you are doing this because you value each guest and their time and wish to celebrate each other. When you are with loved ones, be present with them. Look at them when they are speaking, listen to them as if they are the only ones in the room. Active listening is mindful and shows you care.

Stop “Should-ing” All Over Yourself

The holiday season for some is a season of one obligation after another. Trying to please everyone and live up to impossible expectations can lead to feelings of resentment and exhaustion. Instead of trying to please everyone with the perfect gift, mindfully observe how your feelings of things you “should” do are affecting you. Take the time and space to be present with your feelings, identify what you want and need this holiday and then ask for it. It is the rare person who wishes to run from store to store trying to locate an ideal gift.

Still not feeling it? It might be more than stress. As much as some people look forward to this time of year, for others it is a time of struggle. Be kind to yourself, be present with your feelings and do not judge yourself. Reach out and ask for help, if you need.

This time of year can be particularly stressful for people who have challenging family dynamics or have recently experienced a break up, the death of a loved one or another loss. People may find themselves feeling sad or blue most of the time and for those who worry, they may notice that they are worrying more than usual. The additional pressure and responsibilities that come with this time of year coupled with shorter days and decreased sunlight can have a negative impact on one’s ability to sleep at night and/or increase the desire to isolate from friends and family.

If you are experiencing any of the above situations or feelings, or if you feel this time of year is especially difficult for you, know you are not alone. Please reach out for professional help: you are worth it.

Getty image via RomoloTavani.