Reston Hospital Center - December 16, 2019

Stay in the moment and choose your focus

Colorful flashing lights, shopping, planning, visiting family and friends, travel, parties — the holidays are supposed to be enjoyable, but sometimes it can all get to be just too much. So how can we find our holiday joy when we’re rushing around, fighting crowds and thinking about a thousand things at once?

Try practicing mindfulness — training your brain to stay in the moment and choosing what to focus on — can help. Learning it can be challenging, but don’t give up. You owe it to yourself to learn this simple skill that can change your life. Research shows that mindfulness can reduce stress and anxiety, help with depression, improve active memory and cognition, and even reduce blood pressure and help with chronic pain. It can also help with relationships as we learn to listen actively and focus on the present moment. Here’s how to get started:

Use all five of your senses

For instance, when you eat, slow down and focus on the appearance, smell, taste and texture of the food. Take a second when you’re walking to your car or office to notice your surroundings — the sights, sounds and smells around you that you might ignore most of the time.

Let go of “shoulds”

Our expectations for ourselves and others can increase our stress and set us up for disappointment. Learn to recognize these thoughts and rephrase them to accept things as they are — even if they’re not always the way you planned or expected.

Be an active listener

When you’re talking to someone, try to hear what they’re really saying without assigning hidden meanings. Ask questions and repeat important points instead of making judgments or thinking about what to say next.

Stop and notice how you’re feeling, and ask yourself why you feel that way

Are you sad because the family can’t get together as they’ve done in years past? Are you irritated at the store clerk because you’re tired and worried about bills? Recognize your feelings and accept them, instead of ignoring them or trying to pretend you feel differently.

Stop multi-tasking

Do one thing at a time and focus on what you’re doing instead of letting your mind wander. When it wanders, gently bring it back to the present.

Try meditation

If you’ve tried before, try again. Take a few minutes each day, get comfortable and focus on your breathing — the rhythm, the feeling of your lungs filling and the air passing through your nose and airways. Don’t expect to be able to think about “nothing.” When your mind wonders — and it will — gently bring it back to your breathing. You can also try guided meditations available online or in person in your community.

Don’t think of mindfulness as the goal to be reached or something you have to do. Instead, consider it a way of being — awake, fully present, accepting things and events as they are instead of trying to force them to be a certain way or trying to feel a certain way. With time, you’ll find it gets easier — and you may find life in general gets a little easier too.