Do you often run around in December trying to wrap up multiple experiments in the lab, organizing files, or maybe analyzing last-minute data for a final meeting before the holidays?
Do you feel a bit overwhelmed thinking about the plans for Christmas dinners or gatherings and meeting friends for one last time before travelling home? Or you might think of which presents to buy and what to pack for the holidays?
All these things combined might be quite a heavy load in the mind. And it is normal because we tend to be tired at the end of the year and less patient to deal with everything we need to take care until we can enjoy our holidays.
To help you wrap up your year and prepare the year to come with a calm and clear mind, I am bringing you 15 tips I use to try to be more present, grounded, and relaxed at this and other challenging times.
We all have heard about mindfulness and meditation and its benefits for mental health and brain function, which are more and more studied. Mindfulness is very much about being self-aware and observing our body, feelings, sensations, and emotions as much as we can. It is about being present in every moment, observing others and what is around us with curiosity, with a “child’s mind”, which is always open to something new without judging. It is also about practicing self-compassion towards us and others in the sense that we become aware of our reactions and triggers and we realize more easily that they do not define us, they are rather impermanent states we go through.
After this brief introduction, I leave you my 15 tips to be more mindful in your last days of the year and, who knows, you will create new habits for 2022? I hope you like it and you can navigate December with a smile on your face, despite any unexpected events that might come on your way. Afterall, Christmas is one of the most wonderful times of the year, so let’s prepare to live it with our hearts open to give and receive love.
#1 As you wake up, focus on how you breathe. Instead of allowing your thoughts to immediately create a story about your day in your head as you wake up, take a few deep breaths and observe how you feel as you wake up. Tired? Tense? Relaxed? Content? Avoid judging, simply observe. This practice will help you calm your mind and avoid feeding your thoughts first thing in the morning. It will also help you learn about your breathing as you wake up and help you observe how it shifts during the day, when you pay attention to it again.
#2 Read a few lines of a book in the morning. This practice has helped me to start the day focused on something I enjoy reading and distracts my mind from starting to plan the day in my head. I suggest a book which is easy to read, some short stories, or even poems, if you like the format.
#3 Journal for a few minutes first thing in the morning (or any other time of the day). Write down all those things that immediately come to your mind: it could be tasks, thoughts, how you feel. This practice helps you to empty your mind as you wake up and is a good tool to leave thoughts aside as you start the day. To make it a positive experience, you can also think of 2-3 things you are grateful for, so you start the day on a positive note. Journaling, in general, is a great tool to help you organize your thoughts and ideas, to help you reflect on how you feel, or how you handle certain situations. It has definitely helped me to be more at peace with my mind.
#4 Focus on your breathing and body while you drink your coffee or tea. Most of us have a coffee in the morning but how often do you really enjoy that moment without thinking about something or perhaps looking at your smartphone? Drinking coffee could be a great opportunity to be mindful and present for a few minutes, making it a more relaxing experience.
#5 Connect to your body and senses while eating. Eating is another action we practice more than once a day but when we are normally distracted. Being mindful while eating allows us to focus on the present moment and to perceive better the food’s taste and texture, to realize how much we chew our food and to have a better perception of our satiety.
#6 Practice meditation regularly. A meditation practice is key to help us connect to our breathing and body. And the more we connect with our body, the freer our mind feels. I suggest you find a time in the day, either in the morning or in the evening, so you can create a routine. I enjoy lighting a candle to help me ground and prepare. My meditation practice has helped me to develop a more conscious way of breathing, using my diaphragm and not only my chest, and this way identify more easily when I am becoming anxious and breathing in a more superficial manner. There are several guided meditation apps you can use, which are a great way to get you started. Just try and show up every day, even if it feels hard. The more you practice, the lighter you will feel in your mind!
#7 Take a few minutes everyday to do something you love doing, for as small as it can be. When we do something we love, we tend to be very focused, in a state of flow. This is great to make us being present in the moment and shut down our mind. A few examples I remember are drawing, knitting, playing a music instrument, photographing, taking care of my plants.
#8 Observe what is around you when you walk outside or when you travel in a public transport. It is amazing how many things we miss when we focus on our phones or on our thoughts instead of the landscape around us as we travel or walk around. So, when you leave home to work, try to notice what you see on your way: a detail of a tree, a building with a funny colour or design, the people who are passing by, perhaps some birds? When we focus on this, we learn more about our surroundings and shut down our mind for a few minutes.
#9 Exercise often and mindfully. Exercise is a great source of energy to our body but it needs to be motivating and adapted to our energy levels so we can benefit from it on the long term. Choose an activity you enjoy doing, be it running, practicing yoga, going for a fitness class, anything that helps you burn that stagnated energy or simply gain a lighter one. Don’t forget to listen to your body and appreciate how it feels before, during and after your practice instead of feeding your thoughts while you are working out. Exercise will help you feel lighter and tired in a good way, and you will sleep better and feel renewed for the days after.
#10 Take several short breaks during your working day to keep you energized. In these breaks you can simply stand up and move your body a bit, you can grab a coffee/tea, you can go outside and get fresh air. Pair up with a colleague so you can both be accountable and make it happen. Don’t forget to connect to your body and to your breathing as much as you can during those minutes so the break has a positive effect on your mind and focus abilities. You know your work is there waiting for you, so just focus on your break and when you return, who knows if new ideas will come up?
11# Take a different route on your way home and observe what you learn about that path. Changing routines now and then is a good way to refresh the mind. Again, focus on what is around you with curiosity and you will see how much you learn about your new path, while you rest your mind.
12# Spend time in nature. Spending time outdoors, be it in the forest, next to a lake, in the mountains or at the beach, will help you to recycle your energy and feel lighter. I always feel good and light after a walk outside in the nature. You must try to feel it.
13# Meet a friend and listen with no judgement. Listening to someone is a perfect mindfulness practice as we must be fully present. It is a wonderful gift to others but often not easy to practice because we easily get lost in our thoughts about the conversation and we tend to react by sharing our view on that same topic. This Christmas season, try to be mindful when you meet a friend or a family member by observing carefully how they behave, how they are dressed, which body language they use and what they are saying. Ask questions to clarify potential unclear points and make them feel heard. At the same time, observe any feelings or emotions that the conversation has on you, again without judging. Hopefully you will have better conversations and leave your thoughts behind with this tip.
14# Dance freely to your favorite song. Dancing or simply shaking your body (with feet steady on the ground) is a great tool to release stagnated energy on those days when we come home and our mind is full. If you don’t have the motivation to go to the gym or for a run when this happens, try to turn on a song you like and dance freely to it. Just listen to the music and allow your body to move as it feels better. Observe how you feel, if any emotions arise, if any parts of the body are stiffer. One simple dance can make miracles, believe me!
15# Take conscious breaths often. Breathing consciously has been one of the most valuable things I have learned and that I practice often. It is something so simple and totally free and accessible to helps us grounding ourselves in the present moment. To go one step further, try a breathwork session where specific and long breathing exercises are taught and practiced. You will testify how breathing can have such a profound effect in your mind.
Post written by Ana Amaral, KI alumni.