How to practice self-care and mindfulness during the holidays

Mother and sons looking at illuminated Christmas tree

As we embark on the busy holiday season, it’s easy to become stressed out by the extra demands on our time and energy. But instead of just getting swept along by the holiday frenzy, why not try to practice mindfulness to create the holidays you really want?

For the past 16 years, I’ve worked with high-stress groups to develop mindful health strategies to combat stress. Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, without judgment.

I created the “Mindfulness in Motion” program to research the mind-body connection of people who are particularly susceptible to stress, including health care professionals, college students, cancer survivors and primary caregivers. Today, we’ve expanded to the needs of first responders and members of the community.

Creating the holiday you want to have requires effort, intention and reflection.

For starters, think about what you need to create the holiday you want. This will be different for each person, and likely will vary year to year. Consider these four steps to help you achieve your goal (whatever that may be):


When you’re planning a holiday feast, you need to begin by making a list for what to buy at the grocery store. In the same way, if you want to be more deliberate about the holiday you want to have, you’ll need to envision the end result.

Ask yourself how you want to FEEL about your holiday season after it’s done. Do you want to feel joyful and relaxed? Or stressed out and glad that it’s finally over?

If you could envision yourself having the best holiday season ever, what would that look like? Would you spend more time with family and friends, and less time shopping?

2Deliberately plan

What do you need to PLAN in order to make your vision a reality? Just like the food you need to buy for your holiday feast, what are the activities that you need to plan and do to achieve your goal?

Think about what activity normally keeps you grounded during busy times, when you feel overwhelmed or overcommitted. How, when and where can you practice this?

For myself, I realized that I need to feel “caught up” with my work, yet I need to let go of things I cannot control. I also need to keep up my daily exercise, yoga and meditation practice in order to remain centered. For others, getting enough sleep or limiting social media or screen time may be what’s needed.

Be intentional with your self-care time, making sure to relax and rejuvenate.


What are the necessary things that you need to DO to make your holidays a success? For example, making sure you connect with those you love in a relaxed setting or not overscheduling activities.

Prioritize what’s important to you. Do you enjoy decorating your home or sending out holiday cards with personal notes? Or would you rather play board games with your family, volunteer at a soup kitchen or go on a vacation?

Would you continue your family traditions or scrap those that no longer bring you and your family joy? Think back to what you have envisioned. How do you need to act to bring that experience to fruition?


In REFLECTING upon your holiday seasons of the past, what elements do you want to keep and what do you want to avoid? Reviewing past holidays helped me become aware that connecting with friends and family is very important to me.

Reflect on what gives you joy and what gives those around you joy.

What gives you joy may not be the same thing that gives your partner or children joy. So be extra attentive to see what THEY really enjoy, as the enjoyment they experience may contain some holiday magic that you don’t want to miss.

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