5 Ways to Stay Mindful this Holiday Season

Written by Maggie Gentry Miller

It’s no secret, the holidays are a stressful time for most. It’s a time when our calendars are booked solid, which often means our routines get thrown out of whack, which then leads to feelings of complete dysregulation. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can take back control over our lives and the busyness that swarms us during this time of year.

Here are the five things I’m practicing this holiday season to stay more mindful, and I hope they may serve as a sweet reminder that you can do this, too.

1. Get clear on what you need.

And I don’t mean those things that are filling your wish list. If you know that a particular situation is triggering for you, then take some time before you step into the fire to really evaluate what it is that allows you to show up fully, and take the time to make any necessary preparations. Use the days and weeks before you leave to observe yourself, your feelings, and your actions.

When do you feel your best? What activities make you feel calm? Which ones trigger something for you?

Make notes on your observations. You may notice that you feel your best when you take a walk first thing in the morning. You may notice that you no longer can handle as many alcoholic drinks as you used to. You may notice that you’re feeling insecure and tender about your current work situation, and you get triggered each time someone asks you the inevitable question at any social gathering, “So… what do you do?

Once you have a better idea of what things make you feel your best, which ones send you into a shame spiral, and anything in between, it’s now time to prepare by setting appropriate boundaries. These boundaries should serve the purpose of bolstering the activities that fuel you, and repel those that drain you.

When you’ve decided what those boundaries are, share them with appropriate people so that they can support you. Have a vocal family member with differing political views that likes to spark arguments and you really don’t want to engage this year? Text them before you see them that you prefer to not talk politics this holiday, and when they bring it up in person, be prepared to shut it down and redirect the conversation. You might even want to share this intention with other family members who can help support you in establishing and maintaining this boundary if that one person continues to try and instigate something.

If you know you love walking in the morning, tell your partner, friends, family, or whomever you may be staying with over the holidays that you will be doing so each morning. Do you prefer to walk alone, or would you welcome company? These are all things to consider and share openly and unapologetically.

If you are not used to doing so, being assertive and stating what you need can feel really scary. However, there is so much power in honoring your needs and owning up to it. No longer will you feel the weight of resentment for everyone else getting to do what they want, and the freedom that comes from standing up for yourself is one of the best gifts you can continue to give yourself.

2. Practice pausing.

This is something I’m working on every single day, and it can be especially helpful this time of year since there is a lot of pressure to do #allthethings. Allowing ourselves to simply pause amidst the chaos is a powerful gift. It only takes 12 deep breaths to begin to physiologically calm the nervous system and slow the heartbeat.  That’s roughly 90 seconds of slow, steady inhales and exhales through the nose. We can certainly find a few 90-second intervals throughout the day.

Specifically for the holiday season, I want to bring attention to mindful gifting. In regards to mindful gifting, let’s all acknowledge the immense pressure we put on ourselves to do this right. We want to show appreciation for our friends, family, and those in our support system, but does buying a quick gift simply to check someone off our list really have the impact we want? And in doing so, are we simply forcing ourselves to buy something because it’s convenient rather than really thinking about what the person might really enjoy AND really use?

Let’s pause before we begin buying gifts for those on an ever-growing list that may put us in financial jeopardy. And let’s also remember this: attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. So many instead of individual gifts this year, are you able to make something? Or do you open your home for a festive night of hot cocoa and meaningful conversations with friends? There are ways for us to get creative in how we show our love that doesn’t contribute to mass consumerism and wasteful gifting.

Consider this: What do you do when someone gives you something, but you don’t have a gift in return? This situation can be fraught with an awkward tension, and then we feel the pressure to reciprocate with an equally thoughtful gift. But where do we go to buy the gift? And what if money is already tight? And then we need to schedule another friend date during an already packed season to give it to them? It’s enough to turn into a tizzy in a matter of seconds.

So what if instead, we received that gift with a full heart that exudes gratitude back to the person? In that moment, we can choose gratitude over comparison. And maybe the most generous thing we can do is take the time to write a genuine, heartfelt thank you note and mail that as our gift this year.

As you do consider shopping this season, I do encourage you to shop small. There are so many small businesses creating remarkable goods, many of whom rely on this time of year to bring in the bulk of their business for the year! Every time you shop small, you are contributing to that local economy and truly making that person’s day, or week, or year.

3. Allow gratitude to flow abundantly.

Speaking of gift giving, feelings of lack are apt to run rampant this time of year. We see all the advertisements for the things we want. We see others getting all the fancy presents, trips, and whatever else that we think we want. There are thousands of people working behind the scenes to ensure that we are seeing all of these things that make us think that we need them. And we have a choice not to engage.

It can begin by limiting your exposure to social media, radio, TV, or wherever you typically find yourself getting sucked into that wormhole, and you can begin a gratitude practice in that moment. That moment in which you find yourself feeling down about what you don’t have, bring to mind three things that you are grateful for. It might be the hot cup of coffee you had this morning, the driver that created space for you to turn left out of your apartment complex on the way to work this morning, and the warm coat on your back. Once you begin this gratitude practice in those moments, you’ll notice the desire for the thing that triggered you before has less potency.

Focusing on the good has real power, and I encourage you to explore the magic that follows when you put your energy toward showing more gratitude.

4. Be kind to yourself.

Regardless of what the specifics are, it’s hard to not feel like you’re coming up short in one area or another during the end of the year. You’re supposed to be at all the things, and do all your reflection for 2018 and planning for 2019, and be healthy, and practice gratitude, and implement all of this advice… it can be exhausting.

All this to say, you may get off track, and that is OK. We are only human, after all. Find compassion for yourself even if things go awry, and find your way back to your center. If you take a mis-step, eat more than you thought, drank more than you wanted, committed to too much, spent too much, or whatever else it may be, don’t allow self-pity to swallow you whole and keep you hostage.

You may free yourself by simply finding your way back to homeostasis. Start by listening to whatever your body and soul are asking for in that moment, and do that. Take that walk in the afternoon, drink more water, eat a salad, shorten your gift list, cancel your plans tonight. And most importantly, make that decision and then relish in the fact that you gave yourself exactly what you needed, and that is bold, powerful medicine for all of us, my friend.

5. Gift yourself time for reflection (and dreaming!).

Historically, the winter season was a time for tuning inward and honoring the darker, quieter days. With the advent of electricity and modern technology, many of us don’t live in accordance with the seasons like we once did, but one way we can do so is to find moments of quiet and calm to reflect on the past year and spend time dreaming up what we wish to call in for the next one. Two of my favorite resources are:

  1. Unravel Your Year by Susannah Conway, and

  2. 2019 Year Ahead Planning Bundle by Yours Truly (specifically for all you business owners out there).

Bonus tip: Find the joy!

This time of year, as with each day we breathe new life, let’s focus on finding the joy and having fun! Despite the stress that the holiday season inevitably brings to so many, it is also a time of year when many gather together with family and friends. Enjoy these moments. Breathe them in. Take note of something new in the mundane and revel in the beauty of it. We truly do have so much to be grateful for.

If you’re feeling like you’d enjoy someone to talk to if things are getting tough, or you’d like some support as you dream up what’s to come in 2019, or anything in between… let’s connect! Sign up for a free, 30-minute chat with me during my Virtual Office Hours.


Maggie Gentry Miller is the owner of MaggieGentry.com and founder of the Own Your Why®: Community. She helps entrepreneurs who are standing at a pivotal moment in their business and who are ready to make that meaningful shift with their eyes, mind, and heart open. Her unique approach blends business coaching, marketing consulting, and loads of compassion so that you walk away with a framework to grow your business in a way that feels perfectly tailored to you. She is also the co-founder of Mindful Moments ATX, a self-care event series for women and non-binary folks working to establish their own wellness rituals. Maggie's a South Austin gal who recently completed her 200-hour yoga teacher certification, always has a few books from the Austin Public Library on her bookstand, and takes way too many Instagram Stories of her cat Waffles.

Chelsea Francis