Stress can happen at any time of year, but the holiday season makes many people anxious. Mindfulness can help ease the stress.
Are you feeling stressed? We all are sometimes. It’s normal. Some stress can even be helpful, motivating you to finish a task or meet your goals. Too much stress, though, can be a health hazard, affecting both mental and physical well-being. Stress can interfere with sleep, for example, and sleep deprivation is a risk factor for all kinds of medical conditions. And the holiday season—which seems to last from Halloween through New Year’s—can be especially rough.
You might be excited to see family and friends whom you haven’t seen for a while. . .and sad at not being able to see others who live far away or have passed away. You might look forward to holiday parties, but feel anxious over what to wear, what to bring, and what to eat (or not eat). If you’re on your own over the holidays, there’s the stress of loneliness. But if you’re forced to spend time with family members you don’t get along with, there’s the stress of togetherness. And then there are all those gifts to buy!
A survey conducted a few years before the pandemic found that 62% of people who responded described their stress level as “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays. Only 10% reported no stress during the season. (Who are these people??) If anything, inflation and the threat of respiratory diseases like COVID and RSV have only made that stress worse since the survey.
The trick isn’t to avoid stress completely—that’s impossible. Far better is to learn how to deal with it in a healthy way. Sure, there are prescription pills you can take if you’re feeling stressed or anxious. But there’s also an effective way to deal with stress that doesn’t involve any medication at all. It’s called mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the state of being fully in the present moment. When you’re mindful, you’re aware of where you are and what you’re doing and acknowledging—without judgment--the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations you’re experiencing at that time.
It sounds so simple—we’re all aware of what we’re doing, right? But it actually takes some practice to be able to clear your mind enough not to let your thoughts wander, worrying about something that happened in the past or might happen in the future.
Studies show how effective mindfulness can be at improving emotional well-being and reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. Practicing mindfulness helped study participants better cope with chronic pain. And a 2022 study found mindfulness-based stress reduction as effective as a commonly prescribed antidepressant in managing symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Ways to be mindful
The most well-known ways of practicing mindfulness are through yoga or meditation, and many older adults have taken up these practices as a means of relaxation and stress relief. Approximately 13% of Americans aged 65 and older meditate. And an estimated 7% of U.S. adults over 65 now practice yoga.
To learn meditation or yoga techniques, you can take a class, watch online videos, or download an app (Headspace and Calm are popular ones.) Many community centers or adult education programs offer classes, too.
But there are many other ways to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating, for example, simply means taking the time to really notice what’s on your plate. Pay attention to the sight, the aroma, and the taste and texture of your food. Savor each bite rather than just putting fork to mouth while reading or watching television.
Even easier is learning to pause—just stop what you’re doing and pause—several times during each day. As Lisa Thomas Prince, manager of the University of Wisconsin Health Mindfulness Program told Real Simple: “Just like the pause button we use when listening to music or watching a show, we can pause in the midst of whatever we’re doing and take note, even for a brief few seconds, of more of what’s happening in and around us.”
Here are a few more things you can try to see if mindfulness can help you have the most relaxed holidays ever:
Sit comfortably. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths. And then take about three minutes to mentally scan your body, starting at the top of your head and moving down, noticing any sensations, aches, pains, or other discomforts. The goal isn’t to try and change anything, just to check in with your body and be aware of how you feel.
There are many different breathing exercises to help reduce stress, and the most basic is simply to take slow, deep breaths in and out, focusing on the air entering and leaving your body. Some people find that counting breaths helps keep their mind from wandering. Others focus on the sensation as their chest or belly rises and falls with each breath.
Keeping a journal can be a mindfulness practice, but not if you’re just generally chronicling your day. Instead, try keeping a gratitude journal, which helps keep you aware of the things you’re thankful for each day. Or just spend some time doodling and coloring in your journal.
Walking can be a form of meditation if you focus on your surroundings and pay attention to each of your steps, how you feel, how you’re breathing, etc. While it can be done anywhere, walking in nature—a wooded area, a park, or even a golf course—is especially conducive to mindfulness.
The time you devote to practicing mindfulness is up to you. You could try a week-long retreat, a class that meets several times a week, or just take a few minutes each day to try a few of the techniques mentioned above. Practiced consistently over a few weeks, mindfulness should help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and increase resilience. Start now, and you might get to enjoy the most relaxing holiday season you’ve had in a long time.
Stressing about Medicare?
Choosing a Medicare plan can feel overwhelming, and it just adds to the end-of-year stress. ClearMatch licensed sales agents can answer your questions and help you find the right policy for your needs and budget. They can explain the differences between Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage.
One difference? Meditation and yoga classes are not covered by Original Medicare. An exception may be made if the yoga class is prescribed and billed as a therapeutic procedure, like physical therapy. This is not common.
Many Medicare Advantage plans provide coverage for fitness classes or gym memberships, which may include yoga classes. To compare plans in your area, check out our easy-to-use Find a Plan tool.
- ClearMatch Medicare: Find a Medicare Plan
- Real Simple: “How to Try Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – Without a Fancy Meditation Retreat”
- Journal of the American Medical Association: “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs. Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults with Anxiety Disorders”
- Headspace: headspace.com
- Calm: calm.com