Minding Holiday Anxiety by Engaging Your 5 Senses

Use Your 5 Senses to Handle Holiday Anxiety

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Holidays can be anxiety-provoking. For some, there are parties to attend, gifts to buy, and old friends and family to see. For others, it can be a lonely time, a reminder of loss or the bittersweet passage of time. In all cases, we can help ourselves (and those in our midst) by trying to slow things down a bit and striving for a peaceful state of being.

Getting there can be a journey of relinquishing high expectations of others, letting go of fixed vision of what happy looks like, or releasing harsh judgment of ourselves and our feelings. Engaging our five senses is one way to release the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that are not serving us well this season. In the days to come, try any or all of these suggestions to be more present, and more at peace with whatever presents your present provides.


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What do you see when you look around your home this holiday season? Take the time to notice the decorations that are up in your neighborhood. Lose yourself in the dazzling lights on homes, or inside your own home if you celebrate the holidays with a tree. Find photos that will be fun to pore over – be they old family portraits or pictures of exotic destinations that you would like to visit in the future.  


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There are lots of ways to use your ears to improve your sense of calm. Listening to music, for example, has been shown to induce or help express certain emotions, impact physical wellbeing, and reduce pain and anxiety across different groups studied. Listening to the sounds of your favorite holiday album, a super-soothing soundtrack, or music that inspires fond recollections of prior positive moments might help you tune into a peaceful mindset. If the sound of your children’s laughter or your relative’s reminiscing is harmonious for you, simply focusing in mindfully on your present environment might engender enjoyment.


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What conjures up calm when it comes to scents? Is it the smell of snow, or salty surf? Perhaps nutmeg, gingerbread, or the smell of pine trees evokes wintry relaxation. Or maybe the same flowery scent soothes you year-round, like lavender or rose. Whichever aroma awakens your sense of inner peace, try to bring it actively into your holidays this year. You can do this by lighting scented candles, using a particular hand lotion or bubble bath, or – if feasible – exploring the natural habitat where you live. 


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To engage this sense, find a favorite pen, pencil, marker – the kind of writing implement that just feels so nice to write with as it hits a pad of paper. Next, take a moment to reflect upon one intensely positive moment that you’ve experienced in the past year. Research indicates that writing about positive experiences confers a number of benefits, including enhancement of mood. After replaying the memory in your mind, commit it to paper. As you write, focus on the feel of the pen as it works its way across the piece of paper.


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To taste the holiday spirit, consider taking the time to enjoy a favorite seasonal tea or to chat with friends or family over a frothy cup of hot cocoa. Savor the moment and the flavor!  

Mindfulness Beyond the Holiday Season

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For additional ways to enhance relaxation and enjoyment of the season, see this description of anxiety-busting breathing exercises. Get your kids involved, or access the child within, with these kid-friendly relaxation strategies. Remember that the strategies that help now might also help throughout the year – so as New Year’s approaches consider setting some goals around adding a little dose of calm into all of your days, not just holidays. 

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