Here. Now. The holidays. And that means the stress is beginning to boil for all of us. Fret not, however: Help is on the way, courtesy of the Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior.
Mindfulness, which more or less means being completely “in the moment,” has scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, and promote general health and well-being. This sounds Eastern, but it’s not necessarily Zen. In fact, MARC calls what they teach “ancient practices for modern times.”
“You can see mindfulness in all sorts of religions and cultures, but it’s very secular the way we teach it,” explains Diana Winston, director of mindfulness education at MARC. While the nine tips here — all easy to try — will help you keep jolly (or at least calm) this season, Winston notes that “these are tips that can be used at any time of your life.”
1. When the phone rings, try not to answer it immediately. On the first ring, take a breath. On the second ring, decide to listen fully to whomever is calling. On the third, answer it.
2. When you’re feeling stressed, see if you can turn the corners of your mouth up into a smile (even if it feels a little false at first). Scientific studies show the act of smiling affects our brains and will actually bring on more happiness.
3. Eat one meal alone where you focus only on your meal. Turn off the TV and don’t read or talk on the phone. Give your full attention to your food. Notice what your tongue and teeth do. Fully tune into the tastes and the flavors.
4. When walking down the street, even while shopping, see if you can feel your feet on the ground. Even if you are rushing, see if you can stop for a moment, take a breath, feel your feet and notice your surroundings. It’s amazing how often we forget to be exactly where we are.
5. When you’re feeling holiday stress, wish yourself well. You might say: May I be happy, peaceful and at ease.
6. When you are waiting in a long line, perhaps at the post office, wish others well: May they too be happy, peaceful and at ease.
7. When driving, make sure to breathe. Notice the feeling of your hands on the steering wheel; be aware of your posture. Don’t immediately turn on the radio. Remember that worrying about getting to your destination won’t make you go any faster.
8. When you are with a friend, child or partner, be fully present and listen. Determine not to interrupt; instead, let them talk without needing to fix or solve anything. Give them your full attention.
9. Carve out a minute or two to sit quietly and notice your breathing. Feel the in breath and the out breath as it moves in your abdomen, chest or nose. Don’t try to control your breathing. When you start to think of other things, bring your attention back to your breath. Just one minute a day of paying attention to your breath can be helpful.
For a schedule of mindfulness classes and meditations that you can download and practice, visit marc.ucla.edu.