The holiday season — and its double-sized dose of stress — is just around the corner. Whether you’ve got family in town, you’re hosting the day-of celebration or it’s a monster of a shopping list that’s topping your list of worries, it’s understandable to get a little crazy this time of year… But meditation can help — trust us.
You’ve probably already heard about meditation’s many benefits. It’s ace at stress-reduction and offers health perks galore. But you’ve probably also noticed that sitting down for some quiet time is seriously hard to do when our to-do lists are full to-the-max. Make this the year you incorporate the self-care activity into your life, and you’ll notice benefits — from improved sleep, mood and mental clarity, to positivity and enhanced social relationships — that are too good to pass up.
Want to learn more about the benefits of meditation? Check out our Top 5 Ways Morning Meditation Makes for a Calmer Day.
First, remind yourself that you deserve a mini mental vacay this holiday season. Then, kick off your holiday meditation practice by learning this tool for accessing your inner-zen. Get started with a comfy meditation cushion set or a cozy meditation blanket, and have a listen to this 10-minute meditation for self-compassion.
Now that you’re fully zenned-out, here are our Top 5 reasons why meditation can help relieve stress this holiday season.
5.) You’ll Enjoy Better Sleep
When we’re busy AF, our sleep suffers. Racing thoughts, difficulty falling asleep and disturbances throughout the night all increase when we’re under stress. The worst part is, a lousy night’s sleep feeds right into how we feel the next day, affecting our mood, productivity and sense of competency to handle our busy lives. Fast-forward to the holidays, when we’re suddenly tasked with traveling, cooking and shopping galore, and feeling overwhelmed can become the norm.
Sadly, it’s those times we can’t fall asleep that are when we need to most. Harvard Health Blog saved the day by reporting findings in support of the long-held hypothesis that meditation helps you score a better night’s rest. By providing you with your own inner toolkit for activating your body’s “relaxation response,” you can even improve your shut-eye when you’re under stress.
In the study, participants were divided into two groups. One group was provided with educational techniques on improving their quality of sleep, while the other was instructed in mindful meditation. At the conclusion of the study, the meditators experienced significant improvements in insomnia, fatigue and symptoms of depression.
4.) You’ll Feel Better
Seriously, what better incentive is there to meditate than straight-up feeling better? Meditation both reduces symptoms of stress (easing anxiety and countering your body’s stress response) and cultivates a more positive mindset that improves your mood over the long-term. The truly shocking part is just how effective the practice is at boosting your well-being, which is equivalent to an actual vacation, making the “mental vacay” analogy surprisingly fitting.
First of all, yes: Scientists have empirically confirmed what we already knew. Vacations, like meditation, improve our quality-of-life, moods and well-being significantly. But a study conducted in Southern California reported findings that are flat-out amazing. While the positive effects of vacation only remain for the short-term, regular meditators enjoy equivalent benefits over the long-term.
Not only is meditation as impactful as an actual vacation, but its sustained effects keep us happier longer. And the benefits don’t stop there — they’re cumulative! So keeping up with your meditation while on vacation is even better.
3.) Better Focus, Mental Clarity and Productivity
All you “Type A” go-getters will be happy to know that taking a few minutes out of your day to devote to meditation will make you more productive in the long-term. How? First of all, it improves your focus.
Whether you knew it or not, meditation isn’t simply about “clearing your mind.” Mantra meditation techniques, like Transcendental Meditation, cultivate greater self-awareness by having you focus on a specific word or phrase. Your mind will wander, and that’s ok. All you have to do is re-direct your thoughts back to the mantra when you notice it’s running amok. This is the practice. It’s also why each and every time you sit down for a mantra meditation, you’re improving your ability to focus on one thing at a time.
In addition to your improved ability to focus, meditation brings about mental clarity to help you prioritize and Get. It. Done. During meditation, you learn to recognize when emotions, memories, thoughts and outside disturbances are beginning to cloud your mental space. The objective, again, is not to clear out those processes — rather, it’s simply to learn to recognize and observe them. Over time, this leads to an ability to detach from your mental clutter, which translates into regular life beautifully.
The next time feelings of stress, overwhelming thoughts or non-stop buzzing from your phone are preventing you from prioritizing tasks, remember that meditation brings with it a natural “buffer” from these outside distractions and stressors. The end result? Drastically improved productivity at work, which is why big corporations like Target have begun implementing meditative curricula for employees.
2.) Your Brain will Become More Balanced and Positive
If you’re wondering how it is that meditation rocks so many cumulative benefits over the long-term, it’s because of something called neuro-plasticity. This means your brain can adapt and change over your entire life-span. And, the more that you use certain synaptic pathways, you strengthen them, which makes meditation an incredible tool for shaping your future. Why? Meditation literally changes your brain for the better.
What we’re getting at is the relaxation response that meditation induces is a cognitive process that scientists and doctors can visibly see in your brain on fMRI’s and EEG’s. Researchers also know that we all tend to naturally favor either the right or the left frontal cortex of our brain. Those who favor the right frontal cortex are typically stressed, anxious, depressed; those who favor the left frontal cortex tend to be calmer, happier and more resilient. Here’s the key: Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn conducted a study that found meditators experience a pronounced shift to the left as soon as eight weeks after beginning meditating regularly.
Just like muscle memory, the more you practice meditation and activate the calming, self-centering capabilities of your brain, the easier it becomes. Make it a long-term practice, and that zen state of mind can become your new norm.
1.) It Improves Even Your Most Stressful Relationships
Just when you thought meditation literally couldn’t get any better, here’s one more heart-warming way it reduces holiday stress. Holidays are known for being a time when the family gets together, often from all over the world, to celebrate. But ICYMI: family gatherings can also be extremely stressful.
We already learned that meditation helps reduce your stress and provides you with a more positive outlook. We also learned that it buffers you from the severity of stressors by teaching you to observe and detach from emotions before becoming totally enveloped by them. But Psychology Today also points out how certain types of meditation — like the loving kindness meditation above — enhances our sense of connection with others.
In other words, our capacity for empathy, compassion and kindness become greatly enhanced, even more so as we reinforce them with practice. Other love-boosting benefits of meditation — less emotional reactivity, broader response flexibility and improvements in resiliency, communication, empathy, self-knowing, intuition and morality — make us easier people to be around, bringing us closer to our partners, family members and communities in true holiday spirit.
So now you know: meditation can reduce your stress this holiday season. Now, let’s get it OM.
Want more ways to ensure a stress-free holiday season? Check out our Guide to Relieving Stress During the Holidays.
Are these meditation tips helping you survive the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!