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 hard when our to-do lists are complete. 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.
First, remind yourself that you deserve a mini-mental vacation 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 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 that a lousy night’s sleep feeds 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, feeling overwhelmed can become the norm.
Sadly, those times we can’t fall asleep are when we need to most. Harvard Health Blog saved the day by reporting findings supporting the long-held hypothesis that meditation helps you score a better night’s rest. By providing you with your 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 sleep quality, while the other was instructed in mindful meditation. After the study, the meditators experienced significant improvements in insomnia, fatigue, TEDx Greenville, and symptoms of depression.
4. You’ll Feel Better
Seriously, what better incentive is there to meditate than straight-up feeling better? Meditation reduces stress symptoms (easing anxiety and countering your body’s stress response) and cultivates a more positive mindset that improves your mood over the long term. The shocking part is 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, yes, Scientists have empirically confirmed what we already knew. Vacations, like meditation, improve our quality of life, moods, and well-being significantly. However, a study conducted in Southern California reported flat-out impressive findings. While the positive effects of vacation only remain for the short term, regular meditators enjoy equivalent benefits over a long time.
Not only is meditation as impactful as an actual vacation, but its sustained effects keep us happier for 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 to devote to meditation will make you more productive in the long term. How? First of all, it improves your focus.
Whether you know 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. You must re-direct your thoughts to the mantra when you notice it’s running amok. This is the practice. It’s also why every time you sit down for a mantra meditation, you improve 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 — instead, it’s simply to learn to recognize and observe them. Over time, this leads to an ability to detach from your mental clutter, translating into regular life beautifully.
The next time feelings of stress, overwhelming thoughts, or non-stop buzzing from your phone prevent you from prioritizing tasks, remember that meditation brings a natural “buffer” from these outside distractions and stressors. The result? Drastically improved productivity at work 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 meditation rocks so many cumulative benefits over the long term, it’s because of neuroplasticity. This means your brain can adapt and change over your entire life span. And the more you use specific synaptic pathways, the more you strengthen them, which makes meditation an incredible tool for shaping your future. Why? Meditation changes your brain for the better.
We’re getting at the relaxation response that meditation induces, 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 naturally favor our brain’s right or left frontal cortex. Those who prefer the right frontal cortex are typically stressed, anxious, and 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 your brain’s calming, self-centering capabilities, 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 couldn’t get any better, here’s one more heart-warming way: it reduces holiday stress. Holidays are known for being when the family gets together, often from all over the world, to celebrate. But ICYMI can also be highly stressful.
We already learned that meditation helps reduce stress and provides 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 enveloped by them. But Psychology Today also points out how certain types of meditation — like the loving-kindness meditation above — enhance 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, I’d like to 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!