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Give the Gift of Mindfulness This Holiday

Image by SuzanaMarinkovic via iStockPhoto

Shilagh Mirgain

It seems like magazines, blogs and even Facebook feeds are filled with articles about how to manage the stress of the holidays. And it’s no wonder.

Enter a store this time of year and the joyful holiday music playing in the background often stands in direct contrast to the long lines, impatient shoppers and overwhelmed sales clerks.

Email accounts are flooded with discount offers, stores are open long hours offering early bird and night owl sales prices – the pressure to consume seems endless. Gift buying is often one of the primary causes of holiday stress for a majority of Americans. But it doesn’t have to be. UW Health psychologist and Center collaborator Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, offers the following four simple strategies for shifting from mindless spending to mindful giving.

Meaningful Giving

The frenzy of holiday shopping can leave us wondering whether the tradition of gift giving has lost some of its purpose. It is supposed to be a relaxed and meaningful time of generosity and connection that brings happiness and pleasure to both the giver and the receiver. A way to have your holiday giving come from a more mindful and meaningful place is to connect back with your core values.

Ask yourself, what values do you and your family hold about gift giving? What is the intention behind the gifts you want to give? Choose presents that provide something deeper – something that may promote happiness, personal growth, self-improvement, peace or usefulness.

The holidays are especially challenging for parents. The desire to give kids a special holiday may come with a feeling of pressure to give a lot of presents. But, instead use the opportunity to model and teach children the gift of giving. Talk with your children about the deeper meaning of why you give presents and your values around giving. These are powerful lessons in compassion, generosity and empathy that will influence the character of who your children will become.

Gift of Mindfulness

For thousands of years, people around the planet have celebrated the magic and miracle of the holiday season. Many religious traditions light candles this time of year. It's a symbol that whatever darkness we find, there is always a light of hope. The gift of mindfulness can help us connect with our own inner light, to something larger than ourselves, outside of the problems of the day.

Consider giving a gift that helps them be more mindful and get into the present moment. A few ideas include:

  • Journal
  • Relaxation CD
  • Meditation or yoga classes
  • Exercise classes (or, see this article for additional ideas for the active person in your life)
  • Supplies or lessons related to a hobby they would like to cultivate
  • Adult coloring books

For some, coloring books may bring to mind the children's coloring books filled with cartoon characters. But adult coloring books are trending now, and for good reason. Art therapy has been shown to help people cope with physical and emotional distress. When it comes to coloring, the simple activity lets our brains relax and brings our attention to the present moment. The intricate designs featured in adult coloring books remove the anxiety that can accompany the pressure of feeling like we have to "create" something. Coloring may not be for everyone, but if you enjoyed the activity as a child it's a great opportunity to reconnect with those simple pleasures.

Memory Maker Moments

What do we remember the most about holidays past? It’s so rarely the stuff, but rather the experiences that we create together and how someone made us feel. Gifts really do come in all shapes and sizes. It's the thought behind the giving that counts the most.

Consider gifts and experiences that make memories for a lifetime (and that fall within your family's budget). Play family board games, have holiday traditions to look forward to, buy something that you can learn together, create something homemade that would bring someone delight, or connect with something that helps you and the other person appreciate the beauty of the world.

The Gift of Presence

The holidays are a time when the deep need of the world meets your deep gladness. And there is plenty of need this time of year. The best gift you have to give is yourself.

If you are feeling lonely, overwhelmed or "blue" this holiday, or if you have experienced a significant loss, it can help to donate your time and energy to someone or something. Volunteering, helping someone in need, donating to charity, doing a random act of kindness, or just listening to someone and being fully in the moment can leave you with a very profound feeling. Be a light for someone this holiday by being an example of the spirit and true meaning of the season.

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