The holidays are filled with joy, cheer, good food — and often a whole lot of stress. There are gifts to buy and mall crowds to fight, planes to catch and airports to navigate, dozens of cookies to bake, and grumpy relatives to appease. It’s enough to leave most people quaking in their snow boots and wishing they could head for the hills.
But according to psychologists Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer, authors of The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life, there is a better option than running away. By practicing mindfulness for as little as five minutes a day, you can significantly reduce feelings of tension, anxiety, and exhaustion.
Here are two simple mindfulness exercises anyone can easily incorporate into his or her daily routine:
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Settle into a comfortable, alert, seated position on a cushion or chair. Begin to notice where you can feel your breath. This may be in your belly, your chest, the back of your throat, or your nostrils. Allow your awareness to settle on this spot. Begin counting your in breaths. Count from 1 to 10 and then count backward to 1. Each time you notice your attention wander, begin back at 1 again. Your practice may involve counting 1 repeatedly. This is fine. There is no goal of reaching 10. The counting is simply a way of noticing when your attention wanders. Each time your attention strays, kindly and gently guide it back to the breath, counting 1 at the in breath. When the timer sounds, take one more deep breath with awareness as you prepare to return to your daily life.
For this exercise, sit in a comfortable reclining chair or lie on the floor so that you are using as few of your muscles as possible. Begin by bringing your awareness to your breath and then to sensations in your body. After a few moments, bring your awareness to the muscles in your neck, noticing any tension you feel there. Then, by lowering your head toward your chest or pushing your head back against the chair or floor, bring a slight tension into your neck for a few seconds. Now release all the tension, allowing the chair or floor to fully support your head and neck as you breathe gently. Notice what it feels like to let your neck muscles lengthen and smooth out. Scan the rest of your body and see if you notice any tension in other areas — your face (particularly your jaw), your arms, hands, legs, feet. If you do, bring your awareness to those muscles, briefly tense them, then release them, paying attention to what it feels like to allow those muscles to continue to relax, more and more.
Susan M. Orsillo, PhD and Lizabeth Roemer, PhD are authors of the book, The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break Free from Chronic Worry and Reclaim Your Life. Susan M. Orsillo, PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at Suffolk University in Boston, and lives in the Boston area with her husband and two children. Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and lives in the Boston area with her husband. Drs. Orsillo and Roemer have written and published extensively about mindfulness, anxiety, and psychotherapy, and have been involved in anxiety disorders research and treatment for over 20 years.