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How to actually look forward to holiday traffic, gift buying, and office parties

The weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day can feel like an epic sprint to the finish line, with holiday parties, office gift exchanges and out-of-town guests adding extra hurdles to an already stressful season. In the midst of this peppermint-infused chaos, who has time to meditate?

You do! If you press pause on your meditation habit pre-holidays by rationalizing that you’ll pick it up again in the new year when your holiday guests have cleared out, the decorations are packed away and things have calmed down, you might find it harder than you thought to pick back up after a break. Plus, you’re missing out on a chance to turn the mayhem into mindful moments.   Here’s how to inject some mindfulness into otherwise chaotic situations. Shopping in a crowded mall. You have a mile-long gift list and need to stop at Toys R Us for your niece, Macy’s for your mom and Barnes & Noble for your roommate, but last-minute shoppers crowd the escalators and holiday tunes blast from every corner of the food court. Take a beat to soak in the sounds, smells and sights of the season. Long checkout lines may seem an annoyance, but try to reframe them as a chance to take a breath and consider your purchases before you plunk down the plastic. To avoid holiday-related debt, spend mindfully by thinking through purchases and consider carrying cash instead of credit cards so you won’t be tempted to over-spend. If the mall is just too frenzied for your taste, consider giving experiences you can enjoy together rather than more things. Take your niece to the zoo (bonus: her parents will thank you too!), offer to make a nice homemade meal for mom or treat your roommate to that play she’s been wanting to see. Research shows that experiential purchases bring more joy than materialistic ones anyway.

Wrapping presents. Call me crazy but I really love wrapping gifts, especially making beautiful bows or finding creative ways to wrap unusual shapes. I’ve even volunteered to wrap holiday presents for charity (mall shoppers brought us their gifts and we’d wrap them in exchange for donations). To avoid a last-minute scramble, try to give yourself enough time so you won’t feel rushed. Then sit down and think about each recipient as you wrap their gift. The repetitive motion of folding in the corners and applying bits of tape can almost feel meditative in itself. Or if you’ve opted for experiential gifts rather materialistic ones, you can skip the wrapping altogether. Braving traffic to the airport. Driving to the airport the week of Thanksgiving is no picnic! In Andy’s post about applying mindfulness to driving, he recommends sitting in the car for a minute or two before you start the engine to become aware of how you’re feeling. It wouldn’t be safe to meditate while driving, but often when I have to drive across town, I like to leave at least 15 minutes early and use the extra time to meditate in the car once I arrive. Hosting a holiday party. Throwing a holiday party can be fun but stressful. Apartment Therapy suggests letting go of the desire to throw a picture-perfect party with the perfect buffet spread and the perfect house and instead focusing on conversation and celebration with the people you care about. Realistically, they’re probably more excited about seeing you than judging your cat-hair-covered couch or secondhand place settings anyway. Take a few moments before guests start arriving to focus on your breath and note how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to step from the kitchen to take a breather during the party when you need. You can always delegate someone else to check on the pecan pie or play bartender while you’re collecting yourself. If all else fails, remember this: January 1 will be here before you know it.

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