How to Stay Present During the Holiday Season

How to Stay Present During the Holidays
ShutterstockKatsiaryna Pakhomava

Despite what's depicted in Hallmark movies, the holidays can actually be a really stressful time of year. Not only that, but if you're not careful, added anxiety and pressure can cause you to miss the season all together. With Thanksgiving in the rear view and Christmas coming around the corner fast, how in the world are we supposed to stay in the present and enjoy what this season has to offer? While we may never regain the magic of the holidays that we felt as children (the whole no-Santa thing kind of ruins it, amiright?), there are ways to claim and nurture some new warm and fuzzy feelings. Here's how you can make the most of the season by soaking up the present.        


1. Edit Down Your Responsibilities

Woman making holiday ornaments
Unsplash / Michael Mroczek

The first step to staying present is to allow yourself the time to do so. In an effort to create a "perfect Christmas," we often overload ourselves with responsibilities, tasks, and deadlines. The truth is, there is no perfect Christmas to be had, and the pressure to avoid missing out on anything can overwhelm us into missing everything

Give yourself more time to soak up the season by taking a good, hard look at your to-do list. Re-prioritize what's really important to you. Is there anyone you can eliminate from your shopping list? You might not think so at first, but take a closer look and consider who would actually not mind if you didn't buy them something this year. Do you need to be the one to bring in homemade snacks to a work or school function? Store-bought doesn't mean you're a bad person - it means you're prioritizing your own self-care.

A big aspect of the holidays is the sense of community, whether that's found with your relatives, co-workers, or friends. Take the opportunity to allow others to be gracious to you in this season of giving. Lean on friends and family. Trust in their understanding. 

2. Journal About the Present


The key to staying present is to pay attention. To meditate on the present, you can't focus on the tasks you have yet to do, or the negative outcomes that could occur, or the uncomfortable memories of past events. To make good memories about this holiday season, channel the spirit that jolly muppet Christmas Present. Writing is a fantastic way to meditate on the positive events happening around you. Plus, you'll have a record of the memories to look back on fondly.

You don't have to necessarily be good at writing for journaling to work. And you don't have to ramble on if that's not your style. Short and sweet or long-winded, the end goal is to write. Check out our post on Gratitude Journaling for more about focusing on the positives, and try these holiday-themed writing prompts to help you meditate on what's going on:

Holiday Writing Prompts:

  • Describe your favorite area of your house during the holidays. Go into detail about why it's special to you.
  • How is Christmas different as an adult, versus when you were younger? What makes it better as an adult?
  • What is your favorite holiday decoration?  How does it make you feel, and what positive memories are attached to it?
  • How different is your life now than it was last year? 
  • What gift are you most excited to give this year?
  • Write down every detail of a holiday event you participated in or attended.
  • Write a letter to Santa, as your grown-up self.  

3. Activate All Your Senses

Woman drinking hot cocoa
Unsplash  / Drew Coffman

You might already know that your sense of smell is most closely linked to memory. As such, activating holiday magic might be as easy as lighting a pine-scented candle. Engage all your senses in festive traditions to fully immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit. 

  • Smell: While a freshly roasted turkey or a dozen sugar cookies will do the trick right away, there are other less intensive methods for triggering your sense of smell. Fresh sprigs of evergreen, mulled cider, a peppermint mocha from Starbucks, or even a simmer pot on the stove can really make it smell (and feel) like the holidays.
  • Sight: I'm a huge fan of driving around and looking at Christmas lights every year. It's become a tradition, and it's something that I look forward to. Remember to be flexible (in case of poor weather), and don't forget to pack hot cocoa and a seasonal playlist.
  • Touch: As a kid, you may have been annoyed that your aunt wanted to kiss your cheek every time she saw you. As an adult, hopefully you appreciate the importance of human connection. Christmas is a time to show others that you love them. Shake hands with your neighbor. Wave to the mailman. Hug you mom.
  • Taste: Finding foods and beverages that taste like the holidays isn't hard. It's finding when to stop that's the real struggle! While engaging your sense of taste is a great way to achieve warm fuzzy holiday feels, over-indulging on unhealthy foods is a major cause of stress and guilt. Gain the energy you need to make it through the holidays by turning to fruits and veggies, and snack small on the rich stuff. Be mindful when you're indulging. Pay attention to each bite, and chew slower than you normally would. Think about the taste as you eat or drink. In short, make sure you're actually enjoying holiday treats and not just scarfing them down!
  • Hearing: Tradition is of huge importance when it comes to enjoying the holidays. Make sure you save time for a few of your favorite holiday classics. Looking for a good playlist? Check out these 36 tunes to carry you to December 25th.

The 54321 Grounding Technique

Often used to combat feelings of anxiety, the 54321 Technique can also help if you're feeling overwhelmed or disconnected. This technique of noticing how your senses are engaging with what is happening around you can help you stay grounded in the moment. The next time you're engaged in a holiday-related activity (shopping, cooking, wrapping presents, etc.), play this game out loud or in your head.

  • Five: List five things you can see (i.e., a pine tree, snow, busy people)
  • Four: List four things you can feel (i.e., heat from the stove, your warm socks)
  • Three: List three things you can hear (i.e., Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas Is You, a baby crying)
  • Two: List two things you can smell (i.e., perfume from the woman in line in front of you, warm cookies)
  • One: List one good thing about yourself (i.e., I'm amazing at staying patient while waiting in line, I make a mean chocolate chip cookie)

Activities to Help you Stay Present During the Holidays

Couple walking in the woods
ShutterstockLukas Davidziuk

Here are a few festive activities you can do to put yourself in a holiday mood. You're much more likely to form a strong memory if you can include other people in these activities, so invite friends or family to join you. Otherwise, consider writing about the experience to solidify the emotions.

  • Go for a walk: You've spent a lot of time outside your house in order to go shopping, attend work functions and parties, and shuffle kids from event to event. However, have you simply spent time outside in December just for the heck of it? Whether it's snowing in your part of the world or not, hopefully there are a few festive decorations up in your neighborhood. Go for a walk to clear your mind and center yourself. Pay attention to the energy around you - can you feel the buzzing of busy people? Notice the lights, garlands, and trees in the windows - focus on appreciating the diversity in the season.
  • Watch at least five Christmas movies: This survey of 2000 adults claims that watching about five holiday films the key to feeling festive. Additionally, you shouldn't head straight for A Christmas Prince II. Classic flicks like Home Alone and Miracle on 34th Street are statistically shown to bring the most merry.
  • Donate toys: When you're feeling down about yourself, one of the best ways to feel better is to help others. Check Toys for Tots, your local homeless shelters, Stuffed Animals for Emergencies, or your local Ronald McDonald chapter for ways to give back this Christmas.
  • Call your grandmother: Or, any out-of-town relative or friend you won't get to see this year. Connection and community are a huge part of being present. Plus, grandma would love to hear from you.
  • Make cookies: If all else fails and you need to get merry right now, start baking. Put on some Bing Crosby, break out the cookie cutters, and make a simple batch of sugar cookies

How to stay present during the holiday season
Save these mindfulness tips to Pinterest!
Shutterstock / Zamurovic Photography

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Sal Crosland on Dec 17, 2019:

Thank you for this post, I always find that I'm losing the Christmas spirit as an adult. I want to recreate that magic and really immerse myself but end up just getting stressed over money and presents instead.

I'm definitely going to give your tips a try, the writing prompts are great and I'm always one for a good Christmas playlist!

Thank you :)


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