A Mindfulness Practice for Holiday Stress

By Leo Babauta

The holidays can be stressful, with shopping, travel, family gatherings, extra busyness, winter storms, and more. The chaos of our lives plays out in sometimes heightened form over the season.

In this post, I’m going to share the practice I’ve been using to deal with whatever stress has been arising in my life. I call it Tightening and Softening.

This practice of Tightening and Softening is about letting in more and more of life, just as it is. It’s about relaxing with the flow of life, so we can expand our capacity to be with everything.

To start with, notice when you’re tightening against whatever is making you feel stressed, anxious, resistant, frustrated, overwhelmed. The body tightens — you might notice it in your jaw and face, in your throat or chest, in your stomach or clenched fists or legs. We tighten against the world, when someone is being frustrating or we’re feeling confronted by a situation.

This tightening isn’t bad — it’s what we do as humans, to protect ourselves. To shut out the uncontrollable. To wall ourselves off from what confronts us. It’s human to tighten.

But we’re not limited to that experience. We can open to life, just as it is, even when it’s challenging or uncomfortable.

The practice is to soften, using the breath. When you notice the tightening against life … simply breathe in, slow and deep. Allow the breath to soften the parts that are tight, to relax you more and more. To soften your stance towards the thing that’s confronting you.

With each breath, soften, and allow life in. Allow it to be just as it is, even the tightening. No need to change anything in this moment, just yet — simply allow it to be, even appreciate it. Soften so that you can be with things in all of their messiness.

When we do this, we allow people to be human, as messy as that can be. We allow ourselves to be human. We allow life to be chaotic and uncomfortable, beautiful and juicy. We allow ourselves to love all of it.

Here’s a meditation I’ve recorded to guide this practice.

May your holidays be filled with practice and love.