Written By: Karla Tafra
The holiday season is upon us, and with it, exciting plans, projects, happenings, and gatherings. Even though there’s something special about this time of year, it can bring a ton of stress on your system. Here are some easy and efficient fall mindfulness activities to help you combat holiday stress.
The Fall Season and Stress
The beginning of fall marks a start in many different aspects of one’s life. From returning to work and the start of the new school year, to gearing up for holiday preparations and festivities. All of this is crammed into a few months and can easily become overwhelming.
Additionally, the fall season comes with less sunlight and moody and gloomy weather, often coupled with rain and colder temperatures. This can further affect your productivity, energy levels, and even your mood. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is definitely not a fad and can have a serious effect on your life, whether you’re aware of it or not. All of this causes your overall stress levels to increase, leaving you at risk of inflammation, infections, and seasonal colds. Implementing mindfulness activities like deep breathing exercises and nature walks can help tremendously, especially if you stay consistent with them.
What is Mindfulness and Why Does it Help?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. It allows you to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and experiences as they happen, without constantly worrying about what happened (the past) and what’s to come (the future). Over the past few decades, mindfulness activities have gained considerable attention in both the scientific community and the general public due to the variety of proven benefits they bring to the table. Some of the most important include:
Helps Reduce Stress: One of the most important benefits of mindfulness activities is their incredible ability to reduce stress. By being (and staying) present in the moment, you can focus on what’s right in front of you, and avoid or lessen the impact of anxiety, worrying, or nervousness.
Helps Manage Emotions: Mindfulness can help in recognizing, acknowledging, and accepting your emotions. This can aid in managing, regulating, and expressing them in a healthier manner.
Improves Focus and Concentration: Partaking in mindfulness activities can improve your attention span and reduce mind-wandering and procrastination. It can also aid in better decision-making by helping you become more attentive to relevant information.
Reduces Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: Science shows the powerful effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) on managing anxiety and preventing the recurrence of depression.
Improves Physical Health: Certain mindfulness practices have been linked to lower blood pressure, improved sleep, and a stronger immune system. Some studies also suggest it can help in managing chronic pain.
Helps Enhance Self-awareness: Practicing mindfulness activities can help you become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and even body sensations, leading to better self-understanding and self-acceptance. It’s the closest you can be to “listening to your inner self” as possible, and by practicing that, you’re on a great path towards following your gut and intuition.
Helps Improve Communication and Relationships: Being present in the moment can help you pay attention to how you interact with others. This can lead to better listening skills, more empathy, increased tolerance and patience, and improved communication.
Improves Your Mood: By living in the present moment, your levels of happiness and contentment will undoubtedly increase. When the past isn’t weighing on you and there is no anxiety to prevent you from focusing on what’s right in front of you, there’s a general sense of relief and happiness that can only be explained as reduced stress.
Helps Promote Brain Health: Neuroscientific research has shown that regular mindfulness practices can lead to incredible changes in brain structure and function, particularly in areas associated with memory, attention, and emotional regulation.
Enhances Creativity: By opening your mind and allowing yourself to think more freely, mindfulness can foster creative thinking and help you better express yourself.
Staying Present in Every Moment
The goal and intention of every mindfulness practice and activity is to be as present as possible. Now, that doesn’t mean that thoughts of the past or the future don’t creep in. The point of these practices it to observe them, but not let them control you. The more consistent you are with mindfulness exercises, the easier your mind will adapt. Here are some of the best ones to start with this holiday season.
Mindful breathing exercises are probably one of the most common mindfulness activities you’ll encounter when doing your research. We breathe all of the time, but rarely ever stop to think about our inhales and exhales. Quite ironically, our breath can be so powerful, that not only do we need it to keep us alive, but it’s scientifically proven to reduce our stress and help us combat life challenges as they come along.
Have you ever heard of the “count to 10 and then act” when you’re stressed, mad, or shocked? There is a reason for that. Taking a moment to stop and only focus on your breath can significantly lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and, in turn, your stress levels.
There are many different breathing exercises to try out when you’re starting your mindfulness activity journey. Some of them include:
Deep belly breaths - also called diaphragmatic breathing, this exercise helps you become more aware of filling your belly with air, improving your deep breathing capability.
Counting breaths - pick a number you can easily count to when inhaling and focus on exhaling for the same number of counts. Over time, that number will increase, and in turn, help you feel less stressed and overwhelmed.
2-4 breathing - another breathing exercise that involves counting breaths, but this time, increasing your exhales to further activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
4-7-8 breathing - usually used to help you fall asleep, the 4-7-8 method calms your system and helps improve your sleep quality. You’re meant to inhale for four counts, hold your breath for seven, and exhale for eight.
Meditation is a state that can only be described as being in the present moment. Quite often, mindfulness and meditation are used interjectably. Even though they aren’t synonyms, there can be no meditation without mindfulness, and that’s why this type of practice is often encouraged when embarking on the mindful journey.
Whether you choose to do your breathing exercises as a sort of meditation or follow guided sessions, they’re proven to be effective in everything from stress reduction to pain management.
The same concept of being in the present moment translates into your everything else you’re doing, including eating. Mindful eating practices encourage limiting or avoiding distractions such as TVs and scrolling through social media. They allow you to focus on all of your senses that are involved in the eating process.
From smelling and tasting the food to noticing its textures and properly chewing, research shows how simply paying more attention to the food we eat increases our nutrient absorption rate, reduces gastrointestinal discomfort, and helps us manage our weight.
Use the same approach when it comes to hydration. When the weather gets colder, we often tend to drink less fluids. Being mindful of your water intake helps you stay on track with your hydration goals and reduces the risk of dehydration.
Mind-to-Muscle Connection in Exercises
By now you can already guess what the activity will be here: actively feeling the muscles you’re working on during your workout at the present moment. So many of us are guilty of just “doing our workouts” as opposed to actually paying attention to our movements. Some of us think of work and all we have to accomplish that day, others use their workouts to clear their minds and not think of anything. Even though the latter is a form of meditation for them, it’s still not allowing them to be present and actually focus on the exercises they’re doing.
This leaves space for injuries and wrong muscles compensating for the ones that should actually be doing the work. Next time you go to the gym, think about the muscle you’re using and activate it to the best of your intentions. Feel the movement, the weight, the stretch, the push. You might be more sore than usual after a workout like this, but that only means it worked!
Fall Self-Care Practices
And last, but not least, implement a variety of mindful self-care practices this fall season that will make you connect to yourself. Give yourself a spa night on a weekly basis, turn off the TV and the mindless scrolling, and get cozy with a book or a journal, take some time to cook a nice and comforting meal, or book a massage at your favorite studio. Find those practices that not only keep you relaxed, but also allow you to stay in the present and fully experience them, no matter how long they take.
Although challenging and overwhelming, the fall season is also a time of beauty, change, and renewal. Taking steps to manage stress can help you enjoy all that the season has to offer, so stay in tune with your fall mindfulness activities and feel your stress decline one breath at a time.
ABOUT KARLA TAFRA
Karla Tafra, a Croatian content creator, yoga teacher, nutritionist, writer, and brand consultant, has been residing in the US for 7+ years. She has collaborated with various brands such as Nike, Gymshark, Adidas, Lululemon, Gaiam, Bodybuilding.com, Sakara Life, and W Hotels worldwide. Additionally, she served as the official off-season yoga teacher for the Seahawks and conducted health and wellness seminars in Facebook, Google, and Pinterest. Despite having a master's degree in law, her true passion lies in working with health and wellness brands that strive to enhance people's lives. She lives with her toddler in Bellevue, WA.