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By: Verity Brown

Somewhere between back-to-school shopping and snacking on Halloween candy, I blinked my eyes and suddenly, the weather was colder and the trees were colorful.

For many people, winter brings excitement and nostalgia. The smell of pumpkin pies and fir trees can evoke feelings of gratitude and warmth as we gather with loved ones and reflect upon the year. Socks get thicker, blankets get cozier, and fires get crackling! Picture-perfect, right? Not always. For all the joys that the holidays can bring, they also bring stress, conflict, overwhelm, and sometimes grief.

If the thought of standing in mile-long lines at Best Buy or facing a dinner with the relatives leaves you with dread… fear not!  Here are some tips and techniques to keep the most magical time of the year from becoming a full-blown nightmare.


Mindfulness practices are the key components to changing our instinctual (ahem- impulsive) behaviors. Pause and notice when challenging emotions arise within yourself; paying close attention to the thoughts that start firing and sensations that start brewing. Perhaps the car honking behind you is increasing your heart rate… perhaps thoughts of “why me?!” are flooding in as you’re waiting for another delayed flight.

Regardless of the context of the situation, observing what is happening internally gives us useful information about the present moment. And, just by observing, we mentally secure a little cushion between ourselves and the emotions, thoughts, and/or sensations we are feeling.

Come to Your Senses

If we find ourselves battling overwhelming emotions, distraction can be a great short-term option. Where we go, our five senses come too (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell). Take time to pause and notice your surroundings, searching for small pleasures in large crowds.

Maybe it’s the sweet taste of your hot cocoa or the spicy smell of peppermint. Perhaps it’s the feeling of your favorite sweatshirt, or the sounds of falling snow. Find what lifts your spirits and enjoy it with as many senses as you can!

Use a Gentle Manner

The holiday season usually means increased contact with other humans. When stress is running high, it can be tempting to snap, scold, or scrutinize others. Keeping a sense of humor and a gentle manner with others increases the likeliness that both people will walk away from interactions feeling positively about themselves. Relaxing our posture, using an easy tone of voice, and staying aware of our body language can help cue our brains to release tension.