Breathing Through Holiday Anxiety | HealthyPlace
Even in the best of times, the holiday season heralds in more than just the new year — it can bring a lot of anxiety too. This year in particular it can be stressful not seeing loved ones, experiencing financial struggles when every ad is pushing you to buy something new, or just missing a loved one who used to be a central part of your life. The short days and cold weather can exacerbate these potential stressors, and on top of that it’s just tough to feel bad during a time when it seems like everyone is supposed to feel extremely happy. The holiday season can be a really difficult time of year, but we can engage with these challenges with grace and even joy when we slow down and provide time to return to the breath.
Coming home to your breath
One of the most comforting aspects of focusing on breathing is that it is always there when you need a moment to recover. Every day of our lives the breath is right there, waiting to be noticed. Because of its constancy, the breath can be a safe harbor to return to when we feel depleted and in need of rejuvenation. This can be particularly helpful for anxiety because it is a resource that can be used anywhere and at any time if we just remember that it’s there. No matter what type of anxiety you’re experiencing, what trigger produced it, or where you are when it happens, your breath is there with you. (Even if you don’t end up trying to engage more with your breath after reading this article, please consider taking a moment to notice that you are breathing in moments of anxiety, and just see how you feel. I find that taking a moment to step back from anxious sensations to notice something else can make a difference all by itself.)
Simply noticing that you are breathing can be a powerful exercise on its own, but there are additional ways we can engage with the breath. I will go through several ideas below that you can use in your daily life to engage with your breath. I’ve found that many resources focused on breath meditation seem to assume the sensation of breathing is pleasant, and for many of us it can be a painful, challenging sensation, so I will try to include ideas for engaging with the breath even when it is painful.
Using your breath
- Start with awareness. As I mentioned above, I think the most powerful aspect of focusing on the breath is that moment when we shift attention from something else and focus it on the breath. That shift in attention can be the step back from anxiety that we need to disengage and start feeling better. At this stage, we are just trying to notice that we are breathing, so even if you feel discomfort or pain while breathing, try to just notice the fact that you are breathing, rather than attending to any sensations of the breath.
- Notice one aspect of breath. Looking at the whole sensation of breathing can be overwhelming and uncomfortable if the process of breathing is painful overall. Focusing on a single aspect, on the other hand, can be done more easily and can allow us to find something about the breath that feels ok. My favorite technique is to focus on the sensation of air entering and leaving my nose. I am still engaging with my breath this way, but my nose rarely feels bad during a breath, whereas my chest can feel strained or painful when I’m sick, for instance. Whatever aspect you choose, try to find a location or stage of the breath that does not produce any painful sensations and use that as your focal point.
- Brevity is best. Especially if you don’t usually attend to your breath, try to keep it short and sweet at first. I find it’s more important to have a positive experience noticing the breath than it is to do it for a long time. If you try to focus on your breath for 10 minutes, and it’s just a horribly unpleasant experience, you probably won’t want to do it again. I sometimes take just 5 seconds to notice my breath, and even that can be a positive experience of respite and recovery. If you’re enjoying the experience, then keep going, but you should not feel it necessary to continue longer than is comfortable or positive for you.
I hope these ideas can help you experience greater joy and tranquility as we approach the New Year. Please share your experiences below, especially if you have other tips or ideas that you’ve found helpful.