The pressures of the festive period
Many of us feel different or exaggerated pressures over the Christmas and New Year period. The pressure to eat more, drink more alcohol, socialise more and spend more. Last year we focused on the need to spend more, while this year we’ll focus on drinking, although all strategies discussed can easily be adapted to spending or eating.
Mindfulness is the act of purposefully remaining in the present moment. This means not dwelling on the past or thinking of future worries. It means bringing your mind back to the present, either your internal or external experiences, whenever your mind inevitably wanders off. Becoming adept at mindfulness does not necessarily mean that your mind will no longer wander, but that you are skilled at noticing when it wanders off and are able to bring it back to task.
There are three ways to be mindful: observe, describe and participate. Mindful observation means observing your inner or external world without judgment and without the need to add a descriptor to it. You might spend time noticing your breath, the sounds around you or the clouds in the sky. Mindful description involves describing your inner or external world, such as putting names to your emotions, enjoying and putting words to the sensations of having a bath or describing an everyday object that you hold. Finally, participatory mindfulness exercises are those that people often find easiest to engage with. Examples include colouring, playing sport or listening to music. Any activity that is focused on to the exclusion of all else can be a participatory mindfulness exercise.
Mindfulness is thought to be helpful for supporting good mental health for several reasons:
- It enables us to be more in tune with our emotions, body sensations and thoughts
- It provides us with more conscious contact with our external worlds; we feel more present
- It is the opposite of ‘autopilot’ and therefore helps us to enjoy activities more
- It helps us develop our sense of self
Applying mindfulness to drinking
So how can we apply mindfulness to drinking in these festive times? Try these strategies to enjoy your drinking (and the aftermath!) more:
- Focus on what it is that you are consuming; savour the tastes, smells and experiences
- Tune in to your thoughts and emotions; take a few minutes every hour to consider how you are feeling in your body and your emotions
- If you are drinking in a social environment, then participate fully. Most of the time we drink mindlessly while simultaneously engaging in social interactions and possibly worrying about how we are being perceived or having worries about the future. Instead, try to mindfully participate in the social experience: focus exclusively on the conversations or activities – you’ll probably find that you drink less!
If you are concerned about your alcohol or substance intake during the festive period or throughout the year, then it may be helpful to seek professional support. To discuss this further, contact Dr Julie Hannan on [email protected].