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Mental Health for the Holidays

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COVID-19 changed our predictable routines, necessitating remote work arrangements, physical distancing, and wearing masks. Everything from shopping to attending sports and social events now necessitates planning. Add workload, traffic congestion, home schooling, and alcohol to the mix and you have a sure-fire recipe for frayed nerves and lost tempers. According to a Canadian Association for Mental Health survey of 1000 adults in March 2021, 20.9 per cent of respondents indicated moderate to severe anxiety levels, 20.1 per cent reported feeling depressed, and 21.3 percent reported feelings of loneliness.

Mental health and addictions admissions in Nova Scotia Health Central Zone more than doubled between April – June 2020 (191) and April -June 2021 (458).

These mental pressures often worsen during the Holiday Season as people try to maintain family traditions, shop for gifts, and socialize at home and at work. As waiting lists for mental health treatment are often years long, there is an urgent need for non-clinical ways to help people suffering from anxiety and depression. Thankfully, there is a centuries old tradition which is backed by evidence-based science – mindfulness.

 Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment without judgement, and with compassion for your errors, and for those of other people. You can start applying mindfulness in your daily routine immediately. The old adage, “Any task worth doing is worth doing well” sums it up.  Rather than  drying an old plate with your attention on the radio, stop to think that this was grandma’s serving plate for many family celebrations. Count the crenelations and notice the intricacy of the flower design for the first time. Think of the love that went into the preparation of those meals. Cooking is particularly well-suited to practicing mindfulness due to the focused attention needed to measure, cut safely, adjust temperatures, and set cooking times. The Holiday Season offers numerous opportunities for mindful participation in family traditions as we haul out treasured ornaments and our favourite family recipes. Savour eating that special cookie with all five senses rather than bolting it down and reaching for another one. The Holiday Season offers numerous opportunities for sharing the same mindful experiences!

Mindfulness is best developed through meditation, which is the practice of holding our attention on an object of meditation, or an “anchor.” The key is to return to the anchor whenever you feel your mind start to drift. This action of noticing the drift and returning to the anchor is the very essence of mindful meditation. You can learn meditation from books, the Internet, and classes. Classes offer the guidance of a teacher and the support of other students.

Discover More: Check out this insightful article on the 5 layers of self.

Contributing Author: Ian MacVicar is a military veteran who has deployed numerous times. Ian now teaches yoga, mindfulness, meditation, and he coaches physical and mental resilience. He is qualified in many styles of yoga, including Trauma Informed Yoga Therapy techniques, seniors’ yoga, and restorative yoga. Ian teaches mindfulness in the Koru tradition, which is based on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and on Insight Meditation. Ian employs the Co-Active framework in his coaching. Ian integrates neuroscience, wisdom traditions, and the psychological aspects of his doctorate in intelligence analysis in his teaching and his coaching. Ian teaches regularly at Breathing Space Yoga Studio Tantallon, at other venues in the Halifax Regional Municipality, and on-line here.

Image: Photo by Mariah Krafft on Unsplash

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