British Columbia

Stressed over the holidays? Some meditation could help, says zen expert

The holidays can be a stressful time. Between shopping for gifts, financial worries or trying to organize the annual family dinner, the weight of 'the most wonderful time of the year' can mount significantly. But clinical psychologist Erika Horwitz says a little meditation can ease some of the pressure.

Sometimes 'the most wonderful time of the year' can be hard to enjoy — but there is hope

A clinical psychologist shares her tips for dealing with stress over the holidays. (Shutterstock)

It's a great time of year to relax with a warm cup of hot chocolate and watch a classic holiday flick with friends and family. But for many of us, there's still gifts to be bought, food to be cooked and gatherings to plan.

The holidays are often stressful. It can be an expensive time of year, and sometimes family gatherings can be just as draining as they are enjoyable.

According to clinical psychologist and mindfulness expert Erika Horwitz, a lot of the weight of the holidays comes from unrealistic expectations people place on themselves — but it can be cured by taking a few steps back.

"A lot of people perform and do things perfect, and perfection is very focused on the outcome — it's going to be perfect at the end," she said. "You lose all of the process."

"And perfectionism very much stems from fear — the fear of being judged, what are people going to think," she said.

Horwitz says a trap many people fall into is looking towards the end goal — that perfect family dinner or that magical moment where the kids open their presents. She says people end up missing out on the moments along the way.

"If you do it from your heart, and you just be present with each step as you're going along, you're more likely to get more enjoyment out of the process," she said.

How to 'be present'

But how exactly do you become 'present?' Horwitz says mindfulness is the key.

Erika Horwitz is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness expert. (Vancouver Centre for Mindfulness Therapies)

"Mindfulness is cultivating moment-to-moment awareness, so that you invite your mind to pay attention to what's happening.

"One way to do that is to use your senses, so you pay attention to what you're hearing, you're smelling or you're seeing."

Horwitz says that by cultivating what's in the present moment — by acknowledging the beauty of a bright blue sky, or the taste of fresh winter air — it will ease some of the mounting pressure and give you a chance to enjoy the small things in life.

"Even if you open the door for someone at the store, that's a precious moment. If you slow down each moment, you're more likely to have less stress. And that will bring you to the present moment."

A blue Christmas

But sometimes the cuts run a bit deeper than just stress. A lot of people experience sadness and depression around this time of year, says Horwitz.

Erika Horwitz says loneliness and the holiday blues can hit hard during the Christmas season, especially because many feel a social pressure to be cheerful and bright. (Johner RF/Getty Images)

"It's supposed to be a happy time, but some people don't have their families here, or they end up finding themselves on Christmas Day without someone to spend time ... some people end up isolated."

If you find yourself alone and missing loved ones, Horwitz says try doing something loving and kind for yourself.

"If you sit there and feed that sadness, you're going to make it worse. But you can make it festive for youself."

Horwitz says going out to see a fun movie or making some delicious holiday snacks can be cheerful activities. Treating yourself for the day can go a long way.

And of course, if you do have loved ones far away, plan to connect over the phone or on Skype.

"It's almost like taking charge ... It's more proactive than being passive and feeding that sadness.

With files from CBC's On the Coast