Talking holiday mental health with U of M

Farma Darya

While the holiday season is a joyful time for many, up to 88% of Americans report feeling stressed during this time of year. 

Mariann Johnson, a mindfulness and wellbeing instructor in the Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, shares her tips for prioritizing mental health and stress management this holiday season. 

How can people prioritize their mental health during the holiday season?
It’s the little things that may matter the most. Periodically carving out two-to-three minutes during your day to mindfully pause can make a real difference. Take a deep healing breath, stretch your body, feel your feet on the ground and remember to offer yourself the same kindness and caring you so freely offer to others. 

These mindful pauses could also take the form of savoring a warm cup of tea on a cold winter day, taking the time to pet your dog or cat, or just sitting quietly to reflect on the everyday, ordinary things that you may be grateful for – things you might otherwise take for granted. Taking short pauses like this in the middle of a busy day may allow you to experience the present moment more fully, to rejuvenate just a bit and to remember that life doesn’t have to be a relay race.

Can you share a few tips for maximizing moments of joy during the holidays?
Let go of the tendency to overbook or rush from one thing to the next and notice how that may affect your sense of wellbeing. Consider a mindful review of your daily calendar and whenever you can, reorganize your day to invite more ease. Be careful not to judge yourself when you are rushing, instead offer yourself some grace and remember that it takes the same amount of time for water to boil, regardless of your state of mind.  
Be on the lookout for what brings you joy, contentment and happiness. When you experience these emotions, recognize them, say hello, and offer them a seat to rest in. Notice how you experience these positive emotions in your body, heart and mind. It doesn’t matter what the experience may be — whether it’s being in the company of those you love, experiencing the beauty of new fallen snow or the successful completion of a project. What does matter is that you notice it and you savor these moments. It’s easy for us to recognize the mistakes, the things that go wrong and to not even recognize what brings us joy or feelings of contentment. This time of year, remember to be on the lookout for the good in your life. May you enjoy its very good company. 

The holidays can be a stressful time for many. Do you have any tips for combating stress in the weeks ahead?
Remember the daily basics: good sleep, some exercise and healthy eating. We may not hit all three of these notes perfectly every day but doing whatever we can to support these basics can have a huge effect on our ability to mitigate the impact of stress on our physical and mental wellbeing. 
When feeling down, reach out to others. When you notice others are depressed or feeling low, reach out to them. We are social-relational beings; we need each other to support and sustain our emotional resilience and wellbeing. For many the holidays can be an especially lonely and challenging time. This holiday season, don’t be afraid to offer and to receive the gift of human kindness and caring.  
During this time of heightened commercialism and gift-giving on overdrive, we can forget what really matters most. Take some time to make a list of what’s most important to you – the relationships in your life, the principles you aspire to live by or the values that you rest on during challenging times. Reflect on the many ways these values, people and/or principles have supported or buoyed you throughout your life.

Does the Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing have any resources to help folks in need this season?
The Bakken Center offers a variety of programs and resources to help community members and our U of MN students and faculty enhance their wellbeing and resilience.
Our Taking Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing website offers free resources, tips and information on an array of wellbeing and mindfulness topics. Of particular interest this time of year is a collection of articles on Mindful Eating, Mindful Holiday Giving and When the Holidays Aren’t Joyful.
You can also take a wellbeing assessment, view our past webinars from leading wellbeing experts, or sign up to attend our free weekly Mindful Mondays drop-in program offering an hour of online guided mindful movement and meditation. 
If you want to start the New Year with wellbeing and mindfulness leading the way, you might consider signing up for one of our mindfulness programs, including the well-regarded and evidence-based Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program

How is your work helping advance the mindfulness field in the year ahead?
For over 15 years, the Bakken Center has offered mindfulness programs to the public and has been involved in research exploring the efficacy of mindfulness meditation in managing pain and stress and building resilience. We continue to do this work, as well promote everyday mindfulness practices and tips through the publication of a free monthly mindfulness newsletter. In addition, we regularly present workshops and presentations to businesses, and community and professional organizations on topics ranging from mindfulness at work and mindful leadership, to an array of wellbeing topics. 
The Bakken Center is deeply committed to the wellbeing and flourishing of all our community members. To make our programming accessible to a broader audience, we have also recently implemented a sliding scale fee structure for all our mindfulness programming.  

Mariann Johnson is a mindfulness and wellbeing instructor at the University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. She designs and teaches mindfulness and wellbeing programs in business and community settings, and helped to establish the Center’s Mindfulness at Work program and its Wellbeing Leadership Series for Health Professionals. Johnson is also a Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) instructor, and is a member of the Center’s MBSR teaching team.


About “Talking…with U of M”
“Talking…with U of M” is a resource whereby University of Minnesota faculty answer questions on current and other topics of general interest. Feel free to republish this content. If you would like to schedule an interview with the faculty member or have topics you’d like the University of Minnesota to explore for future “Talking…with U of M,” please contact University Public Relations at [email protected]

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