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De-stress from distress this Christmas

It doesn't matter how much we all love the holidays, they always come with a fair bit of stress. Our families gather; our budgets are stretched; our expectations may creep a little too high. This year, consider treating yourself to an early present that will help you approach the coming celebrations calm and ready for fun.

We've all suffered stress in those moments that should be easy, joyful, inspiring or even plain habitual. Somehow, we can't seem to find a place of ease to experience the good stuff. It might be in our jobs, relationships, or even in our goal-setting. So what is it that's keeping us from experiencing a true awareness of our feelings? Why does stress override all the other sensations we could enjoy in our lives?

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism but it's become a more secular and mainstream practice over the last 30 years. Much of its popularity now is due to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, a molecular biologist whose study of Buddhist meditation inspired him to develop a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction clinic to supplement the treatment of chronic illness. He opened his clinic at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 and now the model has been shared with hospitals and medical centres, and adapted for schools, veterans programs and prisons to help people cope with stress, pain, anxiety and illness.

Mindfulness means enjoying a moment-to-moment awareness of the sensations and surroundings you experience, and an acceptance of those sensations and surrounding as they are. It means paying attention and being present without letting yourself spiral into worry about worst case scenarios or mishandled interactions. Mindfulness says that by refraining from judgement of the sensations you feel-- the assignment of right or wrong to your feelings-- you'll feel more positive about them. Studies have shown that practising Mindfulness improves our immune systems, our attention, our capacity for compassion and empathy, our overall mood. The social, psychological and physical benefits of the practice are pretty impressive!

Take a moment to read more about Jon Kabat-Zinn and Mindfulness and take a quick quiz to see how mindful you are.