Holiday shopping, whether at a mall or a grocery store, can be frustrating and stressful. An effective tool to help you get through this season in a calmer, healthier manner is mindfulness or mindful meditation. For these purposes, let’s define mindfulness as simply waking up and actively paying attention to the present moment. Simple, but not easy. I’ve been teaching and practicing mindfulness with many of my individual and group therapy patients for over a decade and many have found it to be very helpful and even life changing. Mindfulness can be applied anywhere, and below are a few ways to incorporate mindfulness into your shopping activities to help stay (relatively) emotionally stable through the New Year!
1. Mindful preparation beforehand. Prepare mentally by reminding yourself that wherever you are going, it will likely involve traffic, crowds, and people in an (often) mindless rush. Prepare physically by eating something healthy before leaving the house to avoid adding hunger to reasons why you may be frustrated. If you go to a mall and you know you’ll be there for a while, bring a healthy lunch or snacks rather than eating possibly less healthy food from the Food Court as this will help keep your mood elevated.
2. Here’s a crazy idea: Purposely park in a spot further away from the store if you are physically able to do so. Not only does this avoid the battle of finding a good spot up front, but it might also make you feel good that you are (possibly) giving the spot to someone who might be elderly, may be in chronic pain, someone with small kids, or anyone else who might appreciate a spot closer to the store. Recognize also that you are giving yourself more fresh air and exercise. Stress is usually brought on when we do not feel in control. Purposely taking a further spot, rather than being forced to park there, will likely help reduce your stress because you chose it yourself. It only adds a few minutes to your day and it has many physical, emotional, and psychological advantages. Hopefully later in life someone will do the same for you.
3. Check in with yourself every so often throughout the shopping day. Perhaps set your phone so that every ten or fifteen minutes a gentle alarm goes off that simply reminds you to breathe, be present, and maybe identify one thing you are grateful for. This can only be for a few seconds and nobody else will notice. You certainly don’t have to do it humming cross-legged with your eyes closed in aisle 3 for this to be effective. Brief check-ins can keep you from falling into the mental and emotional depths of shopping frenzy that so many of us fall victim to!
4. If you are like most people, you want to find the shortest checkout line, and you are the one who always gets in the wrong line. Viktor Frankl, psychologist, author of Man’s Search for Meaning and survivor of a WWII concentration camp, noted that “we can’t always control the condition we are in, be we can control our attitude in the condition.” Try using the long line as another opportunity to be mindful and thankful. If you are lucky to live long enough, there will be a time when you will no longer be physically able to shop. How will your future self look back on today? That person will likely question why you were stressing so much and not simply enjoying the luxury you have to shop in the first place, and to have people to shop for. The alternative is becoming frustrated and impatient in the line – your choice.
5. Finally, remind yourself of something you already know: Feeling stressed, frustrated, angry, and even furious will not improve the traffic, the lack of parking, the crowds, or the speed of your checkout line. Focus on what you can control, not what is out of your control: Breathe, check in, be grateful, and flow through this season a bit easier! Good luck and I hope to be breathing with you (inconspicuously) in aisle 3!