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A Proven Practice to Manage Holiday Stress and Anxiety

As I lay there, barely able to tolerate the steamy heat swirling about me, focusing became increasingly difficult. Claustrophobic, I tried to remain calm in my body.

Then it happened. He appeared in my mind’s eye, so real, so close, I flinched. Just as suddenly, my body settled into a calmness I recognized from previous meditation practice.

He began speaking words so sweet, I could hardly bear hearing them. They couldn’t be for me!

But now, this is what the LORD says…“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

After a few more moments, His presence faded. Alone in the dark, I lay in the sweltering heat that a moment before was imperceptible.

This was my first encounter with focused meditation, a new practice taking me deeper into Jesus’ presence and love.

holiday stress

Something my Dad learned during our years in Okinawa, this form of meditation improves mental and physical well-being. 

Instead of this novice attempting to explain the practice, check out this website. It’s an easy step-by-step guide, complete with references on the above-mentioned health benefits.

But for a quick bottom line, one focuses on an object in their mind’s eye and holds it there for as long as possible. Disclaimer: it’s pretty challenging.

After decades of practice, my Dad can hold the object steady and present for 2 minutes. I’ve learned this is pretty phenomenal. 

My first try? 2 seconds! 

Desiring to pair mind and spirit, I focus on Jesus’ face. Not knowing what He looks like, I use the acclaimed portrait painted by an 8-year-old girl

What astounds me most are the things Jesus shares as I focus on Him. I started asking Him a simple question, then I wait.

I’m now settling into His replies, but it was challenging at first.

As Julia Robert’s character asserted in Pretty Woman, “The bad stuff is easier to believe.” 

The voices in my head often condemn and berate me into submission to their toxic assertions. But:

Jesus refutes each lie with every moment He lived, every word He spoke, and every blow He took in my place.

For me, it takes this kind of brain retraining to believe what He says is true. This brings me to the last strategy I discovered to manage holiday stress and anxiety:

3. Listen

This is my word of the year, and understanding its meaning has opened my eyes (and ears!) to the benefits of reflective listening. 

Here are synonyms for clarity. 

  • Give attention with the ear
  • Attend closely
  • Heed, obey
  • To wait attentively for a sound
  • Observe, take notice
  • Tune in, give audience
  • Concentrate 
  • Adopt, catch
  • Mind, take advise
  • Hear out

I’m not a great listener…yet, but this meditation practice, though visual, profoundly impacts my listening capacity, probably due to an increasing ability to attend and focus.

My mind still wanders pretty quickly, but I’m learning to bring it back to the moment and focus on the present.

How does this help manage holiday anxiety and stress? Focusing on Jesus has become a sacred source of sanity and spirit preservation.

Without His presence, I live on the fringes of frenzied chaos, particularly during the holidays. Why? Because I’m a doer, a Martha with too much to do and not enough time to do it. 

If I don’t carve out time to slow down, be still, and listen as Martha’s sister, Mary did, my life fractures, my soul becomes disquieted, and I lose focus on what’s important. 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

This holiday season, what is one thing you can do to practice His presence? Maybe grab an Advent devotion and take a few minutes to savor our Savior’s delights: love, joy, peace and hope can await within its pages and by His side!

A few favorites:

Or maybe learn the art of focus and listening through focused meditation. Then practice it on others who long to be heard and understood.

Do the hard thing. Uproot the noise. Dare to take back your joy this season. Hannah Brencher

Steal moments if necessary, but make room for Him this Christmas; you’ll find the season lighter and more beautiful as you stay present to His presence in and around you.

Let every heart prepare Him room!

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