It may seem that if you haven't tried meditating by Thanksgiving, then you might as well save it for your New Year's resolution. But experts say the gift-giving season can be an ideal time to master staying present. "By practicing moments of mindfulness throughout the day, you'll learn to stop feeding negative thoughts that trigger stress," says Judson Brewer, MD, PhD, director of research at the University of Massachusetts' Center for Mindfulness. So whether you're shopping at the last minute or setting the table for more people than you have chairs for, these three questions can help you stay centered:

1. What's happening in my mind?

Brewer suggests that your first mindful move should be to simply acknowledge your negative thoughts. If you're waiting in line, for example, you might say to yourself, I'm worrying this will take forever, and I'm feeling resistant to that. Paying attention to your thoughts and emotions, and noticing how they're riling you up, puts you in charge, says Brewer. This way your mind won't start to spin out of control, making up worst-case scenarios (I'll never get everything done in time!) that are likely more upsetting than what's really going on.

2. What's happening in my body?

What does impatience—or annoyance or worry—actually feel like? How are you experiencing your thoughts physically? "Scan your body for sensations, and even name them, so you're very clear about how they feel," says Brewer. Do you react to your impatience by clenching your jaw? When you're annoyed, do your cheeks get hot? Does anxiety cause tightness in your chest? Becoming aware of your physical reactions can shift your focus away from the stress that's causing them. "I've found that it's hard to be curious and have negative thoughts at the same time," says Brewer.

3. What's happening around me?

Taking a minute to observe your environment can also get you out of your head. Identify the colors, sounds and smells in your vicinity. Again, the key is to just notice, not judge: That candle has an apple-cinnamon scent versus Ugh, why do people like those fakey smells?

"The idea behind all of these mindful practices is to accept what's actually happening rather than getting caught up in your perception of what's happening or what could happen in the future," says Brewer. Resisting your current reality, as frustrating as it might be, only increases your suffering. This moment, too, shall pass.


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