Skip to main content

Mindfulness Key to Counter Holiday Incivility, UF expert says

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Is the holiday season already putting you on edge? That extra stress can make the best of us less civil than usual, says a University of Florida relationships expert.

“If you’re already having a tough day, you’re going to filter your experiences through that lens. Now something that wouldn’t normally get on your nerves suddenly does, and that can lead to interpersonal conflict,” said Victor Harris, associate professor of family, youth and community sciences.

One way to keep up the holiday cheer: mindfulness, Harris said. “People who practice mindfulness are better able to process their emotions in a productive way,” he said.

Here are a few common holiday scenarios where you can practice mindfulness principles:

You’re searching for a parking space in crowded lot. You finally see an open spot and turn on your blinker, only to have another car swoop in and take it.

The first rule of mindfulness: Breathe.

“Any kind of blocked goal — like getting your parking place taken — can lead to anger. When we’re angry, our heart rates go up, and we enter the fight or flight response. We’re more likely to do something irrational, like honk the horn or shout at the person. To help get you back to that rational frame of mind, focus on slowly breathing in and out,” Harris said.

You’re shopping, and the other customers are being inconsiderate, blocking aisles or letting kids misbehave.

“Lack of self-awareness is a common cause of interpersonal conflict,” Harris said. In these situations, identify what you are feeling and why. Once you can say, “This person isn’t being self-aware, and it’s frustrating me,” you have more control over the emotion, he said.

If you feel like you need to say something to the person, ask yourself, ‘Am I doing the right thing for the right reasons?’ Harris recommends. This can keep you from saying or doing something you might later regret.

If you do end up saying something, make sure to use “I” messages that tell the person how you are impacted by what they are doing. Say, “Excuse me, I can tell your son is excited to shop, but I’m getting nervous that he might run into me.”

You ask a store employee for help, and they aren’t as enthusiastic as you’d expect.

Retail workers are under a lot of pressure during the holidays. This is an opportunity for you to practice one of the more advanced forms of mindfulness: empathy.

“Empathy is when we participate vicariously in what another person is feeling. We also call this ‘perspective taking’ — how would I feel if I were in this situation?” Harris explained. You can project empathy by asking how things are going and then showing genuine interest in their response.

You can also put a positive spin on things and show your appreciation for what someone has done for you. Showing gratitude is another form of mindfulness that helps both you and the other person cope with a stressful situation, Harris said.



The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.