All I want for Christmas is Mindfulness
What do you think of when you think of the holiday season?
If life were a Hallmark movie, I’m willing to bet you’d say, “Oh, Kylie! Why, the holidays are just filled with romance and excitement. I think of my family, the first fresh snowfall of winter, Christmas cookies, and copy-and-paste generically handsome men that are going to soften my no-nonsense heart and show me the true meaning of Christmas!” And while that description may actually jingle true for some, the holidays can also be extremely overwhelming and bring up feelings of grief, disappointment, isolation or even anger.
Has anyone else noticed that about the leads, by the way? It’s like Hallmark and The Bachelor have the same casting director.
Our natural tendency is to avoid or escape from pain in any way that we can, which can look different depending on the person. During the holidays, however, it’s typical that someone might push away the painful emotions by filling their moments with the commercialized “holiday spirit.” “Who can think about trauma when there are gingerbread houses to build? Why bother feeling sad when this is a season of joy! I must feel joy!”
If your life doesn’t meet the unrealistic standards of the holiday entertainment industry, consider what it might feel like to have a mindful holiday season instead.
Presence, not Presents
Obviously, getting and giving presents is great. Everyone knows it and there are already entire blog posts and books on love languages and the best gift to give your estranged Aunt Margaret, so we’re going to focus on “presence” instead.
When we talk about “presence” in this article, we’re talking about being connected to the present moment. It’s normal for our minds to wander into past and future thinking, but it becomes an issue when we live in that space and disconnect from the here and now. Let’s use the example of trying your hand at a new recipe. Wondering what everyone will think of it is typical and can help you pay extra attention to detail. Living in that future oriented thinking might cause perfectionism, obsessive thoughts, or possibly a “what if they hate it so why even bother” mentality.
Some other examples of future oriented thinking would be:
“I need to finish all of these tasks before my parents come into town!”
“I wonder if my family will bring up politics again?”
“How in the world will I fit in all the holiday parties?”
And some examples of past oriented thinking:
“I wish I could travel to see my family like I have in previous years.”
“How could I enjoy the holidays without -insert loved one- there this year?”
You can see how living in any of those spaces may cause a disconnect in the present. To stay connected or reconnect with the present moment, we have to practice being intentional with our focus. Just like any other skill, all it takes is a bit of practice! Try bringing your full attention to the activity you are doing instead of multi-tasking activities or thoughts. If your mind easily wanders from the task at hand, use your 5 senses to keep you grounded (sight, sound, taste, feel/touch, smell). Some festive ways you can practice being present are:
– Engaging in your favorite holiday tradition.
– Observing holiday lights / décor
– Baking or being your favorite chef’s taste-tester
– Connecting with a loved one
*Remember, the trick here is to immerse yourself fully and solely in this one activity by paying attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, smelling.
Gift of Self-Compassion
As noted above, the holiday season brings a specific pressure to be “merry & bright,” but what if that’s not truly how we feel? Trying to force ourselves to experience emotions that don’t align with how we actually feel and then behave accordingly is another way that we disconnect from the present moment. Just like we make space to put out our holiday decorations, we must intentionally make space for our emotions, no matter what they may be.
One way to do this is by practicing mindful check-ins with ourselves.
Take a few moments each day to ask yourself:
“What am I feeling in this moment?”
“Where am I noticing this emotion show up in my body?”
“What thoughts are running through my mind?”
“How do I want to respond in a situation (instead of just reacting)?”
It’s truly an act of self-compassion when we acknowledge how we are feeling in any given situation without the need to change or criticize it. Getting to know yourself in a judgement free space allows you to become familiar with how your brain and body react and interact to people and situations.
Another way to show yourself compassion this holiday season is to consider what boundaries you will need to practice to feel safe and respected.
A few areas to consider boundaries might be around your:
“I will only be staying at the party until 7:30pm.”
“I’m sorry, I am unable to make it this time.”
“I can only bring 1 dish to the holiday dinner.”
“I am not able to pick you up from the airport this year.”
“I’m not really a hugger. I prefer handshakes.”
“I am feeling tired and am going to take a break.”
“I would prefer not to talk about XYZ, so please don’t bring it up again.”
“I appreciate your advice, but right now I just need you to support me by listening.”
Reflection, not Perfection
The end of the year creates a wonderful opportunity to look back on what went well and what could have gone better. Reflecting on moments, people, or events we are grateful for has been found to improve our overall mood and sense of connection with others. It also allows us to consider what we would like to cultivate in the coming year and recognize what may no longer be serving us.
A few activities I’ve found the most helpful in my end-of-the-year self-reflection practice:
– Journaling 3 things I am grateful for and why. I ask myself, “What did I feel at the time and how do I feel about it now?” “What did it mean to me?”
– Visualizing a specific time in the past year when I felt joy and gratitude, and letting myself feel those same emotions in the present moment.
– Setting intentions for the new year based off my experiences in the past one. I ask myself, “What worked for me and what didn’t work for me?” “What brought me joy and what didn’t?” “What are things I can change now, and what might take a bit more time?”
*Remember, self-reflection is a practice in holding space for all of our experiences without judgement. Reflecting on gratitude should not invalidate or diminish the importance of our other emotions.
Reflection also offers the chance to measure our growth, and plan for the growth we’d like to see in the coming year. We know that mindfulness is a journey and not a destination, which means we’re always going to be adjusting and shifting as we learn new things about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us, and that’s totally okay! No one expects a novice to have the skills of a professional. If you’re just starting out on your mindfulness journey, it’s okay to not have it perfected. You wouldn’t become fluent in a language without speaking it brokenly first, right? We can be gracious with ourselves as we develop the skills we need to enjoy a holiday season, and not just survive it.