Carrie Pollard, MSW RSW
Mindfulness During the Holidays
Do you ever feel like you have more to do than time to do it in? Or does it feel like there is an emptiness within you or in front of you while the rest of the world is leading happy and busy lives?
There are so many pressures, responsibilities, and emotional heaviness people carry throughout the year, and it seems to multiply during the holidays.
When we feel overwhelmed, we often disconnect from feeling and ‘being’ and become more focused on doing. The doing feels productive and serves as a distraction. In addition, when we feel empty or low, we can ‘shut down’ and become distant from our own feelings and others around us. This ‘shut down’ process is protective as it disconnects us from emotional pain; however, it also disconnects us from positive emotions, supportive people and overall appreciating activities that we usually enjoy.
What are these two states like for your mind and body? Imagine having several pages or documents open on your phone or computer. How does it run? It tends to become less efficient, not more. To improve it’s functioning, you often need to close some of those tabs and if that doesn’t work, reboot. However, if you don’t address it, your device might shut down on its own, giving you that dreaded blank screen. That blank screen is a good representation of the ‘shut down’ response. Mindfulness is an intentional ‘reboot’ practice. It gives you a moment to focus inward, rather than outward. Your focus can be on the here and now, rather than past ‘shoulds’ or future ‘what if’s’.
Mindfulness allows you to accept things and yourself as they are and to invite self-compassion for your struggles and pain. It reconnects and recharges you.
Mindfulness allows for acceptance
During the holidays we can be affronted with expectations from ourselves and others. These expectations often show up as a series of ‘shoulds’:
- I should get everyone everything they want
- I should get along with my family
- I should feel joyful
- I should have the plans on New Year’s Eve
- I should eat healthy and not have a lot of treats
- I should have the house decorated ‘just so’
- I should… (fill in the blank)
You can easily change this to ‘you should’ by thinking of messages you may have received from family, friends, and society. Mindfulness during the holidays is practiced by accepting things as they are and not how we (or others) want them to be. This sounds simple in theory but is difficult in practice. One way to practice is to center yourself with a deep breath or two and then replace the ‘I should’ with ‘I feel’ or ‘I want’. You might find that the statements change in that process. “I should get along with my family” might change to “I want less conflict and more peace”. This connection inward might help you figure out a way to find what you want, which likely entails some boundaries with your time and the people with which you spend it. Or it might allow you to take that acceptance further in recognizing that what you’re feeling is understandable given your situation and what you want might not be possible given your circumstances. You might say, “I feel overwhelmed, and I want less conflict. And I accept that my parents do not get along and I will keep my visit limited and care for myself afterwards”.
Mindfulness invites compassion
We need to feel our pain to offer ourselves compassion for it.[i] Mindfulness is “taking a balanced approach to negative emotions so that feelings are neither suppressed nor exaggerated”.[ii] When suffering is experienced, we can fuse with it and judge it (or ourselves) as bad. Mindfulness, instead, invites you to say, “This is really hard right now” and ask, “What do I need”? [iii] This creates space to acknowledge the validity of our feelings, offer understanding, and open the possibility for self-care and problem-solving.
Mindful Holiday Check-In
Amid holiday busyness (or emptiness), take a few minutes in your day with a reflective moment. Close your eyes and check-in with what you’re feeling. Scan your body and notice where there is pain, tension, or discomfort. Then, ask yourself two questions:
“In this moment feel…”
“In this moment I need…”
If sitting with your thoughts feels like too much, try reflecting on these questions in your journal (this slows the thoughts down!) or while engaging in art or mindful movement (e.g., walking or stretching).
During the holidays, our losses and loneliness as well as our responsibilities and pressures can be magnified, allow yourself moments to practice mindfulness and connect with what you’re feeling and needing so you can recharge your mind and body for what’s ahead in 2023.
There are a multitude of other ways to practice mindfulness, from meditations and yoga to box breathing and mindful moments. Check out @compassionate_counsellor for more posts on mindfulness and self-compassion. Read more about the other two elements of self-compassion, in the blogs on self-kindness and common humanity.
If you’re feeling in crisis and in need of immediate support, call 911, go to your local emergency department or contact Here 24/7 (Waterloo/Wellington Counties) at 1-844-HERE247 (1-844-437-3247) or Talk Suicide Canada at 1-833-456-4566.
[i] Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. The Guilford Press. [ii] Brown, Brene. (2020). The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition. Random House. [iii] Neff, K. & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook. The Guilford Press.