'Tis the season for making a list and checking it twice, arranging get togethers, shopping, travelling and organising. This busyness doesn’t always make us feel “merry and bright” and it leaves little space for reflection and rest, which is really what winter is all about. Thankfully, we have our Mindfulness practice to remind ourselves of the gift of presence and find a calmer space in what can be a challenging time.
Bypass seasonal rage
As usual this November I was incensed by the appearance of Christmas stuff in the shops. Most of us seem to find this irritating but obviously some people are buying it else they wouldn’t sell it, surely?
Anyhow, this year I noticed the familiar irritation – I suppose it’s a Christmas tradition now, ha! – but stopped my thoughts before they spiralled into a rant about consumerist culture always telling us to hurry up, buy more blah blah. None of these thoughts bring me peace or joy or change the situation. I chose to leave those thoughts in the premature tinsel isle, return to the present moment, and carry on with my day.
A reminder of what it means to ‘be mindful’: to bring awareness to the present moment; noticing and accepting thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgement.
Mindfulness is the antidote to Christmas stress because this can be a time when:
- We are pulled into the past by memories and traditions
- We are pulled into the future with all the planning and preparations
- There are many expectations, pressures on relationships, changes in routine and travelling long distances/more frequently.
Even if you love Christmas there’s a lot of things going on that can have an impact on our wellbeing, so it’s important to be mindful of how you’re feeling.
How to be Mindful at Christmas time:
It’s very easy to get caught up in unhelpful thinking about the past (“this won’t be like Christmas when I was a kid/Granny was alive/before X happened”) or the future (“what will happen if Uncle Whatever drinks too much/they don’t like my gift/Aldi run out of parsnips”). It’s impossible to totally stop thoughts like this but what we can do is notice them and recognise that that isn’t what’s happening in the here and now. Your thoughts are not facts – they are mental events, and quite possibly a symptom of stress. You can choose not to believe them and work on letting them be, then letting them go. Remember, this is a practice: be kind to yourself while you work on this.
Ground yourself in the present moment by connecting to your senses. What can you see/hear/touch that can bring you into this moment? Can you connect to your breath and just feel that for 5 seconds?
Notice the positive! This doesn’t mean ignore the difficult, it’s about creating balance. Our brains have a negative bias so we need to make a conscious effort to notice what is good or even neutral. This helps us combat over generalising (“I don’t like Christmas”) by becoming aware of the finer details. Even if this time of year isn’t your favourite there will be things you can enjoy. Here are some suggestions: frosty walks wrapped up in scarves and hats, soothing hot drinks, quiet time in front of the fire, time off work, candles and fairy lights. Can you think of 3 things right now that are good about this time of year?
Emotions: if you feel that Christmas ‘should’ be joyful all the time you are going to set yourself up for disappointment. You will feel a whole range of things; perhaps excitement, frustration, happiness, sadness…try to allow them all. Again, this is a practice so go gently with yourself.
Not everything is going to turn out perfectly. Something will get burnt in the oven, a relative will say something weird, your mum will do that thing that drives you nuts. It’s ok. Let it happen, let your feelings happen; just don’t hold on to it too long so it spoils your fun.
There are so many opportunities this time of year for kindness, and it can be such a great antidote to stress. Be present to how you feel when giving presents! Connect to that warm, happy feeling and enjoy it.
How can you show compassion to others this Christmas? Thinking about how you can give something to those less fortunate than yourself can give you perspective on what you have and increase gratitude.
Be present when you are spending time with loved ones. Put your phone away, really listen and enjoy their company. Notice how nice this feels.
Be good to yourself, especially if you are struggling. Remind yourself to choose kindness wherever possible.
Practice generosity of spirit towards people you find difficult: this doesn’t mean having no boundaries or allowing bad behaviour, just softening any defensiveness and noticing people’s good qualities as well as the not so good.
Turn down your judgement (with relatives: listen to other points of view even if you disagree, be open to difference – even if they aren’t!). It’s easy to focus on the things you don’t like about people, but what about their positive traits or the things you have in common?
Expectations: be these positive or negative. It’s hard to have no expectations at all, especially so at a time of year filled with tradition and when images of how Christmas ‘should’ be are impossible to avoid. By returning to the present, time and time again, we can let go of all that and just be with what is happening, moment by moment. Try to let go of what could/should be happening and connect as fully as possible to what IS happening.
Beware the ‘should’ thoughts; they are often loaded with negative judgement. Notice these thoughts and challenge them where possible – where has it come from? Is it helping or hindering? How can you soften or even let go of it?
Wishing you all a peaceful and joyful festive season. See you in 2020!