Christmas time can be a challenging time for many people. For those navigating difficult family dynamics, those who are grieving lost loved ones or for those who are experiencing Christmas away from family and friends it can be a lonely time of year. On the other hand, Christmas can be an extremely fun, connecting and positive time of year as well. And as our complex brains can show us, we can have a whole mix of emotions going on both positive and negative.
Here are a few mindfulness and compassion-based ideas to try this Christmas:
- Food – humans have a nervous system and brain that evolved for living in the Pleistocene epoch, when food (especially of the nature served at Christmas) was not plentiful. It is believed that our ancestors used to have to gorge on food when it was available and then would starve and live off their fat supplies at other times. Therefore, in order to manage our food intake, we are working against our evolved nature. Also, many of us may use food to self soothe at times when interpersonal and emotional charges run high. We need to be kind with ourselves at this time. Acknowledge that we may not want to overeat, this can be our goal, but have compassion if we don’t always manage it. The other thing is whatever we do eat, to try and eat it slowly and mindfully, really paying attention to the flavours, textures, smells etc of the food and our internal feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. We tend to find if we slow down and eat mindfully it is more difficult to ignore the signals from our body telling us when to stop. It also means we are not just eating for the sake of it. We are really taking it in and appreciating it, we are savouring the experience and can feel gratitude.
- Interpersonal – try the STOP technique and the self-compassion break if you have difficult family dynamics to manage. Take some deep breaths, slow down, label and describe your emotional experience and then focus on the communication so you can listen and talk in a mindful and compassionate way. Balance the skills of being assertive and setting boundaries with perspective taking and the ability to see other people’s points of view. If you need to create space and take some time to yourself to engage your soothing system, then look after yourself.
- Compassion and kindness – focus on giving. This is consistently shown to be both good for the people you are giving to and for ourselves. We are a social species and we are designed to connect and live in groups. Our attachment system has a soothing component. Engage this through a focus on giving during this time. Giving time, giving attention, giving physical assistance, giving emotional support and of course giving presents!
- Mindful movement – make some time for mindful movement. If it is difficult to do your usual fitness routines can you at least go for a long walk. Can you do some yoga or gentle stretching. It may be worth spending more time relaxing with your family. But humans really are designed to move, especially if we are consuming large amounts of food, can you notice any feelings of resistance towards moving, accept with friendliness and take these feelings and thoughts with you as you go and exercise. Even 10 minutes is helpful.
- Self-compassion – this can be a bitter sweet time of year. The pain of losses can be present for many of us. There can be an expectation to enjoy this ‘most wonderful time of the year’. Can we allow space for painful emotions? Inquire into whether they are giving you important information about how you are living your life and what you are engaging in and your plans for the coming year. If the emotions don’t seem to have useful information that can help you make positive changes can you allow them to be in the background as you build happiness through behaviour. Can you bring mindful acceptance and self-compassion to painful emotions and continued to be present with the people you love, doing meaningful activities.
- Be playful – can you reconnect with the friendly playful spirit that you may have experienced as a child at Christmas time. Can you joke around with your family and friends, play and have fun. You can even start to engage in these activities if you feel shame, sadness, anxiety or other challenging emotions. Can you let these be in the background and in the foreground is your present moment experience of fun?
May we all be happy, healthy, safe and peaceful this Christmas!