How Mindfulness Can Help With Challenging Situations at Christmas
Whether you celebrate it or not, how are you feeling about the approaching festive season? Is there a sense of joyful anticipation? Or perhaps you are experiencing a growing dread of loneliness, of missing someone special or of challenging social or family situations? Or maybe you are noticing increasing stress about the festive additions to an already overwhelming to do list?
Here are some tips to becoming mindful of the underlying psychological processes that might be involved.
If you are looking forward to a happy time, then pause and appreciate the joy. Maybe there are special people you are planning to spend time with, special events you are going to attend or rituals you are looking forward to. Take a moment to feel your feet on the floor. Then take time to be grateful for all of the causes and conditions in your life that are contributing towards your joyful anticipation. Imagine breathing the joy into your heart and then breathing out the joy from your heart and sharing it with those around you.
Solitude or loneliness
For those of us who live on our own, we can receive a message from our culture and society that there is something wrong with us. This is a human archetype that recurs in books, TV shows and movies. If loneliness is a theme in a story then the happy ending generally involves a relief of that loneliness. This sense of something wrong with being on our own can intensify around this time of year.
At this time the solitude, which perhaps we have chosen, can tip into loneliness. When this happens, firstly it is important to notice. Notice the stories that we begin to tell ourselves. Can we feel the feet on the ground at these times, let go of the stories and feel the underlying feelings? This may be quite a painful feeling of something wrong with us and so we can then do a self-compassion break.
We can make a gesture of self-soothing, such as placing our hands on our heart or giving ourselves a hug and acknowledging our difficulty. Then we can remind ourselves that feelings of loneliness are part of the human condition and that there is nothing wrong with us. After this we ask how we can be kind to ourselves, which might be saying some reassuring words to ourselves or preferably something more active, like dancing and/or singing to our favourite song, going out for a quick walk, making ourselves a nice hot drink or phoning or texting a friend.
Then take steps to be proactive. Make plans to see friends if you would like to. Or join a group activity. Or schedule some activities that you really enjoy. If you have chosen to be on your own, remember the reasons why and remember the benefits that being on our own affords, such as solitude and freedom.
Missing someone special
Missing someone special, perhaps because they have commitments elsewhere or because they have died, can be challenging at this time of year. A daily life practice of acceptance can be helpful here, saying ‘yes’ to the painful feelings, or doing a daily life RAIN practice, as follows:
Recognise – the first step is to recognise what the issue is. Noticing the experience of missing someone special.
Allow – then we allow our experience to be just as it is, without trying to change or fix anything. Here is can be useful to just say ‘yes’.
Intimate attention – in this stage we notice how we are feeling in the body, any emotions we are experiencing, as well as the thinking and stories we notice. Then we notice how we are relating to the experience: are we building it up as solid, real and all encompassing; or can we recognise that how we are feeling in this this moment in transitory and not all of who we are?
Non-identification – finally we zoom out of the situation and recognise that the situation is just a part of our experience in this moment, like a cloud moving across the sky.
You might also like to reflect, that although we are missing someone, there are many good things in our lives now that we can actively appreciate. Often, when we are missing someone, we forget and take for granted all the good things and people that are actually present and that we would miss if they weren’t here with us now.
- Challenging family or social situations
As these situations approach, there are several things we can explore to help us:
- What are our expectations or assumptions of how these situations ‘should’ be. Might we be buying into unrealistic assumptions or expectations, which when they are not met are causing us to suffer?
- Balance self-compassion with compassion for others. It does not benefit anyone if you allow people to bully or be mean to you. It is harmful for you and it condones the bullying behaviour which is harmful for the others that are involved. Maybe don’t engage in these situations, choosing to take time on your own or just arrange to see one person at a time to avoid a toxic group dynamic.
- In the weeks leading up to the situation, practice kindness for the challenging people who you will be meeting in these situations. Imagine sitting with them and saying kind phrases for them, such as ‘may you be happy, may you be well and may you live in peace’ and see what happens. You may feel kindness or you may feel other emotions such as anger, fear or sadness. Just be present to whatever happens, curious about what can be learned about your relationship with this person and about this person’s perspective. You can use the guided meditations of ‘Widening the circle of loving kindness’ or ‘Aspiring, dissolving and equalising’ on the compassion section of our free Mindfulness Based Living app (link).
- Keep in mind the daily life self-compassion break and RAIN practices above, which can be helpful in these types of situation. Take yourself out of the situation for a few minutes, eg. go to the loo, to do these practices.
In moments of stress and overwhelm breathing exercises can soothe our sympathetic nervous system. Here are some useful exercises:
- Sniff, sniff, sigh – in this exercise popularised by Andrew Huberman. Take two deep sniff inbreaths and a sighing outbreath. Two or three of these should help to bring some calm.
- Do a few minutes of coherent breathing practice. Breathe in for a count of 6 seconds and breathe out for a count of 6 seconds.
Join our community online guided meditations
All over the Christmas and New Year period our experienced team of Mindfulness meditation tutors will be guiding meditation practices on Zoom each evening at 7pm and each weekday morning at 10.30am. These are completely free of charge and there is no need to sign up. Just visit our home page and click the ‘Join Daily Practice’ button at the time of the session. We would be delighted to have you join us.
We are also running Christmas Meditation days over the festive period, these online practice days take place on 28th, 29th and 30th December and 2nd January. So, if you need some self-compassion over the festive period, then join one of our online practice days. We’d love to see you there!