Mindfulness over the holidays

Mindfulness over the holidays
Photo by Fabrice Villard / Unsplash

I was at a bit of a loss about what to write about this week, but Jessica suggested the holidays, a topic I imagine is on the minds of many people.

It goes without saying that these holidays will be very different, and not necessarily for the better. COVID aside, this time of year is often a time of reflection and reminiscing, which can be difficult for some. It may bring up memories of loved ones who have passed on, childhood traumas, or feelings of loneliness. People often have their own ways of regulating during these times: they spend time with friends or family, decorate their homes, go away for the holidays, or splurge on gifts. But with the pandemic, many of these options are no longer available. And even if they are, it might not feel like the same.

These feelings can often be compared to grief. If someone’s loved one passes away, you expect them to be sad. You expect them to cry. In fact, their sorrow may even bring you to tears because you feel their pain; it may be a pain that you’ve felt before. Grief is a natural human response to loss, and not just the loss of someone you love. In the case of the holidays, many of us are grieving over the things we can no longer do or the people we can no longer see. Isn’t it natural that we probably won’t feel like ourselves?

Some people may find ways to maintain a positive outlook or distract themselves. Yes, the situation could be worse. Yes, we’re lucky to be alive and healthy. Yes, we can (hopefully) celebrate next year. But all of this doesn’t change the fact that the current situation is shit, and it’s okay to acknowledge that. Changing one’s perspective or thinking positively isn’t always possible for some. Like I said in my last post, it’s important to normalize all feelings.

Maybe decorating your home won’t bring you any happiness or joy like it used to. Maybe it will end up making you feel worse. That being said, it doesn’t mean you don’t have to try different things to help yourself cope or regulate. Throw on a holiday movie. Play some games with your friends over Zoom. If it helps in some way, great. And if not, that’s okay too. Don’t force it.

Mindfulness plays a crucial role in helping you regulate. If you meditate, it’s something that you can incorporate into your practice, but you don’t have to limit it to just your meditation. Check in with yourself throughout the day. What kind of mood are you in? Don’t judge that mood, but do try to label it. This may sound confusing, but there is a difference. When you think things like “I’m miserable”, you’re judging that feeling with the negative connotation of the word “misery”, making it more difficult for you to separate yourself from the feeling of misery. Similarly, when you say, “I feel ecstatic”, you are personally attaching yourself to that feeling.

Labelling an emotion is when you acknowledge if it is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Instead of saying, “I feel happy,” you can think, “This is a pleasant feeling.” If you’re decorating a gingerbread house with your partner, what sort of feeling does that elicit? Pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? Label it. If you can’t see your family over the holidays, what sort of feeling does that elicit? Observing your emotions in this sort of way helps you put a bit more distance between you and your feelings, allowing you to look more objectively at the situation or experience. This brings about a much deeper understanding of both your emotions and your perception of your experiences.

It’s essential to check in with yourself, especially during the holidays. But don’t forget to check in with your family and friends too. If there’s a friend you haven’t heard from in a while, give them a call or shoot them a text to let them know you’re thinking of them. If you know someone will be alone over the holidays, maybe make plans to schedule a Zoom call. When people are struggling, they’re not always proactive in reaching out, so be prepared if they tell you that they’re not in a good place. Be observant not only of yourself but of those around you. You can check out my last post for more tips on supporting others during difficult times.

At the end of the day, remember that we’re in a fucking pandemic — we’re all learning new ways to cope and adapt. Be kind to yourself. You’re doing great. You’re loved.

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