Are you a “looking forward to the holidays” kind of person, or a “the holidays stress me out” kind of person? A little of both? Neither? However you feel about the holidays, you deserve to find some peace and joy wherever you can.
This time of year can be a lot mentally and emotionally in the best of circumstances, but after 2 pandemic years, the holiday season might seem particularly fraught.
Some of us are seeing family members we haven’t seen in years at this point. Others are still separated from the people they love. Some are coming up with new traditions to mark these strange pandemic holidays. There might be pressure (real or imagined) to make this holiday special after so long apart or to make things fun if things aren’t back to normal yet.
No matter how you’re spending the holiday season this year, there are bound to be some moments of stress. It’s natural when groups of people are spending lots of time together (often surrounded by good food + drink). If you’re worried about how you’re going to be able to cope with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, all of its activities and social expectations, mindfulness is a powerful tool to use.
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment.
Instead of allowing your mind to drift off and think about other things without noticing, a mindfulness practice teaches you how to be aware of your thoughts and choose to focus on the present. It can be tempting to grab your phone and start the nightly numbing out scroll through social media, however, that does little to actually make you feel better. It might feel tough to focus on your thoughts when you’re used to avoiding them, but with practice it will become easier.
Another key aspect of mindfulness is learning how to witness your thoughts without judgment. It can be hard to end the constant stream of judgment of yourself, especially if you aren’t even aware that it’s there. Learning to notice your thoughts will help you recognize any patterns in your thinking so you can better interrupt it when you notice it’s happening.
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate mindfulness this holiday season, here are 3 ways:
Remember good enough is just fine
Trying to make everything perfect is a losing battle. No matter how carefully you plan or how much you want something to go a certain way, when there are other people in the mix you can never have total control. Instead of struggling against that fact, release some of the pressure on yourself to keep things perfect. If you take perfection off the table, how does that feel? Ending the struggle of making things perfect frees up so much mental and emotional energy that you can put to better use elsewhere.
Think about all of your favorite holiday memories from the past. Are they focused on the tiny little details, or do you just remember the warmth and love of your loved ones? You probably don’t remember what anyone was eating or wearing, just how they made you feel. Try to focus on that throughout the holidays, and how you can cultivate those feelings in the present.
Give people the benefit of the doubt
Holiday time can be profoundly lonely for some people, especially if they’ve experienced a loss of someone they love. No matter how long ago the loss was, the holiday season can bring back tender memories. There are even more folks who have lost loved ones this year. Not only that, but it’s been a tough year just to be a human on this planet. There always seems to be some bad news or something to be afraid of. A lot of us are at the limit of our patience these days.
This holiday season, do your best to give people the benefit of the doubt. This isn’t to say that you should tolerate someone being abusive or violent toward you. However if you’re in a situation with another person that’s getting frustrating, try to give yourself a moment before you respond. Take a deep breath before doing anything, and think about how everyone is dealing with their own burdens right now. How would you want to be treated if someone caught you in a tough moment? Try to extend some of that grace toward others if you can.
Free yourself from the pressure of “shoulds”
“Should” is one of those words that carries with it a sense of judgment. When you feel like you should do something, is it a positive feeling? Or is it kind of shameful or guilt ridden? When you’re constantly thinking in “shoulds” you put a lot of pressure on yourself.
The first step to cutting down on “shoulds” is noticing when they crop up in the first place. Mindfulness will help you notice this more. When you notice that pressure, try to rephrase or think through the situation. Do you really need to do this thing? Will it make you happy, or will it appease someone else? Are you doing this because you want to, or because you’re afraid of someone’s reaction if you say no?
If you still feel the urge to do something after thinking about those questions, try to rephrase the “should”. Instead of thinking to yourself, “I really should stop over at grandma’s house later,” rephrase it as “It would make me happy to see grandma later, so I want to stop by her house.” Little tweaks in your inner dialogue might seem silly or like they won’t change much, but over time they can make a big difference.