Happy Wellness Wednesday Everyone,
Donna here, to help you get through the Christmas Season in a more mindful and positive way.
In the run-up to Christmas we find our to-do lists bloated with added chores: present shopping, card writing, preparing to travel or receive guests. We are bombarded with adverts telling us what to buy and where. We tackle the shopping crowds searching for the perfect gift and the juiciest turkey. Our energy and purses are pulled in all directions while we limp on at work waiting for the holiday to arrive.
As we approach Christmas we may be thinking about all the shopping we need to do while we are drinking a cup of tea. We may also be thinking about sitting drinking a cup of tea, while we are doing the Christmas shopping.
And regardless of whether these fantasies are pleasant or unpleasant, research has found that all mind wandering has a negative effect on our mood. This may be because our wonderful daydreams make our real lives seem like a disappointment and our unpleasant thoughts prevent us from taking pleasure in the small delights of life.
Mindfulness is the practice that allows us to see things as they are, without the pull of craving or aversion. Why is this so important? In the stillness, we can experience our true self. So much of our thoughts and actions are conditioned and habitual. The mindfulness helps us to see this conditioning, and in seeing this we can begin the process of freely choosing how to respond, rather than blindly react. Just what we need this Christmas Season.
Tips on how to practice mindfulness this Christmas Season:
Sunrise and Sunset
The next 6 weeks are the shortest days of the year. This means that we are more likely to be awake to see the sun rise. Why not pause for a few moments to be aware of the colours of the sky at dawn? Trying not to pass judgement on the weather, just being aware of whatever colours are there and how they change.
If you miss the dawn, how about sunset instead? Even on a cloudy, wet day when you can’t see the sun, the light still slowly fades. Why not observe it for a short time this evening? Is there anything that surprises you?
Protect Time to be Mindful
Most of us have practices that we do to keep our bodies fit and our minds balanced. Practices such as meditation, walking, pilates or yoga. To maintain our health and happiness over the festive period, it is important that we protect this time and are very disciplined about doing it, even if we feel we don’t have the time.
The Dalai Lama has an interesting opinion on meditation. When asked by a reporter how he was able to fit in daily meditation with such a busy schedule, he smiled and replied that on normal days, he meditates for an hour in the mornings. He then smiled an even bigger smile and said that on extremely busy days, he meditates for 2 hours in the morning.
We all need to take some time to ‘recharge our batteries’, even 10 minutes can make a difference.
Mindful Traffic Jams
Has anyone else noticed that journeys around town are taking longer than usual? Everyone seems to have gone Christmas shopping! That’s when any excitement of the Christmas season starts to fade and thoughts fly around my mind ‘why didn’t I come earlier, how could I be so stupid, I should have known it would be like this in December, I’m going to be late, I’m an idiot, people will think I’m so disorganised, etc etc etc’
Time for a 3 stage breathing space: firstly, asking myself ‘how are things right now?’ My shoulders are tense, I’m frowning, the skin around my eyes is really tight and I’m gripping the steering wheel for dear life.
Stage 2: taking my awareness to my breathing – being aware of the in-breath all the way in, from the tip of my nose to the slight swelling of the abdomen. Then following the breath all the way out, without trying to change it, just being aware. Doing this for 2 or 3 cycles of the breath.
Stage 3: as the traffic lights change, driving forward with an awareness that I feel different, my stress levels have gone down several notches, most of that tension has gone.There are some things about the Christmas season that we can’t change but we can change the way we react to them ….
How often do we really listen to what other people say at Christmas parties?
We have the best of intentions but do we sometimes find ourselves half listening, while the rest of our mind is planning our reply? Are we waiting for a pause, so that we can jump in with our contribution? Does our mind wander off and start to think who we would rather be talking to? Or hear fragments of a conversation and think that it sounds more interesting than the one we are having?
Those imaginary conversations are exactly that: they exist only in our minds. By living in our imagination we are missing what is happening right now, in front of us.
This Christmas party season try to bring your full attention to the conversations you have with others. Whenever you notice your attention wandering, gently bring it back to the person you are with and what they are saying. Accept people as they are in the present moment, without judging.
Sometimes we think life is too busy for us to be mindful but in reality, the busier we are, the more we need mindfulness ….
Be Kind to Yourself
Chances are, we are not going to handle the Christmas season perfectly. We may forget things, even seemingly important things. We may feel as if we are completely disorganised and out of control. Or we may completely ‘lose it’ and have a major falling out with someone in our family.
Often in these circumstances we are our own harshest critics. We beat ourselves up over what we could have done differently. Our minds carry us away with thoughts about why things have turned out like this. Perhaps we judge the other people involved and ruminate over why they acted in such a way. We can lead ourselves into a downwards cycle of negative thoughts.
Research is showing that being kinder to ourselves has powerful effects on how we cope with life’s stresses. By accepting that we will make mistakes and forgiving ourselves when we do, without judging ourselves, we can feel soothed and calmed.
Moment by Moment
Christmas Eve leading into Christmas Day is a time I have found, in recent years, to be particularly challenging. There is something about Christmas that brings me up sharply and makes me notice any difference between how life is and how I think it should be.
In the run-up to Christmas this year, the Dickens story ‘A Christmas Carol’ came unexpectedly to mind. The miser, Scrooge, is haunted by the ghost of Christmas past: memories of his previous Christmasses and realisation of how things could have been different.
This set me thinking. It is so easy to get trapped in ‘Christmas Past’ with seemingly idyllic (but perhaps rose-tinted) memories of how Christmas used to be. Or to get caught up in ‘Christmas Future’, worries about how we want Christmas to be.
Scrooge’s solution was to live ‘Christmas Present’. And, guess what – his Christmas was completely different to how he had imagined it would be.
So this Christmas Eve, every time I have been aware of expectations of how I think things should be, I have acknowledged my thoughts and brought myself gently back into the present moment and how things actually are right now. I’ve noticed lots of special moments that I might otherwise have missed.
What to do Now??
If Christmas is already exacerbating your feelings of stress and burnout, take some positive steps to improve your life in 2018 by booking yourself onto a 8 week mindfulness course (starting soon at innertouch “Group Mindfulness Course”).
There is a wealth of good quality research to show that mindfulness reduces stress, exhaustion and burnout. It can also help you to sleep better. If you live with pain or illness, mindfulness reduces your suffering. While it is possible to learn mindfulness from a book, an app or on-line, and there are excellent resources available, the gold standard is an 8 week mindfulness course, taught in a group. There is so much to gain by sharing experiences with others who are also learning.
You learn new skills every week and by the end of the 8 weeks will have a toolkit of practices to help when things get tough.
Wishing everyone a Mindful Christmas Season. Moment by moment …..