By Sally Harris, Mindfulness in Oxford
Christmas can be a magical time of year can’t it? A chance to celebrate with friends and family and enjoy good food and festive traditions. But for many of us it can also bring challenges; feeling frazzled and overwhelmed, the pressure to be constantly jolly and bright, or sadness thinking of loved ones we can’t be with.
However you feel about Christmas, being a little more mindful can make the good times feel even more meaningful, and the harder times easier to bear.
1. Give your presence as well as presents
It’s wonderful to give (and receive!) thoughtful gifts (and even better if they’re ethical, like the beautiful items at Fairtrade at St Michaels), but deep down what we all crave more than material possessions is to feel connected and valued by our loved ones. Prioritise finding some pockets of quality time to share your undivided attention with the people you care about over the festive season. You could agree on some designated ‘screen-free’ meals, enjoy an activity together like a walk or board game, or schedule in a phone call at a time when you know you’ll be able to listen without distractions.
2. Accept what’s outside your control
Many of us have big expectations about how Christmas ‘should’ go and understandably we want this year to make up for lost time. But if the last 18 months have taught us anything it’s that even the best laid plans can go awry. If things change at the last minute or don’t go entirely as you’d hoped, try to accept the situation with good grace. Real life is never perfect (despite what social media might have us believe!), and if you’re focussing over how things should have gone, you’ll be missing the joy that might be lurking in the imperfect present moment that’s happening right now.
3. Go easy on yourself
If you’re experiencing difficult emotions like grief, fear, worry or loneliness this Christmas, see if you can give yourself the same care, gentleness and compassion you might show a loved one who was in your shoes. What would you say to a friend who was feeling this way? Schedule time for activities you find soothing and nourishing; listen to a favourite piece of music, stroke a pet or do a guided mindful self-compassion meditation It might seem selfish to put your own needs first, but chances are if you look after yourself you’ll have more energy and headspace to care for others too.
4. Savour the little moments
It’s easy to focus on the big glittery parts of the festive season – the picture-perfect Christmas dinner, the family gatherings, the gifts – but don’t forget to savour the quieter, subtler moments too. Whether it’s listening to birdsong on a wintry walk, holding a warm mug of hot chocolate in your hands or hugging a loved one, be on the look-out for sensory experiences that bring you pleasure or contentment. It’s a great daily practice to foster a more positive outlook on life and balance out the human negativity bias.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a secular, evidence-based approach that helps us become more aware of what we’re experiencing, as we’re experiencing it – including our physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and surroundings. It helps us tune into how we’re feeling so we can make wiser choices about what to do next, encourages us to connect more deeply with others and trains us to accept our experience without piling on self-criticism or judgement.
Sally Harris is an accredited mindfulness trainer based in Oxford. Since 2017 she has been leading courses and workshops to help people boost their wellbeing, ease physical pain and reduce stress.
Social media: @sallyharrismindfulness