The winter holidays are often an emotional time. Looking ahead to months of colder weather can bring about a more somber mood. Lack of sleep and too much rich food or alcohol can make us feel grumpy or guilty. We may face internal or external pressures to have a picture postcard perfect holiday, complete with sparkling snow, glittery ornaments, and brightly wrapped presents. We may be reminded of loved ones who are no longer with us, kids who are now grown, or we may feel more aware of our loneliness and long for a partner to share this special time. On the positive side, holidays may bring joyful reunions with family and friends, allow us to show generosity, and take a break from boring routine to add a little color to our lives. Whatever your holiday experience, these Mindfulness tips can help you weather the inevitable ups and downs.
Equanimity means maintaining a state of being grounded, calm and composed, even when there is chaos around you. Equanimity comes from the Latin word aequus - meaning balanced, and animus meaning spirit or internal state. Maintaining equanimity means not getting caught in the ups and downs of life – not clinging to positive states and running away from suffering. It means accepts the reality that emotional ups and downs are a part of life – caused by our own biological cycles and external events we often have no control over. The piece we can control is not to add to our suffering by either shutting down emotionally, or getting so caught up in our unmet needs or addictive longings that we sway off balance when things don’t go our way. We can maintain equanimity by paying attention to when our bodies go into ‘fight or flight’ states in which we feel driven to act impulsively or run away. Like that moment where before you know it, that pair of Ugg boots you don’t need makes its way into your shopping bag and your stomach drops knowing you will be paying it off for the next several months. That unconscious need to feel like a success or to avoid that feeling of sadness and deprivation can get you when you least expect it. Equanimity means stopping, slowing down by taking a few deep breaths, and then deliberately noticing what you are doing and feeling and whether you are caught up in a need or feeling that may cause you to act in ways that aren’t in your best interests. You can then gently redirect yourself back to a focus on your values and goals.
Soften, Soothe and Allow Your Feelings
‘Soften, soothe, and allow’ is a practice from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) that can help you to deal with painful feelings. The idea is not to shut out emotional pain, get too caught up in it, or act impulsively. Rather, you acknowledge and accept that painful feelings are there and allow them in, while finding a way to calm and comfort yourself. It’s like channeling your inner ‘Healthy Adult” to hold you and tell you things will be okay. Softening can begin in the body, by just noticing what feeling is arising, noting the location in your body, such as in your chest or throat, and paying attention to its texture. Is it hard or soft, stuck or flowing, rough or smooth? Having located the feeling, become aware of any resistance you may have to it and see if you can soften the resistance just a bit and allow the feeling to be there. Next, ask the feeling what it needs. Is it cold and needs warmth? Does it need a bit of breathing space? Is it frightened and needs comfort? Whatever comes up, visualize giving that to yourself. Or soothe the area by letting your hand gently rest there, imagining your hand transferring soothing energy to that area. In this way, the emotion should calm and settle a bit, losing some of its panicky, intense edge. With repeated practice, you will learn that you can tolerate painful feelings, letting them flow through and go on their way.
Move From Deprivation to Abundance Mindset
Early humans lived in tribes and were highly dependent on the social network for protection and access to food and shelter. We still live with the vestiges of this today. Our brains are naturally wired to compare ourselves with others, evaluate our social status and resources, and find ways to advance. An unfortunate side effect of this wiring is that we may develop a deprivation mentality – focusing on what we want that others have and we do not have. A deprivation mindset makes us feel unlucky or left out, leading to feelings of sadness and inferiority. To address this, we can adopt an abundance mindset – deliberately training our brains to focus on the good things we have in our lives, in order to generate feelings of contentment and a sense of belonging, safety, and being cared for.
At a physiological level, feeling safe and cared for allows our “fight, flight, freeze’ response to turn off, opening space for us to slow down, feel more present, and able to connect with others. Changing mindsets from deprivation to abundance takes months or years of practice. We have to keep redirecting attention until new neuronal pathways form in our brains. We also may have to acknowledge and allow in feelings related to the origins of our feelings of deprivation. Was one of our siblings more favored by our parents, more extraverted and popular, or more academically gifted? Did our family have less money than others in our school district or were we bullied and excluded? Using mindfulness, we can gently let in these old sad or angry feelings, watch them manifest in our bodies, and send breath to that area to open it up a bit. When we acknowledge our unmet needs with self-compassion, they lessen their hold on us. For some of us who have been traumatized or chronically neglected, psychotherapy may be necessary to achieve this type of letting go. The mindful practices in this article provide simple yet effective ways to allow in painful feelings while broadening your view to include safe, caring, or positive aspects of your life.
Practice gratitude and feeling a sense of abundance by bringing up an image of a past or present person who showed you respect and caring, even if the relationship was brief. A teacher, therapist or family friend might be a good focus for this exercise. Next, focus on the small things in your life that bring you pleasure, such as your dog or cat, flowers, the movies, warm blankets, hot showers, or anything that feels good to you. Let your mind visualize all of these things and say a quiet thanks for their presence in your life. Next, acknowledge yourself for the healthy choices you have made this year and the steps you have taken to learn and grow, even if you made mistakes or unhealthy choices also. Finally, express gratitude for that you are alive, it’s almost a new year, and you have new opportunities to expand your life and find ways to meet unmet needs.
With these practical tools, you will be well-equipped to ride out the ups and downs of the holidays and bring mindfulness, self-compassion, and abundant mindset with you as you prepare to enter a new year.
About The Author:
Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, and expert on Mindfulness, Managing Anxiety, and Depression, Succeeding at Work,, and Mind-Body Health. Dr Greenberg provides workshops and speaking engagements for your organization and coaching and psychotherapy for individuals and couples
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