Embracing Resilience This Holiday Season

Self-compassion, radical self-care, and compassion in challenging times.

Posted Dec 16, 2020

I am pleased to welcome Danielle Rousseau, Ph.D., LMHC, as my guest blogger for this article. Dr. Rousseau is an expert on mindfulness, yoga, and related self-compassion and self-care strategies. Today she writes about strategies to sustain yourself through the holidays during the coronavirus pandemic.

As we enter the holiday season, one thing is clear, things will be different. Although it may be possible to seek gratitude in aspects of pandemic impacts (simplification, more time with immediate family), there are so many challenges and things that are hard. Families are not able to travel to visit. Illness is pervasive. Jobs have been lost. Many have lost loved ones.

Systemic disparity means that not everyone experiences pandemic impacts equally. Fear and anxiety abound. We mourn the loss of holiday traditions.  

After months of living surrounded by chronic stressors, we may be left feeling overwhelmed and not knowing what to do. There seems to be an abundance of data and perspectives, but so many unanswered questions. We feel uncertain and out of control.

Jakob Owens/Unsplash
Remember self-compassion and self-care this holiday season.
Source: Jakob Owens/Unsplash

How do we approach the holiday season? 

First, there is no easy answer, and it is important to acknowledge that this is hard. There is no “right” way to feel.

We may feel grief over lost traditions or the inability to be with family. We may feel disconnected. Sad. Lonely.

We may also feel joy. Gratitude. Connection. We may roll through a whole range of emotions, rising and falling like the tide.  

With grace, we must accept ourselves exactly where we are and give ourselves permission to the forefront our own well-being. Well-being and resilience, particularly in challenging times, are rooted in self-compassion and self-care.  

Self-compassion 

Self-compassion, according to Dr. Kristin Neff, is comprised of self-kindness + common humanity + mindfulness. Self-kindness is having grace for ourselves, especially in challenging times. It entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our suffering or falling into self-criticism. 

Common humanity recognizes that setbacks, failures, and inadequacies are all part of our shared experience. Acknowledging our humanity fosters connection. When we are mindful, we focus on the present moment, observing thoughts and feelings as they are, without judgment. Self-compassion is authentic and vulnerable. Mindfulness and self-compassion are possible even in extremely difficult circumstances.

"We cannot ignore our pain and feel compassion for it at the same time." —Brene Brown

Rooted in self-compassion, we can accept ourselves where we are in any given moment, knowing we are enough and giving ourselves permission to take action. That action is the practice of radical self-care. 

In what areas can you give yourself more grace? 

Radical self-care 

Radical self-care is the notion that how we spend our time matters. Radical self-care is neither selfish nor indulgent. It is fundamental, focusing on the root of what sustains us.

Radical self-care includes the daily disciplines we engage in to meet our basic needs and promote our well-being and resilience, daily habits that are easy to do, but just as easy not to do. Radical self-care includes the ways in which we hydrate, nourish our bodies, move, connect with nature, think, rest, and connect with others. We cannot give what we do not have.  

If we do not take care of ourselves, we cannot sustain a connection to others in any meaningful way. Without self-compassion and self-care, there is no foundation for compassion.  

Davidson Luna/Unsplash
Resting, simplifying, spending time outdoors, and finding ways to connect can help us get through the holidays.
Source: Davidson Luna/Unsplash

What daily disciplines can you commit to in support of your well-being this holiday season? (Hint: Focus on one commitment at a time.) 

Compassion 

Compassion is connection + action. Although empathy is about emotion (I feel with you), compassion is about action (I connect with you, and I want to help). With empathy, we can sometimes get caught in the emotion. We may not know what to do, or the emotional toll may lead to inaction. Empathy unbalanced drains us. When our connection to others is unbalanced, we risk taking on their trauma.  

Some of us are sick or unsafe ourselves and may be most in need of compassion at this time. That is OK—almost everyone goes through such times sooner or later.

However, if you have the resources, compassion can help you connect to others and be of service. That said, we are only successful in a sustained way when we are rooted in self-compassion and radical self-care. As Ruth King states, “Compassion practice motivates wise action.”

This is why practices like loving-kindness meditation are so important and impactful. Our current world can feel very isolating and disconnected. Putting self-compassion and self-care first can help us recognize when we have reached our limits of helping and need to rest and recover for a time. Centering compassion and kindness allow us to realize that we remain integrally connected, even in the most challenging of circumstances.  

How can you send kindness out to the world around you? In what way, no matter how small, can you be of service to others this holiday season? 

In these challenging times, we need to remind ourselves that we are enough, and, with grace and kindness, we can intentionally support our well-being and resilience. There is suffering currently. But there is also so much beauty and joy. Allow yourself to recognize and experience both.  

Ultimately, any response to our current experience is complex. Struggles with mental and physical well-being are normal. Systemic injustices are undeniable. Disparities abound, and the call to social justice remains ever-present.

Self-care cannot solve any of this. That said, if we cultivate self-compassion, radical self-care, and compassion for others, we will build the foundation that supports our well-being and sustains our work as change-makers.  

It is OK to feel grateful this holiday season and to feel overwhelmed, tired, anxious, or sad.

This season, commit to really tuning in to what you need and give yourself permission to respond to whatever arises. Slow down. Rest. Move. Try yoga. Get outside. Go for a walk. Meditate. Reach out.

Connect with others. Check-in with loved ones and community members. Say no. Set boundaries. Ask for help. Be of service to others where you can.  

These are challenging times. We can do hard things. And we can ask for help and have grace for ourselves when we fall short. Be kind to yourself and others. Find joy in the present moment whenever you can. 

© 2020 Danielle Rousseau.  All rights reserved.

Danielle Rousseau, Ph.D., LMCH, is a professor, researcher, clinical therapist, and certified yoga teacher. Both her research and teaching are informed by her experience in the field of forensic psychology and trauma-informed interventions. Dr. Rousseau is an advocate of integrative, holistic approaches that support embodied self-care. She is a sought-after national speaker and trainer and has developed a diverse range of curricula and training. Her upcoming book Yoga and Resilience: Empowering Practices for Survivors of Sexual Trauma is due out this spring.