Mindfulness and Compassion for the Holidays
December 21, 2021
The holiday season is in full swing with colder weather, glowing lights, candles burning, music playing and treats finding their ways into homes, offices, and shared spaces. Holiday cards are exchanged, gatherings organized, elves sit on shelves, and eggnog is found in grocery stores once again.
The winter holiday season is a glowing beacon of hope and togetherness amongst family, friends, and the community. However, it can also be an intrusive reminder of desperation, loss, and feeling isolated, especially for those who have experienced trauma. And, due to the nature of trauma, the impacts are very rarely isolated to a single person. The ripple effect extends outward to parents, caregivers, siblings, neighbors, co-workers and more. Whether it is a recent trauma, or one from long ago, the effects are different for everyone.
Perhaps the holidays bring a reminder of a loved one lost, the unspoken absence of an abuser at the dinner table, or memory of a trauma experienced on the day itself. While everyone else is singing carols or toasting the season, the feeling of being “different” can often compound, creating a heightened sense of isolation or worse.
While everyone else is singing carols or toasting the season, the feeling of being ‘different’ can often compound, creating a heightened sense of isolation or worse.”
So, what to do?
We asked Manny Marrero, a mental health occupational therapist, yoga, mindfulness, and mediation instructor who works at Cape Cod Hospital in the Centers for Behavioral Health, to give us insight on how to manage the consequences of trauma during the holidays. Here’s Manny’s guidance:
The holidays are a microcosm of the complexity and beauty of life. We can be around our loved ones feeling joy and celebrating, and in that same space, we can start to feel grief and suffering. We may get an urge to push the unpleasant emotions away because, after all, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” By practicing mindfulness, we can be reminded to be in the moment with a sense of awareness, compassion, and kindness; we can allow those feelings to exist and notice that they will pass naturally. We will feel something else, maybe next time, it is joy, peace, gratitude, or love.
As humans, we are designed to experience a wide range of emotions. An unpleasant emotion does not need to be fixed. Instead, we can meet the unpleasant emotion or memory with understanding and compassion, which sends a message to our mind and body that we are resilient. Mindfulness is not a destination or a panacea. Mindfulness is about being fully present with the moment to enjoy it. Above all, it opens us up to self-compassion when an unpleasant emotion regarding a past traumatic experience comes to the surface. Through mindfulness, we allow ourselves to be human, perfectly imperfect, flawed and enough.
The holidays do not have to be a time of pressure, but rather a time to reflect and share love, kindness, and compassion with others. So, if you find yourself stressed or anxious this holiday season, take five minutes to sit comfortably, let go of expectations and judgments as you breathe deeply into the belly. When you exhale, breathe out slowly with awareness of releasing tension and stress. After five minutes, notice how you feel. You may see there is less stress in the mind and body, and you are better able to be present for yourself and others. When we are present, we truly experience being alive and feeling all the love and joy that the holiday season can bring.
It is also important to practice self-care during this season. Parents, caregivers, and partners often take on the frustration, anger, sadness, and disappointment of their loved ones feeling of loss, trauma, and grief. To support children and loved ones in the holiday season, you must make self-care a priority.
Carve out time for yourself, identify what is going to make you happy and help you relax. Do not put this off! Self-care practices are often the first to go after what can be even a minor inconvenience. Identify at least one healthy activity that calms you down, releases anxiety or frustration, and do your best to practice it daily. Double doses of self-care are recommended. Talk with your partner, family, or friends about what you look forward to in the holiday season and find something you know will bring you joy.
Care for yourself, for your loved ones, and for others. It was the compassion of Cindy Lou Who which made the Grinch stop, reflect, and realize that he was feeling something other than anger. And that made all the difference.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Children’s Cove
For additional tips, lessons, guided meditations, and mindfulness exercises, visit Manny’s YouTube channel here.