Reduce Stress Over the Holidays During COVID
What comes up for you emotionally with the holidays this year?
For many of us, our holidays during COVID will look very different than in previous years. Some of us may not get to spend time with family members who are usually part of our holiday traditions. Some of us won’t get to travel like we typically do over the holidays. Some of us may end up spending the holidays alone due to the circumstances of this year. Many of us are experiencing financial stress. Places we are accustomed to spending holiday traditions may be closed. Holiday parties may be on a pause this year. There’s a lot that’s different about this year, and a lot of emotion can come up around that.
First off, know that all emotions are valid and ok. Three are no wrong emotions to feel. Do you ever feel guilty or shameful for feeling sad or disappointed when you know so many others in the world are suffering more than you? This is important to hear because guilt and shame don’t do anything supportive to serve you. You can simultaneously have compassion for the suffering of others and give yourself permission to feel whatever emotion you are authentically feeling. I just share this to offer you the invitation to release any guilt or shame around whatever emotions you experience over the holidays. I’m someone who feels emotions very deeply, and this mindset shift has been so supportive to move me out of stuck emotions.
This year has been a year unlike any other, and that may also apply to our holidays. And on top of that, we are in a time of uncertainty as many states have added new mandates and restrictions over Thanksgiving week, and the news floods us with speculation about possible new mandates here in Texas.
So how do we reduce stress over the holidays during this COVID time utilizing mindfulness?
1. Make self-care a priority.
When you find yourself in emotional overwhelm or stagnation, make self-care a priority. Pause and notice what emotions you are experiencing and where you feel the emotions arising in your body through your somatic sensations. Place your hand on your heart and take a few slow breaths to help clear your mind. Acknowledge that you are in a difficult moment and offer yourself a word of support. Ask yourself, “What do I need right now to support me through this moment of challenge?” If it’s something that you can offer yourself in the moment, like a cup of warm tea or a short walk outside, go for it! If it’s something that’s not accessible in the moment, identify a specific time you can give yourself the self-care you need. Put it in your schedule, set a timer on your phone, write it on a sticky note, etc. Make it a priority. You’re worth it. Say it out loud with me now, “I am worth it!”
2. Find small moments of gratitude.
Consciously set an intention for small moments of gratitude throughout your day. Perhaps start or end your day writing down three things you are grateful for in a gratitude journal. I find it to be the most powerful when I mindfully pause and savor the sweetness of gratitude in the moment. Watch for small moments to be grateful for throughout your day. Mindfully pause and notice how you experience gratitude. What does it feel like within your body? For me, it often feels like a warm, honey like sensation emanating from my heart. Perhaps place a hand or two on your heart and take a few breaths in and out of your heart center as your savor on the moment of gratitude.
3. Get creative with holiday traditions
Holiday traditions often have strong emotions tied to them and can bring a sense of emotional safety and comfort. If the circumstances of this year have disrupted your typical holiday traditions that hold sentimental value to you and your family, get creative! Is there a creative way to still experience the tradition, even if it looks a little or a lot different? Perhaps brainstorm with your family and friends who you typically celebrate the holidays with for ideas.
Have conversations with your family on what they most like and least like about holiday traditions. This can be a beautiful opportunity to assess and reflect on why you engage in the traditions that you do. Perhaps there’s a tradition that no one in the family really enjoys. Why do you do it? Is it simply out of habit? How can you create the feeling of the traditions that hold sentimental value to your family? Is there a new tradition that your family wants to create?
4. Remember to offer compassion to yourself and others
The holidays tend to be a stressful time of year already. and we’re in new territory navigating the holidays during COVID. And this has already been an incredibly stressful year for so many of us. If you have moments where you aren’t your best self, remember to extend compassion to yourself. Take responsibility for your actions and offer repairs to relationships as needed while also remembering to hold yourself with self-compassion. Being harsh with ourselves often does not help us. I taught a whole webinar on mindfully working with self-critical thinking patterns. Remember to breathe and be gentle with yourself.
Also, remember to have compassion for others. We don’t ever fully know what others are going through. It’s been a hard year for many. Sometimes a little compassion offered to someone else can have a far more profound effect on them than we could ever know. A small act of kindness could save someone’s life. Let’s have compassion and support one another right now.
I hope these four strategies to reduce stress over the holidays with mindfulness support you and your family. I know it’s likely been a stressful year for you and am holding you with compassion. I hope you are able to find moments of joy, comfort, and gratitude throughout your holidays.
North Texas Center for Mindfulness Founder