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Being more mindful this Christmas

You’re probably wondering why you should be mindful at Christmas if you don’t practice mindfulness throughout the rest of the year. That’s a good point. Actually, I believe that mindfulness could be incorporated into our daily lives without excessive effort or major lifestyle changes so ideally it would be something we practice daily. However, assuming that’s not happening, Christmas may be a very good time to start since this is a period in which people’s expectations of themselves and the event itself reach new heights, creating stress, anxiety and disillusionment. Practicing mindfulness could go a long way towards helping us maintain a serene, healthy attitude in a period which tends to be noisy, busy and downright stressful. See below for some ideas on how to be more mindful this Christmas:

Practice gratitude

Christmas seems to come with a myriad of expectations – to be in a relationship, have lots of friends to celebrate with, be invited to social events, be able to afford and receive expensive gifts, and so on. It’s okay to want these things but, in doing so, be careful not to forget what you already have. We naturally look towards the big, exciting things we could have, assuming that any less will just be disappointing and not enough. We overlook the loyal and reliable friend we can call for a chat when we feel low, our mum’s slightly oily yet delicious roast potatoes, or the book carefully chosen by our friend because she knows we’ll love reading it over the Christmas break. Despite social media platforms and the media telling us otherwise, we really can be happy with the small things and the ordinary moments we often take forgranted.

Silence the inner critic

Yes, you chose the slowest queue, you may not be able to afford many gifts this year, and you may not be able to squeeze into the little black dress you wore last year. You have a choice here – you could berate yourself to the point you make yourself miserable or you could be gentle and kind with yourself. You’ll eventually get to the checkout, you’ll aim to budget better next year and you’ll make getting fit and healthy a priority as soon as all the festivities are over. Being less critical will actually make achieving these goals a lot easier.

Practice acceptance

A few Christmas’s ago I almost carried out a citizen’s arrest when the same woman skipped me in the queue twice. That would have been slightly awkward explaining to the police. When you’re doing your Christmas shopping this year, prepare yourself from beforehand that your patience will be tested. You’ll probably be stuck in traffic, pushed and trampled on by fellow shoppers, all with ‘Away in a Manger’ blaring in the background. When something or someone riles you, take a few deep breaths and notice what you’re feeling and thinking. Rather than acting on these thoughts and feelings, simply acknowledge them and trust that they’ll pass. Remain calm, knowing that you’ll soon be at home and away from the chaos. One thing that helps me when I’m sitting in traffic or navigating my way through Christmas shoppers is to remember that we’re all in the same boat, all just wanting to arrive somewhere or get things done. Remember that and you may look at your fellow shoppers/commuters in a different, more compassionate light.

Reserve judgement

I often hear clients telling me about how they don’t like how they look, or dread attending social events in case people judge what they wear, their hair, and so on. We fear the judgement of others because we feel insecure about ourselves. If we accepted our imperfections and liked ourselves anyway, we’d be less bothered about the judgement of others. Apart from this, we probably expect to be judged because we do the same to others. In fact, it’s a natural part of being human that we make an internal assessment of what we see and hear. However, we then have a choice on how far we take that assessment. We can look kindly and compassionately towards others or we can look at them with a critical eye. You’ll probably find that if you adopt a more non-judgemental attitude towards others, you’re less likely to judge yourself and less likely to expect to be judged by others yourself.

Do some Christmas baking/decorating

A great way to practice being in the moment is to do something creative. Try baking some biscuits or Christmas sweets, or doing some decorating, and really focusing on what you’re doing. When you notice your attention shifting, gently draw it back to what you’re working on, reminding yourself that the most important moment is the one you’re currently in.

Indulge your sweet tooth, but do it mindfully

Do you often find yourself scoffing down chocolates, only aware of how many you’ve eaten when you catch sight of the pile of wrappers lying beside your bed? At some point, you probably weren’t even enjoying what you were eating, since you were so engrossed in watching a film or your favourite series. Try eating each chocolate slowly, savouring each bite as you enjoy the different flavours and textures. If you really want to enjoy what you’re eating, try doing so with the TV off or with no other distractions. You’ll not only enjoy the experience more but you may even eat less. Win win!!

Slow down

I know that’s the last thing most people want to hear, especially when there seems to be so much to do that we’re worried we won’t manage to get everything done by Christmas day. I think most of us are unable to pinpoint the time in which our lives became so busy that getting things done became more important than our physical health, emotional well-being, relationships and happiness. The Christmas period is no exception. If you can, avoid taking on any tasks you don’t have time for and schedule in breaks and time for rest and relaxation. You may get less done but you’ll be in a better position to enjoy this time with friends and family.

Enjoy some quiet time

Find some time each day to meditate, sit quietly, or go on a slow-paced walk. As you do, focus on your breathing and enjoy the silence. Sitting still is often viewed as a waste of time but this is a time to recharge your batteries, reconnect with yourself and gain some much-needed perspective.

Have a digital detox

If we want to be more mindful, careful use of technology and our many devices would be a priority. I’m hearing a growing number of people telling me that they know that constantly scrolling through Instagram and Facebook is making them stressed and unhappy but they can’t seem to curb the urge to constantly be ‘connected’. Constant connectivity has been linked to increased stress, poor sleep and an inability to shut off from work and be more present (Nam, 2013). Excessive use of social media has also been found to increase feelings of isolation, loneliness, and unhappiness, particularly due to our tendency to compare ourselves and our lives to those of our ‘friends’ (Odgers et al 2017). As Christmas is a period in which we tend to meet family and friends more often, see if you can try to really focus on the people you’re with rather than on what’s happening ‘out there’. Put your phones on silent, tucked away in a pocket, bag or another room, and reap the benefits of face-to-face communication. Not only will you feel less stressed but you may even feel closer to the people who really matter. In terms of reducing use of your phone, you need to see what works for you. However, some ideas include limiting social media use to 30 minutes per day (or less), putting your phone on silent for an hour a day, not sleeping with your phone in your bedroom, choosing to meet a friend face to face rather than chatting online, and so on. Very small steps can lead to very positive results.

No matter what your beliefs are and how you choose to spend this time of year, I hope you have a Christmas where you feel present, connected to the people you care about and at peace with yourself.

Danjela Falzon - Malta therapy clinic

About Danjela Falzon

Danjela has been practising as a Psychotherapist since 2011, having read for a BSc in Psychology at Birkbeck, University of London, followed by a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at GPTIM. She works therapeutically with individuals, adopting an approach which is warm and empathic, yet direct and challenging when necessary. She also works with groups, teaching mindfulness and providing support and guidance to reduce stress and anxiety.

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