Getting together with friends and family at Christmas can bring laughter, smiles and happiness but it can also bring stress, tension and upset.
At my drop-in meditation sessions before the Christmas break, we talked about how frantic things can feel and what situations might trigger us.
I shared some mindful actions, we can use to take care of ourselves. They were considered useful by attendees so I share them here too.
Of course we can give ourselves these gifts at any time but they are likely to be especially useful during this period.
A 90-second pause
When I was small, I was told to count to 10 before I blurted something out or lost control. The wisdom behind this idea is that pausing takes the heat out of an emotional reaction.
When we feel threatened our fight-or-flight response is switched on as chemicals surge through the blood stream, priming us for action. We feel this surge as sensations in our body.
According to neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor the chemical rush associated with an emotion lasts around ninety seconds.
She notes that “this means for 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.”
The takeaway being that if we can pause for 90 seconds, to allow this emotional wave to rise and fall, we won’t get swept away by it. Meaning as our thinking brain is back online, we get to choose our response rather than react
As mindfulness practitioners, we can use the abilities developed during body scan meditation to tune in to, and be with, those sensations as they rise. We can observe the emotion as it passes through.
But how do we know when 90 seconds has passed?
The answer is to substitute your breath for a timer.
If you know how many breaths you take in 90 seconds, you can use it to navigate that time period as you witness the emotion rise and fall. I’ve learned that I take about 12 breaths in the space of a minute and a half.
Take a moment to determine how many you take in a minute and add half as much again so that you are ready when you feel negative emotions rising.
I wrote about employing a 90 second pause in the blog post dialling down an emotion
This time of year has a different rhythm to the rest of the year and life can feel full-on as we squeeze gift buying, guest preparations and going out into our already busy daily lives.
When we race from one thing to another, we might not notice a dip in mood and, therefore, not take early action to help ourselves regain a sense of balance.
The check-in is a technique for stepping in, understanding how you are experiencing life and choosing how to be or what to do in the very next moment.
When we feel have a lot to do, we prioritise and thus drop things that we consider less important. This means, if we don’t view our formal meditation practice as a priority for ourselves then it is likely we will abandon it.
I view my daily practice as hygiene for my mind and feel weird if I don’t do it. However, there are times when I can not do my usual morning practice.
When that happens, we can use the 3-step ABC “breathing space” as a means to maintain awareness in our day.
A practice that combines the key elements of mindfulness - come off autopilot, turn towards your experience and accept what’s here.
You can use it as a shorter practice in place of your formal meditation when time is against you, as a means to gather yourself when things begin to feel frantic or as an emergency meditation, maybe to put yourself on pause before you do or say something in the heat of the moment.
Step 1. Acknowledge
Take a few moments to take in your current experience. Allowing it all to be, just as it is, no need for judgement or analysis. Taking stock, gathering data and information about how things are. Noting thoughts, body sensations, feelings as data and body signals.Not trying to change things in any way, just checking in with how things are
Step 2. Breathe
Now narrowing the attention to the sensations of breath in the body. Using the breath as a bridge to the present moment. Following the breath all the way in and all the way out. Dropping out of the mind and into the body.
Step 3. Connect
Widen the attention out again to the body as a whole. Noticing where the body comes into contact with the floor or whatever is supporting you. Tuning into sounds in the external environment, preparing to reconnect with the day.
Downtime is when a machine is purposefully taken offline for repair or maintenance.
Acts of self-care, those that help us rest and recuperate, are often undervalued but they play a key part in being able to achieve what we want to.
The festive period can be very demanding – physically, emotionally and mentally. Planning downtime activities that restore and re-energise will help ensure you enjoy the season.
From a very early age schooling trains us to be achievement focused, conditioning us to be goal-orientated. We almost continuously focus on actions and activities, whether that’s things that need to be done or have been done – the endless to-do list.
During the Christmas break a belief that we need to do particular things, have things a specific way or attend certain activities can lead to feeling under pressure and anxious.
Added to the fact that our usual routine gets disrupted - we tend to socialise more, sleep less and eat differently - without scheduled downtime, we can soon start to feel out of sorts.
In my workplace sessions, I regularly talk about balancing our mental wealth account but it’s just as true physically.
We don’t have limitless reserves of either mental or physical energy. So, we need to be responsible and balance the supply and demand.
I have created the REST framework to help:
Review your outgoings – your commitments over the period
Evaluate pinch points or over-commitment
Schedule activities that will recharge you
Take care not to give time away
Here are some examples of activities I am likely to do to recharge:
Get out in nature
Read a book
Take a bath
Tech free time period
Tidy out a drawer
Watch a film/TV show
It's inspiring to hear what others' do to recharge.
Share yours in the comments section