As I’m writing this I’m recovering from a little bug which struck me down in what is my busiest time of the year. As well as feeling pretty rough over the last few days, I’ve been a bit frustrated with my body for ‘failing’.
But it’s a reminder that I’ve had a very busy last few weeks full of lots of events and chocolate making, and that my body needs a little rest. Rather than failing it’s actually responding – and of course it’s alright for me to get a bit frustrated as that’s a completely natural reaction!
This has got me thinking back to some of what I learned in my Mindful Self-Compassion week earlier in the year and why this applies particularly at this time of the year.
Compassion at Christmas
Christmas can be a wonderful time, but it can also be a difficult one too. There are often many social commitments, LOTS of things to organise, maybe difficult relationships to navigate or even the pain of feeling alone during the festive period. Any of these things can spiral into challenging emotions and stress.
In my own case, I really love Christmas but I often feel a little sad over the festive break too.
Most of my family is in Australia and this can feel a very long way away. I also miss the little traditions that are very bespoke to the Whitelys, as well as seeing the excitement of my nieces and nephew opening their gifts. Don’t get me wrong, I really treasure the time I have with my husband and family here (including my in-laws), but it is hard being away from my family too.
I guess what I’m saying it’s totally okay not to feel 100% okay over Christmas and that you can come at overwhelm, tiredness, frustration or sadness with compassion.
Gift Yourself a Self-Compassion Break
How can you stop these feelings, emotions and experiences tipping over into overwhelm?
I’ve found one of the most useful tools from the Mindful Self-Compassion course in these situations is the Self-Compassion Break. This is a short exercise that can be done anywhere, any time. It’s not a formal meditation, but is grounded in mindfulness.
Rather than trying to block out the emotions or the difficult situation, it’s about recognising both it and the negative feelings it causes. This could be stress, anger, frustration – and saying to yourself, in language that feels natural, something like:
“This situation is making me angry”
“This is a moment of suffering”
“I feel stressed”
The second stage is to recognise that this is natural suffering that’s part of being human – or common humanity as it’s called in the Mindful Self-Compassion approach.
I then like to put my hands or one of my hands over my heart, but you might like to hold your hands or place a hand over your stomach. Choose wherever feels most soothing for you, and let your hand rest there, comforting you.
Next, consider a phrase that feels like it is the kindest thing thing you could say to yourself (you might want to practise this a few times to try out what feels right). This could be:
“May I be kind to myself”
“May I be strong”
“May I be patient”
Make sure you give yourself a little time to pause before taking yourself, compassionately, back into Christmas.
Self-Compassion Break Exercise – Dr Kristin Neff