The holiday season is often filled with anticipation, expectation and excitement. For many, there is a reunion with family or even an actual return home to one’s childhood environment. The act of reuniting or returning can often trigger strong feelings related to the past, including memories of childhood experiences and feelings associated with them. Once these feelings are triggered, people sometimes fall into an automatic response mode that contributes to dynamics with family members that can promote conflict, disappointment and upset.
It can be so useful to mindfully step out of this automatic response mode and work towards maximizing the potential for enjoyment during the holidays. Some ways to promote healthy and pleasant experiences during the holiday season include:
- Setting an intention prior to the holiday (event)
- Becoming aware and noticing your reactions to family members before responding to them
- Separating the past from the present
- Paying attention to self-care
Setting an intention can have a profound effect on what transpires during a holiday visit/event. For instance, if you decide that you intend to enjoy yourself, you can make decisions accordingly to support that intention. That may mean allowing a provocative comment to roll off your shoulders, surrounding yourself with family members or friends with whom you feel safest or removing yourself from an interaction that feels potentially explosive. Reminding yourself of your intention throughout the event will strengthen your ability to make choices that will back up your objective.
The very act of noticing your reactions to others will inherently buy you time before you automatically respond to anyone. It is so important to realize that our (internal) reactions are involuntary. In fact, they can be informative, so try not to judge yourself for having them. How we RESPOND to people and situations, however, is a choice. It can be extremely useful before going ahead with a response to ask yourself, “What do I hope to gain by the comment I am about to make?”.
Particularly when interacting with family members, the past and the present can get tied up into a confusing knot. It is beneficial to remind yourself that you are an adult, you are responsible for yourself (not other adult family members), you are autonomous and you are allowed to set boundaries and limits where appropriate for self-protection and wellness.
Being mindful about self-care can go a long way during the holiday season. People sometimes act out their feelings and reactions by either over indulging or over restricting. These behaviors are related to control issues. Notice if you are tipping the scales in one direction and what you are feeling or experiencing that may be fueling this. Pay attention to your need for togetherness as well as separateness. Create time and space for yourself accordingly. Although it may well be difficult to follow a regular self care or exercise routine (or maybe you consciously are taking a break from yours), give some attention to your mental and physical health. Taking some deep breaths, doing a brief mediation, speaking to a close friend or going for a walk will help you to stay grounded, keep perspective, and remain connected to yourself and your intentions.
Being mindful during the holidays can create an opportunity for you to have influence over your experiences, understand your feelings and reactions with respect to your most important relationships and derive a sense of empowerment through your actions.