6 Tips for Mindful Self-Care Over The Holidays

The holidays are fast approaching, and many of us are heading home to spend time with family. For some, this means confronting challenging political views and challenging interpersonal dynamics. As far as mindfulness is concerned, these are the moments where the rubber meets the road!

If you’re anxious about holiday family time, here are six tips to keep your mindfulness and compassion alive:

  1. Schedule time to connect with friends. Though you may be across the country from your social circle or romantic partner, a few well-placed phone calls can provide a much needed dose of connection and co-regulation. Let it be a good 20 minutes, and be present for it—find a quiet place, lie down, and soak in the connection. No need to complain about Uncle Bob’s misogynistic comments—you can talk about anything! A large part of the psychological benefit that comes from connection comes regardless of the content being exchanged.
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Instructions for Lovingkindness Practice

Lovingkindness practice is a meditation technique which generates a friendly, calm, kind state of mind. Over time, it can become a powerful stress reduction tool when you are emotionally out of balance. It also helps to focus and concentrate the mind, particularly when done in the way described below.

This practice is different than an “affirmation” in that it is not story-driven, and we are not aiming to generate any particular feeling in the body (though pleasant feelings will sometimes arise). The calming, centering power of this technique primarily comes from the concentration it generates.

The practice can be done in any position, eyes closed or open. For the purposes of these instructions, let’s assume your eyes are closed and you are seated comfortably.

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The Dark Side of Concentration

Insight emerging today about the way concentration works: It feels like concentration is more-or-less the ability to keep running the neural circuit that’s running.

That circuit might be an intense meditative process, or your work on a term-paper. But it could just as easily be an unwanted pattern of thinking, self-loathing, judgement, or an unskillful coping strategy like overeating or substance use. We can potentially whip ourselves into very high concentration doing or thinking things we don’t actually want to do/think!
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Spiritual Bypass & Somatic Emotion

Fragile_EmotionAs humans, we are evolutionarily wired to avoid what is uncomfortable or unknown. Mindfulness is counterintuitive in that it trains us to turn toward discomfort, allowing it to be just as it is (more on that here).

As you may know, this is not a simple training, and it’s relatively common to slide off the path into various forms of avoidance along the way. This phenomenon is called “spiritual bypass,” and no particular technique or practice is immune. In Psychology Today, Ingrid Mathieu put it brilliantly: “spiritual bypass is an equal opportunity defense mechanism. It is more related to what we as human beings do with spiritual practice than it is related to the practice itself.”
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Freedom is a Moving Target

freedomTo me, “freedom” is a particularly useful word to describe the long-term goal of mindfulness practice. But what does that word really mean? To keep “freedom” tangible and relevant, I like to move through my life asking, “how am I NOT free in this moment?” Often the answer is surprising. As an illustration, consider the example of hearing the unintentionally harsh words of a friend…

Am I free to feel the hurt (sadness, embarrassment) caused by the harsh words, or am I compelled to space out or ruminate angrily? Perhaps I am free to feel the hurt, but am I fully free to speak up in defense of my principles? Perhaps I am free to speak up in defense of my principles, but am I free to do it in a way that is kind and without anger? Perhaps I am free to speak up kindly, but am I free to walk away from that experience without resentment? Perhaps I am free to walk away without resentment, but am I free to maintain a fully accepting relationship with this friend, should that seem the best choice? Perhaps I am free to maintain that relationship, but am I free NOT to maintain it, investing less energy in it if in fact it seems unhealthy?

Freedom is a moving target. In each moment, as conditions change, there are new opportunities to let go and new opportunities to be stuck. New opportunities to choose, and new opportunities to humbly acknowledge the limitations on our freedom of choice. How are you not free in this moment?