The holidays can be both wonderful and painful. They can remind us to connect with loved ones, but they can also be reminders of connections that we don’t have.
Depending on your circumstances, you might feel frazzled by extra activities and events or lonely and left out of the holiday hustle and bustle. It can be a time of reflecting back on happy childhood memories or a time of painful reminders of the past.
Whether it’s a painful or happy time of year for you, feelings can be overwhelming. When you’re overwhelmed and stressed, finding a way to slow down, focus and step back from intense emotion can be helpful. If you do, you might find yourself more centered, less reactive and better able to handle both the joyful and painful aspects of the season.
In DBT, Mindfulness exercises are taught to help people learn to focus attention, gain control over their minds, reduce emotional reactivity and connect to an inner wisdom. There are many definitions of mindfulness. As taught in DBT, it is about being fully present in the moment. Observing and describing what you experience through your senses, while letting go of judgment.
Occasions to practice mindfulness in daily life are everywhere. At this time of year, it is difficult to avoid signs of the season. Whether it’s snow, holiday decorations, music, television programs, church or football, we’re surrounded by reminders of the time of year.
If you’re busy working or preparing for the season you may be pulled by the need to do something else or be at the next place. If you’re feeling alone and isolated, you may want to avoid cues that trigger those feelings. Below is a mindfulness exercise designed to help you stop and be fully present, if even for a few moments, in the midst of emotion and action.
Today, or sometime this week, practice making a little time in your life to become conscious of a sign of the season. You may choose to stop and notice snow falling quietly outside a window, the smell of fir trees, the sights of lights or the taste of a favorite food. Whatever you choose, try to pick something that doesn’t trigger intense emotion.
Practice simply noticing this sign of the season. How does it look, taste, feel, smell? Give yourself 2-3 minutes to simply observe quietly.
If you find you are distracted by thoughts or feelings just notice that and gently bring your mind back to what you are observing. If you are distracted by associations you have with the season, again notice where your mind has gone and gently bring yourself back to the present. Let thoughts of ‘am I doing this right,’ harsh self judgments and urges to do something else pass through your mind.
It’s hard to catch ourselves in the midst of overwhelming emotion or mid-frenetic dash and simply be present. Practicing observing and describing the world around you can improve your control over your mind and reduce your reactivity to emotional triggers.
Afterward the exercise notice if you feel a greater sense of calm, than before the exercise. Please feel free to comment below on your experience.
Photo by "brockvicky," available under a Creative Commons attribution, non-commercial license.