If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.
— Jack Kornfield
The holidays are upon us. Tis the season to be jolly and all that. But for many people, this is the season of stress and depression. People tend to push themselves beyond their limits. Overspending is rampant; people overindulge in food and drink; there is increased stress due to travel and obligatory family get togethers. And often, our sleep suffers and we have less time to recharge our batteries.
And then to top it all off, most of us beat ourselves up because we haven’t done enough or haven’t done it right. “Are the presents just right?” “Did I make enough pies?” “Did I make a fool of myself at that party?”
This holiday season, I am committing to a whole new approach. In order to be fully present for my loved ones, I need to take care of me. My plan centers around Mindful Self-Compassion; with an added focus of paying attention to what my body needs.
Kristin Neff Phd, one of the world’s leading experts on self-compassion, explains that with self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend. This quote by Neff sums it up pretty well:
“You don’t want to beat yourself up for beating yourself up in the vain hope that it will somehow make you stop beating yourself up. Just as hate can’t conquer hate — but only strengthens and reinforces it — self-judgment can’t stop self-judgment.”
This holiday season, by treating myself like I’d treat a loved one, I’m hoping to increase my emotional well-being and resilience. Here’s my plan:
During the holidays, we are so quick to give our time and energy that we can end up feeling completely depleted.
This holiday season, I plan to take the time each day to check in with myself: “How am I feeling?” “Have I done something good for me today?” This will require setting boundaries with others as well as myself. I don’t have to do everything for everyone these holidays. I commit to taking time to just be; to go on walks and to read. I don’t have to bake the cookies and host the community carolling party. I can choose to stay home and read with a cup of tea instead of joining one more holiday party. Self-care and self-compassion bring me peace and joy, which in turn will allow me to bring peace and joy to those around me.
2. Slow down and meditate
Part of my plan to take care of myself will include making sure I have plenty of time for me, and just plenty of time period. The holiday season tends to be a time of rushing around, hurrying from one event to the next.
This year I plan to focus on many mini moments of mindfulness as Andy Puddicombe refers to it in his program, Headspace. And I’ll make sure I make time in my busy schedule to meditate. I know that those 15–20 minutes in the morning make all the difference to the other 23 + hours in the day.
I know from experience that when I’m in a place of gratitude everything in my life just works and feels better. Neuroscience has proven that actively practicing gratitude protects your brain from stress and depression. Recent research shows that even just thinking about what I am grateful for increases dopamine and serotonin. But, I’m not just going to think about what I’m grateful for, I commit to writing down three positive things that I’m thankful for every morning in my journal. I have learned that this simple activity trains my brain to be more positive by looking for the good in life rather than the bad. And I plan to share my appreciation too, to articulate my gratitude to others. These simple statements of gratitude to others for who they are and what they are doing are like small gifts, often appreciated more than that box of chocolates.
4. Eat well and not overindulge
We all know it’s common to put on weight during the holiday season, and then to beat oneself up mercilessly for the next few months. I know when I eat healthier, I feel better. I don’t plan to deprive myself of holiday treats, but I will eat in moderation. And when I do put on those extra holiday pounds, I will be kind to myself in the new year, just like I would a good friend. Instead of berating myself and calling myself fat, I will suggest that perhaps a long walk would be a great idea.
5. Stay Active
And speaking of long walks, I know that exercise is essential to my well being. I will make time this holiday season to go on long walks and do plenty of yoga. I know that physical activity reduces stress, improves my mood and prevents depression. I know this from experience, but the research shows it as well; exercise triggers the same hormones (dopamine and serotonin) in my brain that are targeted by anti-depressant medication. So I know that exercise won’t just help me with those few extra pounds this holiday season, but it will greatly help my mood as well. But you know what, if I miss a couple of days of exercise, I won’t beat myself up about it either!
Finally, this holiday season I commit to protecting my sleep. There are few things that mess up my health and well-being like poor sleep. I know that not sleeping well leads to stress, irritability and just feeling like crap. A lot of us lose sleep around the holidays, whether it’s from staying out late, overindulging in food, drink and sugar, or over-caffeinating. But I know that the best way for me to be cheerful this holiday season is to get enough sleep.
So this holiday season, I invite you to follow my plan and make a commitment to yourself. Take care of yourself over the holidays and practice some self-compassion. Let’s all remember Soren Kierkegaard’s wise words:
“Don’t forget to love yourself.”