Christmas brings mixed emotions, it can be a time of joy, of people coming together, of sharing and thankfulness. However, it can also be a time of pressure, conflict and stress.
Sometimes it can seem that there is that unspoken requirement that everything needs to be perfect at Christmas; presents chosen carefully, delicious food, feelings of connection and bonhomie. That is a lot to expect, and a lot to take responsibility for.
Therefore I suggest you give yourself a gift, the gift of self-compassion.
In more ‘normal’ times this would be a precious gift, but in these times of the additional stresses due to Covid-19, it is even more valuable. We may find we are unable to see loved ones, or unable to give the presents we have planned and saved for, we may need to care for those who can’t be physically with us and this can all add to our stress levels. However, this can also provide us with the opportunity to be more inventive and you never know we may enjoy Christmas in a way we didn’t think possible.
Kristen Neff, who is one of the world’s leading researchers of self-compassion proposes that to be self-compassionate there are three elements we should consider which are kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. I have found that each one of these is powerful, however the combination of the three together has a dramatic positive impact on well-being.
Christmas can be a time of ‘shoulds’, ‘ought tos’ and ‘musts’ and we can use these to judge ourselves. We ‘should’ have sent this present off by now, we ‘ought’ to make time to see ‘Auntie Cara’ even if on Zoom, we ‘must’ make sure the day is even more special than normal this year. This is all a form of judgement that we subject ourselves to.
However, Kristen Neff suggests that we should practice self-kindness instead of self-judgement. We can practice acknowledging and appreciating what we have done and recognising the constraints on us. If we find this difficult to do, we can imagine we are talking to a good friend who is in the same position and is feeling overwhelmed. What would we say to them? Say this to yourself, be kind to yourself.
This is recognising that all people suffer at times. They may not suffer in the same way or about the same things, but all people suffer. Suffering is part of being human. That said, this year there is a shared cause of suffering that can bring us together. Covid-19 will have affected each family differently and to different extents, but one thing we can be sure of is that it has affected us all. When we recognise that suffering is universal it brings a sense of connection and diminishes feelings of isolation.
By pausing to notice the pressure we are under, we can mindfully observe the demands placed on us. We can see them objectively without over-identifying with them. We can say to ourselves ‘yes I have a lot to do. Some of this is achievable and some isn’t.’ Being mindful can stop us from over-identifying with the tasks that need to be completed. We are not a useless person if we don’t do everything or make everything perfect. Mindfulness keeps self-criticism at bay.
Don’t wait until Christmas day to start using this gift. Start now, start with something small, maybe saying something kind to yourself such as ‘I’m doing my best’ or ‘I’ve done really well considering how much I had to do.’
If you notice someone else being hard on themselves, pass this gift on, share it with others.
I’d love to hear the ways in which you practice self-compassion this Christmas. Let me know below or email me.
Reference: Neff, K. (2011). Self Compassion. London: Hodder &Stoughton Ltd.
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