Mindful Holiday Season
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The holiday season can be rough — memories resurface, expectations and stress of seeing family you may not be close with, traveling with a sensory child who gets thrown off schedule … The holiday season is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, and yet it can easily turn into a season full of anxiety, triggers, and pain.
Today, I’m bringing you five resources to help give you a more mindful holiday season.
But first, what is being mindful? Merriam-Webster defines it as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”. So to have a mindful holiday season, it means you are being aware of what triggers or emotions you may experience, or your children may be going through. It means taking care to stand up for yourself if you feel unable to meet all the expectations of anyone you may be spending the holiday season with.
TRAUMA PROOFING YOUR KIDS
I’ve talked before about the book Trauma-Proofing Your Kids by Peter Levine. This book has been phenomenal for me to better understand how my brain works, and how my kid’s brains work when it comes to possibly traumatic events. Traumatic events don’t have to be witnessing a car accident, being assaulted, or being bullied.
What is trauma?
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences. (integratedlistening.com)
My therapist explained it to me this way — when something happens to a person, the brain creates two stamps of the event. One is the memory of what happened, the second is the time stamp of it ending. When trauma occurs, the brain does not stamp the end of the memory. Therefore, the person continues experiencing effects of the trauma until the brain is told it has ended.
Not everyone reacts to trauma the same way either. Some people have what seems to be ingrained resilience — they are able to have an event happen to them and their brain processes it, ends it, and they move on. However, some people struggle with the portion of their brain ending that memory, whether it is of a dog attacking them, their parent being neglectful, or a sensory child whose world has been turned upside down because family came into town to visit, or the child’s family traveled for the holidays. This book, Trauma Proofing Your Kids, was exceptional in offering scenarios that parents and caregivers can use to help their child resolve traumatic events and allow their brain to move on. The tips in this book work just as well for parents, because as the author says, you must first consider your own feelings in the moment (of a tantrum, freakout etc), before you can help someone around you.
A YEAR OF MINDFULNESS
This journal is a guided journey through the new year to help you focus on becoming more mindful. I cannot wait to start this in January. Each week has 7 sections, one for each day, and it is one question each day to answer. This is something that can be done easily each day (I’m the worst at keeping up any “resolutions”), and it helps ground you in the present. Sections include likening the mind to a story, some stories are helpful and some stories (narratives) are not. What story has your mind been telling you lately, and is there another viewpoint you can find?
The next day, it asks you to evaluate your thoughts for the day, and if they have been positive or negative. Simply focusing on these things in our life can help change your thought process, ground you and bring you purpose and joy.
THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE
This book you guys — it is mind-blowing. I have had to get up out of bed and grab a pen so I could make notes while reading. The author helped pioneer EMDR therapy, and helped PTSD Vietnam Veterans with (at the time) ground breaking treatments. He focuses on how trauma, anxiety and depression affect the body physiologically. The way certain parts of the brain shut down if you are triggered — for example when a family members says something that takes you back to a traumatic time, and you can’t even form words to respond back — is because the Broca region of the brain (which controls speech) shuts down in the middle of trauma or traumatic memories.
It is actually the same effect as a stroke patient who has suffered brain damage and can no longer speak.
This book will help you understand WHY the holidays trigger you, WHY visiting family seems so suffocating etc. It is an absolute must read for any person who has a form of trauma in their past (which lets be real, that’s every single one of us).
THE HAPPY SELF JOURNAL
This journal is designed specifically for children to help them create the habit of journaling their thoughts each day. I found this through an Instagram ad (seems to be a habit for me 😂 … that’s how I found Replica Surfaces) and I immediately ordered one for Gus.
This journal is from the UK, but it is quite affordable to purchase and ship. It is originally made for kids age 6+, but Gus has done well doing it each day as I help him with writing. It helps teach mindfulness and the idea that each day, no matter if you had a good day or bad, you can find 3 good things that happened. I think this is extremely important to teach the next generation, and it’s something I’ve previously talked about as a habit we try to develop in the kids.
THE CALM APP
Finally, I strongly recommend the Calm app. I have started using this for meditation, as well as the sleep stories to help your brain settle down at the end of the day. Won’t lie, my favorite sleep story is from Wonder by Matthew McConaughey. I still have no idea how the story ends though — I’m always asleep halfway through. The app also has a section for kids, which has meditations, ways to help them relax, and sleep stories for kids as well.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to make time for yourself and your immediate family this holiday season. Having a mindful holiday season starts with recognizing what makes your season stressful, finding ways to cut that out, and focusing on what the season is truly about — it’s not about meeting expectations from people who may not understand what you are going through this time of year.
I’d love to hear in the comments from you what you do to create mindfulness with your family for the holidays.
Wishing you the very best of this time of year, and hoping you have a very peaceful, mindful holiday season.