I’ve been reading a lot of books and research recently about the truth and science behind mindfulness, because I’m not here just to gaslight you into believing that everyone can be happy by making a few habit changes. No, I am here to break it down for you, show you the realities of finding your way through mindfulness and meditation, and to help you learn from the varying moments in your life to create real, long-lasting growth. And that would be an impossible task if I didn’t put in the work to show you how mindfulness has evolved over centuries. And how it can be adapted into modern life while still focusing on the traditions of its origin.
Making Meditation Accessible
Did you know this blog post is a transcript of the podcast episode? My mission is to make mindfulness and meditation more accessible to women in all walks of life. So feel free to listen, read along, or do both! Mindful Actions is here to support you.
This week, I’m going to focus on a quote by Pema Chödrön, who I know I’ve quoted on here before. The quote says, “nothing ever goes away, until it has taught us what we need to know”. Let’s tie that into today’s topic on surviving a stressful holiday season.
Stress and Relationships
There is so much documented on how you will never live the life you really want if you don’t attempt to learn from your past. The goal is not to always be grateful for, and celebrate your past, but to learn from it. There are so many people out there who talk about feeling like a whole new person after focusing on personal growth, but as soon as they’re surrounded by people from their past, those same old feelings that they hated creep back into their life. You think you’ve changed and you go in all confident thinking, “oh, so-and-so’s gossiping and complaining won’t even affect me anymore, this will be fine!”….and then, POOF, you’re stuck right back in the middle. Mind and body recall can totally suck sometimes.
But remember, things are not always as they seem. “Nothing ever goes away, until it has taught us what we need to know.”
I do want to reassure you that whatever you’re experiencing with stress this holiday season is ok. There are A LOT of emotions we’ll experience over the next few months. Surviving this and learning how to deal with it is part of who you are becoming, as much as it may suck.
I also want to remind you that even if you had a good childhood, and you love your friends and family and still have a good relationship with them, I’m still pretty confident that you probably tend to act and react differently when you’re with them than when you’re alone or surrounded by the new people in your life. Or, on the flip side, if you’re not even seeing people from you past and you spend the holidays with the new people in your life, how does that make you feel? Something old, and something new. I believe that’s the stem of much of our stress during the holidays. Being pulled into two different directions between past and present. We have our old family and traditions, and then we have our new family and friends, and they don’t always mesh.
Identify the Stress Triggers
This is the part of the stress this season that I want you to pay attention to and to be present for. How does your mind and body react to seasonal environmental stimuli? What parts of traditions do you like? What parts don’t you like? What do you feel like you’re missing? What specifically is stressing you out? If other people were of no concern in your holiday planning, how would you prefer spend it? Identify these things. Don’t just shrug and say, oh well, this is how it’s always been. I’ll tackle it someday.
I’m telling you, THIS is the year to go ahead and address it. There is never going to be a perfect time, so why not try to tackle the stress now so that maybe, by this time next year, you’ve changed the path and the pattern? Just a warning: please keep in mind, this will be different for everybody, depending on how deep your trauma and/or triggers run. Some people may more easily be able to destress this season, while for others it may take years to combat.
Remember, “nothing ever goes away, until it has taught us what we need to know.” So, are you ready to learn?
With that, I want to talk about one specific way to survive the holiday stress. What happens in your body when you feel the stress and the anxiety begin to rise? Well, just to name a few symptoms, according to Healthline, stress raises your blood pressure, it can cause insomnia, it can create the feeling of a pounding heart, and it can result in shallow, rapid breathing.
We are going to focus on the thing that is the foundation of all mindfulness and meditation teachings today: deep breathing techniques. Which, I’m sure you gathered from the title of this episode. This should come as no surprise to you.
How Deep Breathing Helps Stress
Harvard Health published an article that has an interesting take on why we’re so tempted to roll our eyes at the importance of breathwork. I really like this perspective when thinking of how mindfulness and meditation has been passed down and adapted over time. In summary, Harvard Health says that over time, we have been taught the way you look is more important than the way you feel. Which we all know. But, for women in particular, we’ve grown to subconsciously hold in our stomachs to look thinner. We probably do this more times throughout the day than we even realize. By doing this, we’re creating tension in our abdomen which interferes with deep breathing. So now, as a culture, we just tend to do shallow breathing as a default that is programmed into us. In modern culture, breathing is just something we do to survive, it’s not something we do to thrive.
We’re going to change that this year! I want you to make a commitment to me right now that you will breathe deeply this holiday season. Whenever that stress starts to creep in. Deep Breathe. Whenever you feel your breath catching in your throat, rather than flowing deep into your lungs or abdomen, deep breathe. Whenever you’re unsure of how to deal with something? Deep Breathe. When you feel the pit forming in your stomach, breathe deeply and allow the tension to release.
This one simple step will slow the mind and body recall we talked about earlier. It will change your body’s automatic response. It will give you a chance to pause before you react. And be careful not to force it. Don’t think to yourself, ugh ok fine, I guess I’m supposed to take a deep breath now. No, that is a closed mindset and it won’t help. Instead, step away, pause and invite the breath in. Don’t force it, invite it in. Welcome a deep breath into your body, letting the oxygen flow through you, with a feeling of hope and curiosity, not just through obligation.
Weekly Mindful Action
There are two parts to your mindful action for this week, and really, I’m going to mention these things weekly throughout the next month as a reminder to embrace the deep breath. We all know that when the stress is high, we just tend to forget these things that we tell ourselves we’re going to focus on. At no fault of our own, it’s part of human nature. So part one of your mindful action is to tune in and identify what, or who, causes you the most stress during the holidays. And identify a way to address it either internally, or externally. Is it something you, personally need to deal with on your own , or is it something you can work through with others? Nothing goes away, until it has taught us what we need to know.
The second piece of your mindful action is, obviously, to practice deep breathing. And to help you out a little bit more, I will even publish an extra stress-reducing meditation next week that you can use whenever you need to this holiday season. OK? Sound good?
The mantra for this week will be: I am at peace. I am calm. I am loved.
Alright, quick check-in. How’s your breathing right now? Is it shallow? Or is it deep? Check in with how you’re feeling right now as we prepare for our meditation.