Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Why we need Mindfulness this Christmas

Mindfulness has the potential to transform Christmas, so says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll in her weekly column for WoW!
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Why we need Mindfulness this Christmas

FEELING FRAZZLED: Christmas can be filled with tears, conflict, tensions - these feelings could be avoided, says Dr MichelleO'Driscoll.

WE’VE all been there. Santa has brought the most amazing present, somehow managing to smuggle it down the chimney and arrange it pride of place under the tree. The excitement and anticipation is huge — here are all the little person’s dreams come true!

Until they go to turn on this magical gift, and what do you know, Santa’s forgotten to bring the batteries! Sometimes all you’re short is just one of those triple As.

Mindfulness is that AAA battery that you absolutely need to get through this Christmas. Ideally, you would have a stash of these built up over time that you can draw on when needed. But if a supply doesn’t exist yet, it’s not too late to obtain one now.

Just like the AAA battery, mindfulness seems like a small thing; dispensable, not very commanding or complicated. But it has the potential to transform Christmas. That battery can light up the room, elicit joy from yourself and those around you, create lasting memories, and bring energy and purpose to things that would otherwise lack it.

Without that battery there can be tears, conflict, tensions can run high, with an overall feeling that this could all have been avoided. It doesn’t just apply to the small people and their toys, but to all of us and our wellbeing around the festive season too.

Why is this battery so important? What does it attribute its power to? The secret is in its triple A combination. Mindfulness is not about total relaxation as so many think it is, nor is it about feeling completely happy all of the time. What it is about is waking up to the present moment, learning to embrace it for what it is, and mastering wise responses rather than rash reactions. This is summed up by the AAA — Awareness, Acceptance and Action.

Here is how these three As are so vital for a peaceful Christmas.

The first A is for Awareness. Mindfulness is about becoming aware of what is going on for you internally and externally. About not letting life pass you by. About coming out of rumination about the past or worry about the future and holding yourself in the present moment, the only moment we really have.

Practicing mindfulness informally by completing daily activities with intent and purpose, or formally setting the time aside to sit down and meditate (the equivalent of the gym for your awareness muscle), allows you to introduce some control over the rabbit holes you disappear down, as well as waking up to the things we have to be greatful for, and the needs of those around us. This Christmas, let’s practice awareness and gratitude for the gifts we already have in our lives.

Enhance the joy of the season by engaging our senses — the sounds of children laughing, the smell of timber on the fire burning, the taste of the cranberry sauce. Be acutely aware also of how others might be feeling.

It’s a challenging time of year that can trigger loneliness, anxiety, burnout or grief for many. Be very mindful of that in yourself and those around you.

The second A is for Acceptance. As difficult as this may seem, mindfulness is about endeavouring to allow and accept all emotions just as they are. We spend so much time either trying to shove these difficult feelings into a Pandora’s box and hide them away, or attempting to “fix” things, thinking “I shouldn’t feel like this, how do I stop it?”

We inadvertently add layers and layers of additional stress and pain to the inevitable challenges of being human. What would it feel like if we simply noticed, honoured how we were feeling and allowed it to pass?

At Christmas time, so much of our stress comes from wanting perfection in everything from how the dinner turns out, to how others behave. Perfection is unattainable. You cannot control every single element, and would ease the burden greatly by letting that unattainable goal go and allowing things to be as they are. Similarly, it’s not realistic to expect everybody to be happy and jolly all of the time.

Can we allow and make some space for challenging imperfect feelings to be present, without the struggle of trying and failing to eradicate them? The relief of this permission would be so powerful.

Accepting difficult emotions and situations does not mean simply throwing in the towel and resigning yourself to a desperately depressing few days or weeks.

The third and final A of our mindfulness triple A battery is Action. What actions are wise and appropriate to take in this situation? Throughout life, if we’re acting from a place of stress or threat we react impulsively, without considering the options or the implications. Mindfulness creates a space for us to be able to pause and choose a wise response.

So, this Christmas, what actions could you potentially take that would be helpful? What is needed to bring ease and peace to the festive period for you? It might be that you don’t need to buy gifts for all 15 of your nieces and nephews, but could arrange a Kris Kringle system instead which reduces the cost and the pressure but adds an air of excitement and mystery. It could be that a turkey breast will be just as tasty as cooking the full turkey with a fraction of the blood sweat and tears.

Maybe you’ve spent every Christmas shopping last minute and being down to the wire has frayed your nerves. Could it be beneficial to schedule some time to shop local and online a few weeks earlier?

And in your interactions with loved ones, what sorts of responses would be helpful in times of stress or conflict?

The mindfulness AAA battery is small and easy to overlook, but it promises to give you the power to make the most of your Christmas through awareness of the good in our lives, acceptance of the tough stuff, and the ability to choose actions that support and nourish you, whatever your situation may be.

This Christmas, let’s practice awareness and gratitude for the gifts we already have in our lives.

Dr Michelle O’Driscoll is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through her company InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See www.intuition.ie and @intuitionhealthandwellness

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