The expectation of the holiday season can be stressful for everyone. For reasons that might be obvious, that stress seems to be even greater in families dealing with recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction.
There is a simple practice that can reduce that stress and offer us the opportunity for a meaningful holiday experience; that is a mindfulness practice. It allows us to stop our racing thoughts, which are usually produced by some form of fear. It allows us to make choices that support our well-being. It allows us to be present.
Mindfulness is being present to what we are experiencing while we are experiencing it and without resistance. It is an awareness that allows us to take actions that support our sense of well-being that allows us to feel safe and to keep our heart open.
I will suggest three very simple practices: focusing on our breath, naming our emotions and soothing touch. We humans have a brain that has a negativity bias and our negative thoughts stick like Velcro. Research has shown a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
- Focusing on our breath allows our mind to stop racing and come into the present moment. We can anchor our breath in the rising and falling our chest, or noticing the air entering our nostrils.
- Naming emotions has been shown to reduce activity of the amygdala, the part of the brain that stores emotions. If we are able to name our emotions, we are less likely to trigger the stress reaction in the body.
- When a thought or event creates fear, our bodies automatically release cortisol, a stress hormone. We can change this stress response by soothing touch, a gesture to offer comfort to ourselves. This can be as simple as giving ourselves a hug, putting a hand on our heart or cupping one hand in the other. This touch releases oxytocin, which reduces the feeling of threat or resistance to what we are experiencing.
These are called practices because they are skills we can develop over time. Decide on one and give it a try when you notice you are resisting whatever you are experiencing this holiday season. I believe it is true what the book Alcoholics Anonymous states: “acceptance is the answer to all my problems…”
If you would like to explore these ideas further, consider attending the Heart of Compassion and Forgiveness retreat scheduled for December 6-8th.