While the holiday season can bring on excitement, joy, comfort, and more, when you have a chronic illness, negative thoughts can start to creep in as well.
Does the holiday season bring on more overwhelm, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, or other unpleasant thoughts since you’ve become chronically ill?
Maybe this is your first year of being sick during the holidays, and you’re realizing you can’t do 90% of what you’ve done in the past.
Maybe you’ve been sick for a while but always have this feeling of guilt or shame that you should be participating more during the holiday season. Helping out with the festivities or wanting to host but physically can’t.
Maybe you have a few family members that always trigger your anxiety, and this stress can trigger a flare of your physical symptoms.
I’ve been there, and so have others.
I’ve had to come to terms that I can no longer decorate or bake like I once could.
I felt incredibly guilty and even lazy last year when I couldn’t muster the energy to prepare one dish for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
I’ve felt guilty telling relatives that it was too much to go to more than one event in one day.
I had anxiety and stress when family members refused to be flexible because I was unable to visit them on the day they wanted.
Whatever is bringing you stress or negative thoughts during this holiday season, I invite you to try to practice self-compassion.
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My Experience with Self-Compassion
Honestly, I wish I had known about self-compassion when I became ill (or even before that!). I learned about it a month ago, and it is literally changing my life as I type this.
About six weeks ago, I entered one of the most emotionally challenging months of my life. After all that had happened, I was emotionally drained and stuck in negative thought loops. IT SUCKED!
I couldn’t get out of this negative place, and I was falling into depression. I’m very involved in self-care and routinely practice gratitude, tapping, and affirmations. But this time, I couldn’t get myself to do any of those things. I was physically turned off by them. I was in a really bad place.
It wasn’t until I stumbled across self-compassion that things started to get better.
Self-compassion allowed me to see that it was okay to be suffering the way I was. It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone in my suffering, and it provided me with the words I needed to hear to help me feel that everything was going to be okay.
When I practice self-compassion, I usually feel a release in the form of crying. I’ve noticed within a couple of hours the darkness and negative thought loops are not as intense or are temporarily gone.
Recently I’ve noticed it’s helped change my entire demeanor or outlook to a positive one for the day. This has been truly amazing for me because I was stuck in this negative place for a few weeks without any relief.
Disclaimer: I am not a therapist or licensed mental health professional. If you need professional help, I recommend searching for a provider on Psychology Today.
What is Self-Compassion?
Try to think about when a friend or loved one is going through a difficult time. First, you become aware that he/she is suffering. When you see or talk to him/her, you typically show compassion/care for that person and say kind words to them to help them out.
Self-compassion takes this same thought process, but instead of saying these kind things to someone else. You say them to yourself and, while doing so, compassionately touch or embrace yourself.
Kristin Neff, Ph.D., who is one of the leading experts on self-compassion, explains what self-compassion is in more detail in this short video:
How Does Self-Compassion Help
It allows you to acknowledge to yourself that you are suffering. It then reduces the feelings of suffering in isolation. Finally, you start to feel better about yourself and emotionally because you are telling yourself the kind words of compassion that you need to hear at that moment.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
Here’s a quick example of how to practice Self-Compassion. I learned this from the NICABM’s Master Series on the Clinical Application of Compassion.
- Start by bringing up a difficult situation in your mind.
- Announce to yourself that you’re going through a difficult time.
- Recognize that there are people all around the world also going through hard times, and some people may even be going through a similar situation as you.
- Put your hand on your heart, or hug yourself. Then tell yourself something you would say to a friend going through a tough situation. OR tell yourself something you wish a friend or loved one would say to you.
Dr. Neff has also written a book titled Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself and offers some great guided meditations and exercises on her website.
At this time, I’ve tried the “Soften, soothe, allow: Working with emotions in the body” and the “Self-Compassion Break,” and have had success with both. I’m looking forward to trying her other meditations and some of the exercises.
If you find that you’re being hard on yourself this holiday season or things start to get tough, try practicing self-compassion. I’ve noticed even the 5-minute Self-Compassion Break is helpful from Dr. Neff’s meditations.
Here are all of the links provided throughout the post:
- Dr. Kristin Neff’s Self-Compassion website
- Video explaining self-compassion
- Scientific articles and news articles on self-compassion
- NICABM’s Master Series on the Clinical Application of Compassion
- Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself book by Dr. Neff
- Guided meditations and exercises
If you end up trying a self-compassion meditation or exercise, I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below.
I wish you a wonderful holiday season!