Navigating the Pandemic Holiday Season With Compassion

I’ve been working with a small group of clients on a project focusing on compassion, accepting what is and focusing on what we can control. Yesterday, a thought hit me so suddenly that, despite current events, surprised me. This is the first year that I won’t be with my family for Thanksgiving. Like the rest of the country, I’ve been planning a small holiday with just my husband and kids at our home. While recognizing the benefits and positives of not traveling this year, I am also now experiencing the feelings of loss that comes with being away from my own mother on this holiday for the first time in my life. Here’s an opportunity to practice what I preach: sitting with my feelings, shifting my mindset, and giving myself and others compassion to navigate this holiday season. 

My husband and son helping my mom carve the Thanksgiving turkey.

Loss

Experiencing loss is often associated with death or an extreme change in relationship norms. Any change that is different than what you have experienced before or had expectations of can be experienced as loss. This includes this new world of “alone.” Humans are usually social creatures, relying on each other to live, but also relying on each other for emotional comfort. Especially as we head into the holiday season, usually filled with many social engagements, it’s possible that the feelings of loss will start piling on top of the already existent COVID fatigue. 

Managing Your Mind

One moment we may feel calm, then the next our thoughts shift to worry or sadness. Imagining worst-case scenarios or feeling the loss of missing the rituals of your holiday season. Not being in the physical presence of some of the people who love you or being at a location that gives you a sense of belonging. These are heavy burdens that bring us additional pain and suffering, and while not always avoidable, are definitely manageable. Beginning with acceptance, which I’ve discussed here (linked), mind management which will reduce the pain you’re experiencing.

Mind management, like all personal growth, is a process. I coach so many young women (as well as adults!) and mind management is something you have to practice regularly. Recognizing what you’re feeling, then changing how you feel about those experiences by choosing thoughts more intentionally, is the foundation of creating a more meaningful connection with yourself and others in your world. 

Compassion

As we transition to colder weather here in New England, many of us are understandably concerned about what the winter will bring. The holiday season usually brings a season of giving and warmth towards others; a chance to show compassion to our fellow humans who are less fortunate or in need. The meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help.

Self-Compassion

Three kinds of compassion are:

  • Compassion towards others
  • Receiving compassion from others
  • Practicing self-compassion

Dr. Kristen Neff (link) explains that self-compassion is not different than having compassion towards others. Offering kindness or understanding when someone else fails or makes a mistake is having compassion rather than having pity.  “Acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself” is a way you show self-compassion, or a way to take care of yourself. 

The girls group I’m currently coaching is working on a special project about compassion. It has really made an impact on all of us, as we noticed that one aspect of compassion was much more difficult for us than the others: self-compassion. Changing a pattern of behavior or thinking is never easy, especially when that pattern is something about yourself. Your self-critical voice is so common that many of us don’t even notice when it is present. My clients noticed they are much more likely to speak to themselves with a harsh or critical voice than they would to others. Ask yourself what it is costing you to continue to be unkind to yourself? What would your life look like in five years if you continue to talk to yourself in the same way you are now?    

How You Can Show Self-Compassion

Taking care of yourself may not be your first instinct. However, before you can really show compassion to others, you must first practice self-compassion. In reality, we see this on commercial air travel. The flight attendants’ instructional pre-flight presentation includes information on emergency situations. If the cabin pressure decreases, oxygen masks will drop down and passengers are required to first put on their own mask before helping those around them. This holiday season, put your oxygen mask on first. Heal yourself first by showing yourself some compassion, then go out in your world and give compassion to others.

Here are four tips to recognize suffering and implement the practice of self-compassion:
  • Notice your feelings. Take a moment to sit with yourself and your feelings. Acknowledge any pain or suffering. Feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body. Say to yourself “This is a moment of suffering.” What you’re experiencing now will end. Whatever pain you have – guilt, discomfort, embarrassment – is temporary. This too shall pass.
  • Understand that suffering is a part of life. This is common humanity. Other people also feel this way, and you are not alone in this feeling. We all struggle.
  • Shift your thoughts. Know and accept what is. Accepting your reality (what is happening and not what your expectation of what you wanted to happen) will allow you to move forward. Knowing what is will allow you to create what you want. For instance, my reality is that I will not be with my family, specifically my mom, for Thanksgiving. I have accepted this and will instead appreciate the presence and good health of my immediate family by staying at home and by creating a meaningful Thanksgiving feast as my mom has modeled throughout my life.
  • Show yourself kindness. Say to yourself: I am capable; I treat myself with love and respect; I can choose positive thoughts; I am worthy of love and good things; I promise to be kind and gentle and patient with myself; I am enough. These are mantras you can use to practice self-compassion. Put your hands over your heart. Feel the warmth of your hands and the gentle touch on your chest. You’re a work in progress, like everyone else. You’ll get there a little at a time, not all at once. 

Emotional pain hurts regardless of what caused it. Learning how to be compassionate limits how much we will suffer when life presents challenges. I am allowing myself to feel the loss of my holiday ritual, and then I plan to create a new experience that allows me to still enjoy this special time. Hopefully you can also practice giving yourself grace to find what will make this season joyful for you, too. 


Consider using this time to get really curious about who you want to be right now and what is yours to do. Remain curious about any feelings that arise during these uncertain times. Now is the perfect time to work with a life coach who can help you strengthen the connections to yourself and others in your world. If you know a teen or college-aged girl who could use some guidance and support, visit my website WillseyConnections.com for more information and let’s connect.

Originally posted in Psychology Today.

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