Oct. 9, 2020Print | PDF
There is no question that this year’s holiday season, from Thanksgiving to the new year, will be different. As the global pandemic puts a stop to travel, gatherings and more, the holiday season can feel lacklustre for those used to celebrating with family and friends.
Meghan Kirwin and Paula Pyne from Wilfrid Laurier University’s Positive Psychology course offer tips for staying positive during this time.
The holidays can be challenging, even at the best of times, but this year especially. With limits on gatherings, many families aren’t able to get together as they have been able to before. This can bring up a lot of sadness and negative emotions.
During these moments, allow yourself to feel what it is that you are feeling. Be extra kind and gentle on yourself, and if you can, apply a healthy dose of self-compassion - talk to yourself like you would your own best friend. Self-compassion is an excellent tool for building resiliency.
“Consider your inner voice as your inner roommate,” says Kirwin. “Would your roommate or friend speak to you the way you speak to yourself?”
It’s not about changing that way you think, she says, but redirecting negative thinking into new ways through mindful practices.
“The brain is naturally wired to experience negative emotions,” says Kirwin. “We have to be super intentional about experiencing positive emotions to bring balance.”
Kirwin says we have to pause and savour positive moments for at least 30 seconds to feel the impact of that experience. This can be as simple as a micro-moment, such as eating great food, noticing something beautiful and experiencing a moment of calm.
The expression ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ means to avoid feeling burnout, you also need to replenish. During the holidays, there can be pressure to give to or perform for others, and often we put ourselves at the bottom of the to do list.
“What if you give yourself the love and kindness that you might give to a loved one?” says Pyne. “Try doing something that is enjoyable to you for you.”
Try activities like taking a walk or having quiet time. This allows you to ‘fill up your cup’ and replenish your energy. Once you do, then you can allow that energy to ripple outward to others.
Expectations of a picture-perfect holiday can put undue stress and pressure on individuals, especially this year, when holidays will look and feel different.
“Stress comes from wanting the moment to be different than it is,” says Kirwin.
Both Kirwin and Pyne encourage people to reframe the holiday and accept these times as a disruption to the norm.
“By allowing things to be as they are, as challenging as it is to accept change, it opens up the possibility of seeing things in new ways,” says Pyne.
Reframing the holiday can look like this: Use this time as a clean canvas to do things differently, like starting a new tradition or finding meaningful ways to connect with those around you in safe and memorable ways. It doesn’t have to big, since the smallest of things can have a significant impact.
Gratitude is a potent and powerful practice, says Pyne. Finding things to be grateful for doesn’t have to be complicated. Nature can be a great start. Even a pet can help spark joy and gratitude.
“Look for beauty, awe and wonder at the things around you,” says Pyne. “Look for the little things, because subtle and small things can be significant.”
Not only can the practice of purposefully finding gratitude in our lives give our well-being a boost, but it is also a regenerative practice and, when done regularly, can increase resilience, says Pyne. Finding gratitude isn’t just for the good times; it can help us cope with difficult days too.
Gratitude helps turn what we have in the moment into enough, rather than stressing over what we don’t have, says Kirwin. Feeling gratitude is not just about physical actions but about how we experience these moments.
When we give back and are generous, it fuels our happiness and well-being. It stimulates our brain the same way other positive activities do and helps us build lasting happiness.
Pyne suggests starting your day with a journal entry answering the question, “What good shall I do today?” and focus on how your actions can help give to others.
Other ideas to give back include:
Humans are social beings, and with the pandemic limiting interactions, it’s important to find community. Even if we find ourselves physically alone around the holidays, connecting with people virtually and asking yourself, “what thank you is longing to be expressed in my world?” is an act of social self-care, says Pyne.
“It doesn’t take a lot to have a meaningful connection” says Kirwin. “A 30-second positive connection with someone has a large impact on our well-being.”
These are exhausting times; change and transition need a tremendous amount of rest. Whether it’s after school, after work, on a day off, give yourself permission to rest. This could be a dedicated time to slow down and enjoy the moment by reading, walking, savouring a cup of tea, meditating, listening to music, etc.
Pyne suggests taking time to get outdoors and embrace a mindful walk by focusing on the senses.
“What do you feel? What do you see? What do you hear? Allow your attention to float freely between your senses,” says Pyne.
As seen in the early days of the pandemic, nature has a direct correlation to our well-being. Time outside can be a rejuvenating experience.
Kirwin suggests focusing on the importance of breath.
“Pause for a moment and notice your breath,” says Kirwin. “It’s a micro-break critical to slowing down.”
Each person has a set of strengths that make up who we are, says Kirwin. Leaning on our strengths as human beings during difficult times can help build our resilience.
Students explore these strengths in the Positive Psychology certificate program and develop coping strategies that lean on these attributes.
“For example, if the appreciation of beauty is one of your strengths,” says Kirwin. “You can intentionally lean on it by participating in actions like photographing the beauty we see in nature.”
Humans go through cycles of low and high experiences and, arguably, these challenging times can be a low experience for many. It’s through those experiences we build resiliency, a trait explored in the Positive Psychology program. The tips mentioned above are tools that can be accessed at any time individually, but it’s okay to reach out for help.
Laurier's Student Wellness Centres are the home of physical, emotional and mental health services for students at the Waterloo and Brantford campuses. The Wellness Centres offer remote counselling sessions and provide many mental health resources, wellness workshops and more.
“If you find yourself in a difficult place, that’s okay too,” says Pyne. “The more we can build on positive emotions and mindsets, while not disregarding the negative, the greater our capacity is to bounce back during challenging times.”
Positive psychology uses scientific research and understanding to study the conditions and processes that contribute to the flourishing or optimal functioning of people, groups and institutions.
Laurier’s Centre for Public Safety and Well Being offers a Positive Psychology Certificate, a 23-week program consisting of five modules that explore self-care, character strengths, resiliency and more.
Since the start of the pandemic, Laurier has also offered a free Self-Care and Resilience course to help support positive mental health during this challenging time.
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