Living with an incurable form of cancer presents lots of physical, emotional and mental challenges not least of which are the expectations and pressures associated with annual celebrations and milestones; Christmas is a time that can feel emotionally challenging for so many of us. The joy of the season sits alongside uncertainty about what the future holds and can be often be accompanied by feelings of sadness and overwhelm.

Mindfulness helps us to develop moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings and emotions, helping us to turn towards how we are feeling in any given moment with self-kindness and self-compassion. Here are some mindfulness tips and strategies that might feel helpful in the lead up to Christmas and during the festive period.

  • Gently turning towards how we are feeling and looking internally at our emotional landscape is an act of self-care and courage. When waking up on a morning during the festive period, before you climb out of bed, take five minutes to write your headline. What will it say? How are you feeling? Make a mental note about what’s going on for you. With loving-kindness for yourself, place your right hand on your chest over your heart space and gently ask: how am I feeling? This simple act of self-checking gives us a little bit of space before the day begins, to acknowledge and to notice what’s present emotionally. There is no right or wrong way to feel but tuning in gives the opportunity to embrace that feeling with kindness and compassion. Evidence from neuroscience research is able to tell us that the way that we speak to ourselves, and the ability to connect with our heart space is important for our wellbeing. Making that connection with ourselves upon waking helps to ground us in the present moment and begin the day with an attitude of curiosity and compassion.
  • Pacing is really important during the festive period and part of that is learning to say ‘no’ to demands on your time that are going to leave you feeling physically depleted. Saying ‘yes’ to regular breaks, regular down time and slowing down, all help to ensure that fatigue is managed to the best of your ability. ‘No’ gives more mental and emotional space for you. It is absolutely essential that we learn the art of self-care and perhaps this festive season is the time to begin doing this.
  • Treat yourself with kid gloves and tender loving-care. Know that our emotions fluctuate all of the time and especially in this hugely emotive Christmas period, it’s important to allow yourself some quiet moments of reflection where you take a few minutes to hold yourself with kindness. Telling family and loved ones that you simply need a bit of time to take a breath outside or sit quietly in another room, is an important part of mindfully taking quiet action to reset and recharge
  • Be present amongst the presents. Give yourself permission to notice where your thoughts are taking you. The human mind is designed to wander, to project forwards to future events and to look back at what’s already taken place. Indeed, it wanders in the present moment, as we know only too well. On Christmas morning, take a few moments to intentionally observe three slow inhalations through the nose and three slow exhalations out through the nose. Use those moments of acknowledging the breath as an opportunity to make a conscious choice to tune in to the love and support of everybody that you are surrounded by. Allow any challenging thoughts to be noticed and then invite them to pass on by. Unhelpful thoughts have a habit of popping back in. Each time that they do, simply nod, acknowledge, and with wholehearted permission from you, invite them once more to move along, making mental head space for you to be fully present amidst the love of your nearest and dearest.

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to feel a certain way to live up to somebody else’s expectations. However you are feeling is valid.

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend love and care to you all and to wish you a peaceful Christmas.

Laura Ashurst