So this is Christmas: A MindLetter survival guide

Reading time: 5 minutes
As Christmas approaches, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, shares how to navigate a potentially tricky time of year.

So this is Christmas. You are tired, with that scratchy throat that is caused by stress. With some time to go until the shortest day, you start working in the semi-dark and end it in pitch-black. You suddenly remembered a few days ago that Christmas was coming, and panic-bought its paraphernalia, and now have a lifetime supply of gilt-edged unrecyclable wrapping paper. Not that you have anything to put in it yet: you have not factored in how long it takes for online shopping to reach you, and then for you to package it, make it pretty, and send it onwards. Parcel tracking tells you that the majority of your purchases are still stuck somewhere in the Midlands. The Christmas tree you bought last month is browning. You have only just decided how many you’ll be on Christmas Day, and have consequently failed to source a turkey (or its crown). ‘Goose?’ says your significant other, hopefully, though you both know you’ll end up with chicken.

There is also the problem that a big part of you can’t be bothered. You don’t want to be nice to anyone. (You have spent all year trying to be nice.) You don’t want more stuff, given that your main source of amusement this year has been buying your own, and now you have too much. Frankly, you want to wake up on Christmas morning, and then go back to sleep. Bit of Netflix, maybe a new book. A frosty walk that smarts the nostrils. Some hugs, a cat to stroke; an afternoon nap.

And for many of us, this Christmas is a source of dread, because the navigation of its ritual only reminds us what we have lost since the last. A beloved parent, a partner, a job; love, stability, the certainty of time ticking onwards in a more or less reliable way. It’s still too hard for us to imagine what’s possible, rather than not.

Let’s summon up our courage, and plant our remaining energy wisely. Here’s a guide to keep you company this Christmas.

1. Mind the Gap

You’re clinging to the prospect of the morning you won’t have to set an alarm – and then you wake up with a pounding headache instead. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that time off often brings on unexpected bugs and blues. When you relax, and adrenaline lowers, mind and body breathe a big sigh of relief. Stuff starts to re-surface. That scratchy throat becomes a sneeze; half-suppressed fears and worries rear their Threstral heads, fully-grown. It’s like how your kid waits till you’ve had a glass of wine, and then announces, ‘I made a big splodge on the wall, Mummy.’

Most of us, confronted with the sneeze, skeleton, and splodge, push on through. ‘I’m fine,’ you say, while your head is spinning. But mind and body have their own logic. The aches and pains are not mistakes, but an internal conversation; they are asking politely to be heard, and now is the season to listen, gently.

So when the headache sets in, or you simply want to cry, go back to bed. Wrap up warm. Eat ice cream in the middle of the day, if you want. You are not ‘setting a precedent’, or ‘giving in’. You are weary. Rest.

Listening to the body practice (20 mins)

2. Rest, Deeply

As the pace of daily life slows, you may discover that it’s not only transient bugs and blues that emerge. After a few days of quiet, you may be hit by a sea surge of tiredness. This may feel confusing – you’ve had a few days off, after all – but it is the same principle as above. If you have been running on a deficit, short on sleep, powering through, your nervous system will wait until it registers a real sense of safety before it voices its deep needs for restoration.

Because the nervous system does not respect the last Royal Mail deadlines, or vanishing panettone from the shops, this wave will probably hit you somewhere between 21 and 24 December. Your mind will begin to fill with images of caves, cushions, soft blankets, even as you rack your brains for something to buy for your fourth aunt.

If you can’t literally spend a day or two in bed, the odd half hour of deep rest will still be very restorative. It helps to understand that deep rest is an active process: simply lying down while still thinking about tasks is not the same, because your drive and threat systems are still motoring. This grounding and releasing practice will help you gently work with nervous energy, allowing it to soften and move through. Take a nap afterwards, if you can, or do the practice before bed to promote restful sleep.

Grounding and releasing practice (24 mins)

3. Found Connections

As long as the tiredness, grouchiness, and sore throat remain, online catch-ups and gatherings will feel like a burden. You may find yourself resenting others for their preoccupied busyness. But as your energy returns, you will begin to feel hungry for connection. You may find yourself scheduling phone calls left, right, and centre, as more friends emerge from their own hibernatory caves, and we reach out to each other.

Go gently with your new energy. It is tempting to spend it all at once, but these new reserves are tender, and young. Savour your conversations: really allow yourself to be there, and soak them up. When you notice the Zoom fatigue setting in, this is your cue to step back. Write someone a letter, instead. Feel your way into the words that emerge through time, and quiet, and pen on a page, rather than those prompted by a screen.

And keep some of that connection energy – that which fosters love, affection, synergy, curiosity – back for yourself. When we are rested, we can ask bigger, and kinder questions. Give yourself the attention you need to allow insight to emerge from the sea-bed of your exhaustion, the bramble patch of your discontent, or the quiet light of your desire.

Embodied self-compassion practice (29 mins)

This Christmas will be different from how we might have dreamed it – but it is still Christmas. Give yourselves the gift of allowing it to be what it will be, as best you can. It may be complicated, tiring, painful, headachy, and uncertain. And yet, too, it may be beautiful. It may contain the seeds of nourishment, restoration, and insight, that will allow you to fold some of 2021’s lingering scars quietly into yourself, so that you can feel the ground beneath your feet as we move into a new year.

Photography: Sam Sills