The holidays can be a magical time. They can be a stressful time, too — especially this year, when so much about our world has changed and the future feels uncertain. If holiday stress is making you feel on edge, snappish, and generally irritable, here’s how to find peace of mind.
When feeling something like this:
Everyone and everything is aggravating me right now. I’m filled with mean-spirited thoughts, and anger spews out of me at every small inconvenience: when someone takes too long to move their car at a green light, when I accidentally spill something, when someone gets my order wrong. I can’t hold my irritation in … and I just snap. But with every outburst, I feel worse about myself.
Explore the feeling like this:
Although irritability can seem like a surface emotion, it is truly a small sign of a large and deeply painful place. The tendency to snap over a minor inconvenience is the tip of an iceberg that extends down into a hard, cracked place formed from a long and brutal history of self-blame.
There are so many things in your life that have gone wrong — that’s true of every life — but you are not responsible for all these misfortunes. You have neither the power nor the ill will to turn every good into a bad. You are an imperfect, yet beautiful and essentially good, child of a loving Creator. You must release yourself from the self-condemnation that’s like a constant drumbeat beating as the background music to your life. You must turn away from the voice in your head that tells you that you’re what’s wrong in the world. That voice lies. It’s time to tell it goodbye.
By exploring the ways you have held yourself responsible for crimes you did not commit and releasing yourself from the guilty verdicts you’ve passed, you will find that you no longer “sweat the small stuff” and will free yourself from chronic crankiness.
Try this meditation:
Do this meditation when you need to ease irritation caused by holiday stress — or any other kind of stress. You can be present for yourself in a caring way and begin to release the burdens that weigh you down.
Sit quietly in a comfortable place. Recall a time recently when you reacted in an irritable way that left you feeling bad about yourself. Let the scene play in your mind’s eye and pay attention to your inner experience. Observe the waves that arise — sensations in your body, patterns of thought, emotional reactions — without judgment. Simply acknowledge the truth of it, the fear or sadness, the feelings of unworthiness or shame.
Approach with a quality of gentleness and care. Sense the way it hurts. Be willing to be touched by it. When you contact your own vulnerability, this allows a tenderness toward it to unfold. What does this pain need? You can use touch to help soothe the part of you that’s struggling — place a hand on your heart or imagine the embrace of a dear one. If feelings come that are too strong, you can shift your attention to focus on sounds in the environment, or take a break and return when you are ready. Give yourself the comfort you need as you connect with this pain.
Allow yourself to feel the sorrow you carry from this tendency to become irritable. Recognize that you have made mistakes, that you are imperfect. You are only human.
Sense the part of you that cares deeply about others, that wants to be softer, less reactive and more responsive. Sense that you can release this burden. You can free your heart. Repeat to yourself: For the ways I’ve done harm to others and to myself, caused pain out of my own hurt and confusion, I offer myself forgiveness. I forgive myself. Gently repeat these phrases until you feel a release in your heart. If you do not feel a release, be forgiving of yourself for not being ready yet and return to the practice at a later time. Forgiveness has its own timeline and can’t be rushed.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Kindfulness (Buy on Amazon, $12.99).