Dear Migraine Diary, Can You Not?!

*This is post is part of the #UncoverMigraine campaign. All content is mine.

“Dear Migraine Diary, Can you not?!” would be one of the entries in my migraine diary if I kept one. Other entries would include such hits like, “Dear Migraine Diary, WTH?!”; “Dear Migraine Diary, why me?!”; “Dear Migraine Diary, OMG! You’re ruining my life!”; and my personal fave, “Dear Migraine Diary, I Do. Not. Have. Time. For. You!”

June is Migraine Awareness Month and I’m participating in the #Uncover Migraine campaign to help raise awareness about migraines and share some information about my story and migraines and encourage you to share yours

So, what is a migraine?

For those of us who suffer from migraines, they are a constant disruption to our everyday lives and a vibe-killer.

A migraine is a neurological condition that’s worse than a typical headache. Migraines can last from 4 – 72 hours (my migraines can last about 14hrs and I’ve had them last for a few days). Migraines involve “severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head and are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.” Mayo Clinic

Migraines can be debilitating in intensity, severity and duration, with episodic migraines occurring up to 14 headache days each month and chronic migraines, 15 headache days each month (for 3 or 4 months) and accompanied by several symptoms. There are an estimated 2.7 million Canadians who have a migraine diagnosis and I’m sure there are a lot more folks who go undiagnosed as I did for years.

Migraine Headaches: Facts & Migraine Triggers 

Let’s play a quick round of “Did You Know? 

Did you know Serena Williams, Kristin Chenoweth, Janet Jackson, Lisa Kudrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Ben Affleck, and Hugh Jackman all suffer from? I didn’t know this until recently (my mother told me about Serena.)

Did you know migraines are common and rank as the third most common health condition with one billion migraineurs worldwide?

Did you know there is no cure for migraines? They don’t know the cause, but thankfully, treatment options are available to help manage the pain.

Did you know women are at higher risk of migraine than men? I bet it has to do with hormones. Also, children get migraines.

The Migraine Phases

Why do migraines have to be so dramatic! Migraine attacks typically involve four distinct phases. I only recently learned about these phases, and I’ve had migraines for over 30+ years.

A migraine episode has a beginning phase (prodrome) and middle phase(s) (an aura phase that affects vision and a headache phase that can last several days). And finally, the ‘migraine hangover’ phase (postdrome).

Not everyone will go through all four phases. For example, I have never experienced the flashing lights behind the eyes or vision-related issues that come with the aura phase, while others experience auras every time.

Migraine attacks are unique to everyone and can differ from episode to episode. But for those of us that live with this debilitating illness, we can probably all agree that migraines are brutal.

Migraine Common Symptoms & Triggers

Common migraine symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and hypersensitivity to light, smells and sounds.

Common triggers include:

  • Hormonal changes (periods, birth control pills, aging)
  • Certain foods (e.g., chocolate, cheese, caffeine, alcohol)
  • Weather (changes in temperature/humidity)
  • Strong odours (e.g., perfumes, cigarettes)  
  • Physical factors (e.g., poor sleep, high-intensity workouts)
  • Family history/genes 
  • Stress 

The Emotional Side of Dealing with Migraines 

One of the things that people who suffer from migraines have in common is the emotional and psychological stress caused. Think about it this disability negatively impacts your quality of life and can result in loss of time with family and friends and from school and work.

A range of emotions accompanies the debilitating physical pain of migraines. Some of these can include frustration, anger, disappointment, guilt, exhaustion and feel sorry for yourself – Why me? Why now? I know I’ve experienced many of those feelings, sometimes all of them during one migraine attack. It can be exhausting.

I’ve gotten migraines at weddings and found myself vomiting in the bathroom. I’ve had to leave work early or take a sick day. I’ve had migraines on vacation and had to bail on dinners with friends. I’ve even had a migraine attack during my mother’s 65th birthday party. I felt terrible, emotionally, each time.

Migraine Treatment

There currently is no cure for migraine – boy, don’t I wish! Despite this there are migraine treatment options available. However, everyone has different symptoms and unique experiences. There are migraine pain management options, for example, a cocktail of medications, acupuncture or BOTOX.

I’ve used a combination of prescription medication, massage therapy, chiropractic treatments and sick days off from work to help manage the severity and duration of my migraines.


With migraines, you can’t trust yourself to be 100% well or relied upon on the days that matter or any given day. You might not go after that promotion, or you might not do things you want to do. The ‘not knowing” and missing out can create anxiety and stress. 

Feeling like we are letting people down or not performing at your best at work can negatively impact your self-esteem and self-confidence. 

Migraines pose a triple threat to our mental, physical and emotional wellbeing. Given that it impacts so many people worldwide, you likely know someone who is a migraineur.

I hope this post helps deepen your understanding of migraines and what your family members, friends or co-workers might be experiencing.

I want to also encourage you to share your story and speak to your healthcare practitioner to get the facts and right information that is tailored to your needs.


Cassandra McD.

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12 Diverse Books To Read This Spring/Summer

I’ve been giving Netflix (and Korean Dramas) a break so I can indulge in some fun spring/summer reading. I wanted to share this curated list of books by diverse women writes for your rainy days of spring and sunshine-filled hot days of summer reading pleasure. You’re welcome.

This very short curated spring/summer reading list includes novels by Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC) women and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning, Two-Spirit, Asexual and Ally (LGBTQ2S+) writers, and novels by or about people with disabilities.

Because it’s about to get hot in herre -weather wise, I wanted to keep things light-hearted and fun for the most part. The list includes a few romantic comedies, some family drama – think life-changing secrets and betrayals, and a murder mystery or two to keep things interesting. I did say, “light-hearted and fun for the most part.”

I hope you find a fun title or two to read while indulging in some well-deserved patio, pool-side or feet-in-the-sand-drink-in-hand relaxation. 

12 Diverse Books for You Spring/Summer Reading List 

1. Black Cake – Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake is being developed for the screen as a Hulu original series. The multi-generational family saga is about Eleanor and her two children, Byron and Benny. When Eleanor dies, the two estranged siblings inherit her Caribbean black cake recipe – a family recipe with a long history. Eleanor also left them a voice recording revealing family secrets and a mystery of a long-lost child. 

Their mother’s secrets leave the two siblings questioning their lineage and themselves. Will this and their mother’s black cake help their relationship heal or will it tear them even further apart?

2. Love Marriage – Monica Ali

Love Marriage tells the story of 26-year-old, Yasmin who is studying to be a doctor, like her dad. The trouble is that Yasmin is engaged to upper-class Joe Sangster whose mother just happens to be a feminist. Yasmin and Joe also have very different levels of sexual experiences.  As the wedding date approaches Yasmin’s life begins to get even more complicated – secrets, infidelity, misunderstandings, and the truth about her parents’ love marriage. Yasmin’s relationship will be challenged along with her beliefs.

Monica Ali is the author of Brick Lane which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Guardian Book Prize among other literary accolades – I read it years ago and it was really good.

3. Olga Dies Dreaming – Xochitl Gonzalez

This book has been optioned for a series on Hulu. The story centers around Olga Acevedo, a Wedding Planner to Manhattan’s power brokers, and her brother and congressman, Prieto, who lives in New York City. 

Life is great until Olga meets Matteo and it stirs up old family secrets that Olga now has to confront. The siblings must also deal with the return of their politically radical mother, Bianca, who abandoned them in Puerto Rico when they were children.

4. Get a Life Chloe Brown – Talia Hibbert

Get A Life, Chloe Brown is a rom-com by British author Talia Hibbert. It is the first book in a three-book series with the Brown sisters. In this first book, Chloe Brown, a chronically ill web designer experiences a near-death moment that causes her to think about her life differently. She decides she wants to “get a life” but first she has to make a plan and a bucket list. 

She’s accomplished the first thing on her list, moving out on her own and living independently for the first time. The other items on her list include:

  • Enjoy a drunken night out on the town.
  • Ride a motorcycle.
  • Go camping.
  • Have meaningless sex.
  • Travel the world with only a carryon suitcase
  • Do something bad.

Chloe quickly realizes that she may need some help accomplishing everything on her list, especially given her illness. Enter her building’s motorcycle riding, tattooed, long-haired redhead, Superintendent, Redford “Red” Morgan.  Red just happens to be an artist with his own baggage including, really resenting posh women like Chloe Brown – for good reason. 

They don’t like each other but they soon realize they can help each other out; Red needs a website to get his career back on track and Chloe needs help with her the items on her list to get her life back. Can they remain friends long enough to accomplish their goals?

5. Daughters of the Deer – Danielle Daniel

This historical fiction is set in the 1600s during the French settlement in the Algonquin territories. It centres around Marie and Jeanne. Maris, an Algonquin healer of the Weskarini Deer Clan marries a green-eyed French ex-soldier (and devout Catholic). She doesn’t want to marry this man but the alliance might help her people. 

Marie’s firstborn, Jeanne, is both white and Weskarini. Later Jeanne will discover she is also two-spirited when she falls for Josephine. Her two worlds will clash;  in her father’s world, she is expected to marry a man and being two-spirited is considered a sin. Being two-spirited in her mother’s world is seen as a blessing and a sign of special wisdom.

6. Vera Kelly Lost and Found – Rosalie Knecht (June 21, 2022)

It’s spring 1971 and private detective Vera Kelly is on the case but this time it’s personal. Vera must find her missing girlfriend, Max who goes missing one night while visiting with her estranged, and very wealthy, family. Did Maxi’s controlling father and the occultist, who might be stealing the family money, have something to do with Max’s disappearance? 

7. Chef’s Kiss  T.J. Alexander

This queer rom-com stars pastry chef, Simone Larkspur, whose professional goals get sidelined when her dream job with a cookbook publisher decides to modernize their brand and make the move to video. Simone is a perfectionist and for the first time she finds herself suddenly failing at something. If this new adjustment wasn’t stressful enough, Simone has to deal with Ray Layton, the test kitchen manager from hell – Ray is outgoing and cheerful.

After Ray becomes a YouTube viral sensation, the company decides to force the two to work together and Simone has no choice but to go along or risk losing the job that she loves. As the pair work closely together, Simone realizes she may have been too quick to judge and that that she might just be falling for Ray.

But when Ray comes out as nonbinary, Simone is forced to choose between her career and the person who may be the one for her.

8. Portrait of a Thief – Grace D. Li

Portrait of a Thief is being described as “Ocean’s Eleven meets The Farewell” and is inspired by a true story of Chinese art that goes missing from Western museums. When Harvard student and art history major, Will Chan, receives a proposition from a mysterious Chinese benefactor, he must decide whether he decides he’s willing to break the law – by leading a major art heist – to return priceless Chinese artwork that had previously been looted from Beijing centuries ago by other countries. 

Will and his crew can earn $50 million from the job and make history or face the consequences of their actions, including failing to right a wrong. Portrait of a Thief touches on Chinese American identity and the impacts of colonialism.

9. Kamila Knows Best – Farah Heron

Kamila Hussain is living the good life. She hosts lavish Bollywood parties, is a social media darling, loves her job and has lots of friends who need her help finding love. She’s been so busy she hasn’t time to think about her own love life. Well, that was until she and a long-time family friend, handsome Rohan Nasser, start to engage in a little bit of fun flirtation. When Kamila’s nemesis comes to town and she sets her sights on Rohan this threatens to upend Kamila’s perfect life.

10. Like a Sister – Kellye Garrett

When 25-year-old reality TV star Desiree Pierce’s body turns up in a playground, the police want to rule it as an overdose. That was until her half-sister Lena Scott realizes that something isn’t right and decides to get involved. She is determined to get justice for Desiree. Now, all she has to do is to make sure she can stay alive in the process.

11. The Things She’s Seen – Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

This thriller is a YA novel that was released in 2019 and tells the ‘ghost’ story of Beth Teller. Beth Teller dies in an accident but her spirit lives on and her dad is the only one who can see and hear her. 

Beth’s dad is a really good detective and with her death, he is dealing with crippling grief. She must help him reconnect with living by helping him solve a murder in a remote Australian town. They have to work together to unravel the secrets being kept in this small town to be able to close the case.

12Dial “A” for Aunties – Jessie Q. Sutanto 

Four Asian aunties, one big fat billionaire Asian wedding, and one murder equal a lot of trouble for Meddelin (Meddy) Chan. Meddy is not quiet over the breakup of her college sweetheart even though it was years ago, and he had moved away. 

Meddy’s mother poses on a dating app as her and sets her up on a blind date, Meddy is horrified. The Aunties, however, think this is brilliant and insists she go on the date with his handsome restaurateur. 

When Meddy finally agrees to go on the blind date she ends up accidentally killing him and must call the Aunties for help. Things go downhill as they try to deal with the body and orchestrate the wedding for a billionaire at the same time. The wedding is a big deal for the family wedding business and Aunties do not intend to let a corpse or looming murder charges ruin their big day.

Things only get worse when Meddy’s college sweetheart unexpectedly turns up. Can Meddy survive the weekend, escape prison, and find love?


I hope you found a few titles to add to your TBR list. I know I have! Share this post with a friend or your book club and

Feel free to connect with me on Instagram @swaggerandgreys and let me know what you’re currently reading!

As always, let’s continue to show love and support to the many diverse authors, independent bookstores, and our public libraries.

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Signs of Burnout and What To Do About It

I want to talk about a hot topic. Burnout (you see what I did there?). If you’ve heard the term burnout but aren’t sure what it is or think you might be experiencing some of the symptoms, I encourage you to read on. 

Hustle Culture Might be Bad for Your Health

“It’s important that you don’t lie to yourself. If you lie to yourself, you end up with burnout.” – Patrick Pichette, former Chief Financial Officer of Google.

12-to-14-hour long workdays. Wake up and go to bed with work on your mind. You’ve always been a hard worker and high achiever. Always put in the extra effort and raise your hand to help even when you really don’t have the time. 

The problem is burnout can be stealthy. It’s often a slow build and can feel like it snuck up on you and knocked you down in dramatic form when you’re not expecting it. Burnout can even happen if you love your job. 

Burnout will force you to come face-to-face with the consequences of ignoring your mental health and wellness in your career.  Hustle culture might seem like the only way to get ahead but is it though? Don’t lie to yourself that everything is fine, and you can handle it when you can’t. You just might be setting yourself up for failure in the form of burnout.

What is burnout?

In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined workplace burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stresses that haven’t successfully been managed. Burnout is not a medical condition but as an ‘occupational phenomenon’ – meaning it’s a workplace-related cause related to stressors.

According to the WHO, the three key features of burnout include:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job (detachment), feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • Reduced professional efficacy (feeling as if you are not good at your job/ineffective and not good enough).

On a personal note, I didn’t understand what burnout was until I experienced it first-hand a few years ago. I was hit with, what felt like a sudden, intense, onslaught of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion and a host of other symptoms. Burnout negatively impacted how I showed up at work and my physical and mental health. It was an incredibly scary time for me and a wake-up call to slow down and re-evaluate my work situation.

What are the signs of burnout to watch out for?

In a recent workplace burnout survey of 1000 employees in the US, 77% of respondents said they experienced employee burnout at their jobs. While people in the helping professions (e.g., nurses, physicians, teachers, in the US are said to be at the highest risk of burnout. Burnout is also impacting remote workers. 

When it comes to the signs of burnout, I felt like I experienced all the red flags and yet managed to ignore them until I couldn’t any longer. Some of the more noticeable physical signs of burnout can include:

  • Physical pain
  • More vulnerable to illness
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate or forgetfulness
  • Moodiness (anger and irritability)
  • Insomnia 
  • Risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure
  • Substance abuse

Some other signs of burnout related to emotional and mental wellbeing include:

  • Negative expectations about your work performance. You begin to lose self-confidence and start to question your ability to do your job.
  • Feeling underappreciated. You feel like you’re not valued at work. This can lead to feelings of anger and resentment, which in turn impacts your performance and how you feel about work.
  • Detachment from work. This is a big one. This happens when you feel disconnected from others and your work environment. The work you do doesn’t seem to matter to you anymore – you ‘check out’ emotionally and sometimes physically by calling in sick or turning up late and not caring. 
  • You experience apathy. You start to ask yourself, what’s the point? It all seems meaningless.
  • You become increasingly impatient/angry often. You have very little tolerance for things that didn’t bother you before. It feels like everything annoys you, including people.
  • Anxiety. A chronic state of feeling on edge, worried, feelings of dread, or even experiencing heart palpations or having panic attacks if it gets severe enough.
  • Depression. This is like a culmination of the apathy, irritability, fatigue or low energy etc. that leaves you feeling sad, stuck and sometimes wanting to stay in bed and not deal with the world.  

When you don’t talk about it

I know talking about your mental health to your manager can be difficult and, in some cases, some people have crappy managers and are working in environments that are not that supportive. I get it. 

The problem is that if your mental health is impacted by burnout to the point where your work suffers then eventually, they’ll know something’s up, especially if the workload isn’t going to get lighter or your attitude has changed. 

Arguably, burnout is not necessarily a problem of the individual employee but more to do with the workplace itself – unhealthy workplace – and is about job conditions that create the chronic stressors. Dr. Christina Maslach, PhD., one of the world’s leading experts on burnout, talks about this issue more in-depth here.

However, the organizational changes that may need to happen to address workplace burnout are out of your control and may take some time. You may also not be able to change your job right away if it comes to that. If this is the case, let’s look at the things you can control and some practical steps you can take to support yourself through burnout.

Practical Steps to Help with Burnout

Listen to your body

In the Cure for Burnout Ted interview, Amelia Nagoski and Emily Nagoski say that “one of the primary barriers to listening to your body is a fear of the uncomfortable feelings that are happening in your body.” They say to come out of the dark tunnel that is stress you have got to go through the stress cycle and deal with uncomfortable feelings.

As I’ve noted earlier, don’t lie to yourself. It’s ok to say to yourself, “I’m feeling stressed right now”, or “I’m really angry.” Listen to your body and don’t run from what you’re feeling. 

Talk to someone and ask for help

Speak with a healthcare practitioner to let them know what’s going on – the physical, emotional, and mental symptoms you are experiencing – all of it. It’s important to make sure that it is burnout and not some other health issue that’s the cause and also discuss your options.

You might also investigate whether there are any available workplace resources like employee assistance programs that offer counselling services covered by your employer. 

Practice self-compassion and kindness

I know being a rock star at work is your default and not being able to bring you’re A-game because you’re burned out, or worse, having to admit you’re burned out, can leave you feeling like a failure. I’m here to tell you, that’s just a load of crapola! It’s negative self-talk that’s driving that thinking. Trust me. Be kind to yourself and have self-compassion.

Don’t be ashamed to admit it

There is a stigma around mental health, no matter what the issue is. I made a conscious decision to speak openly about being burned out to anyone who asked about my absence from work. Burnout is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to a lot of people.  

Burnout was new to me and like with my migraines, I would not wish that on anyone. 

Some people asked me what burnout was and others applauded my decision to take time off for my mental health. It felt good to have those conversations and if I can share my experience to help even one person then I’m here for it! 

Try to connect with others, share your story and find that network of support.

Take time off to rest if possible

To help recover from burnout, I needed to step away from my desk, literally. didn’t really have a choice. I was a hot mess! Both my family doctor and therapist recommended it. That’s how serious it was. 

Find a way to take a break (talk to your medical practitioner or therapist). Burnout doesn’t just go away if you ignore it. In fact, it can get worse.

Change your perspective

It was hard for me to accept that this was serious and that I had to listen to my body and take steps to make changes to get better. I also had to recognize that burnout was happening over the years and healing would not happen overnight. 

But I often find it helpful to try to find the positive from a negative situation. I’m suggesting that maybe if we shift our perspective and look at burnout, not as something completely awful – although it is – but rather it can also be viewed as an opportunity for us to reflect and decide on what changes we need to make in our lives. 

Final Thoughts

Recovering from burnout can be an opportunity for self-reflection and commitment to prioritizing self-care and personal growth. It is a chance for you to focus on your mental and physical wellness more mindfully. 

There’s no quick fix for this. I’m still in burnout recovery what with the pandemic, the challenges of remote working and the perpetual state of change over the last few years. It’s a journey of healing, that, if you continue to make it a priority, will pay long-term dividends for your health, and mental wellbeing and improve overall happiness.

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog by Swell Made Co.

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7 Simple Tips to Help You Start Your Morning Off Right

There is this viral video where a little boy is seen walking merrily down a street, a bounce in his step and waving as he starts shouting, very enthusiastically, “Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!” at passersby. Have you seen it? The video leaves me smiling every single time I watch it.

How awesome would it be to wake up with that kind of boundless enthusiasm and good energy? Ok, maybe for me, I’d probably dial down the peppiness by about 10 and I might need a triple shot of espresso, but still, it would be nice to feel that energized, wouldn’t it? Since I have no idea what that child eats for breakfast that’s doing it for him, I can only share with you dear reader, these simple tips for setting a morning routine to improve your mood and get your day off to a good start. Yelling ‘Good morning!’ to strangers is optional.

7 Simple Tips for a Better Morning Routine

#1. Evaluate how you are waking up by checking your sleep habit.

If you repeatedly hit the ‘snooze’ button on your alarm and you feel sluggish when the alarm sounds, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate how your sleep habits.

  • Are you going to bed early enough to ensure you’re getting a decent amount of sleep and good quality sleep?
  • Is there anything you can do in your day to increase your sleep time so that when the alarm goes off you are less likely to groan and be annoyed?

Those first few seconds you open your eyes can help set the tone for your day. Make them count.

#2. Wake up a little more slowly.

Instead of jumping out of bed and rushing to get your day started, set aside a few minutes to allow yourself time to ease into your morning.

If you’ve adjusted your sleep schedule to meet your needs, then maybe instead of jumping out of bed, you take a moment to breathe deeply or give your body a nice big stretch and be in the moment.

Use these few moments as a calming way to start your day even if you don’t have a ton of time in the morning.

#3. Pause and give thanks.

As the song goes, “the sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar there’ll be sun.” True enough. The trouble is that there is no guarantee that we’ll be around to see it. 

Some people see a new day as a gift to be appreciated every day. So, before getting out of bed, take a few seconds for gratitude. Give thanks for another chance to start over and do better, do different, do more. 

#4. Make your bed.

Making your bed each morning can be an easy and effective way of intentionally training in mindfulness. Don’t just toss the duvet and pillows on but slow down. Think about this as just one way to create order and calm and to set yourself for a successful start to your day. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate a nicely made bed with pretty sheets and pillows?

#5. Make sure you moisturize, protect and hydrate (your skin). 

Want to look alert and refreshed in the morning without makeup? Apply a good moisturizer and the right sunscreen. Take your time and enjoy the feel of the products on your skin, then step back and admire that fresh-faced glow up! 

Now, if you want to be extra, channel your inner Lizzo, look in the mirror, do a hair toss and say, “Hey there beautiful, you’re lookin’ good as hell!” 

#6. Find a few moments of stillness.

If you have more time or want to cultivate a calmer, more grounded start to your day, you can take time for a 5 – 15-minute meditation practice. 

If you don’t have the time for this, consider ways you might incorporate some elements of stillness into your day, you can engage in walking meditation, breathwork or mindful eating. Anything that will give you a moment to pause, be still and try to be present in the moment.

#7. Move your body, even if it’s for a few minutes.

Moving your body by doing gentle stretching, dancing to your fave song while you shower or make coffee or a more vigorous workout session. 

It’s so easy to spend most of our day seated and not realize it – from getting out to bed, sitting for breakfast, to sitting at our desk, then sitting to have lunch, then sitting on the sofa to sitting for dinner. 

Taking time to move your body in the morning (and thorough the day) in any way you can based on your schedule, ability, and commitment, is better than remaining mostly sedentary. It can be as little as a few minutes of short full body stretching, a short walk, or mini workouts. It doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. 

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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5 Reasons Meditation Should be a Part of Your Selfcare

Cassandra sitting on a burgundy velvet sofa, legs crossed and eyes closed in meditation.

When you think about meditation, what comes to mind? Is it the image of someone sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, hands resting on the lap and wearing a very serene look on their face? Are they surrounded by nature?

Up until about three years ago, when I thought about meditation these were the types of images that it would be called to mind. Meditation was, in my mind, something that was not accessible to someone like me and was something that was on a very unattainable spiritual level. Then I experienced a case of burnout that left me searching desperately for something to bring some calm to the anxiety and other stressful feelings I was experiencing daily. Along with seeking support from health professionals, I decided to give meditation a try. 

Now nearly three years later, I’ve completed over 440 hours (900 sessions) of meditation at just 10-15 minutes daily. It hasn’t been easy. It’s taken a serious commitment to show up consistently every day and, just as importantly, to trust the process. I’ve missed some days, but those times have been few. Meditation is now part of my daily wellness routine because the benefits have helped me through an incredibly challenging time and find a calmer way to start each day.

Meditation is more accessible to you than you think

You might also be saying, meditation is just a little too ‘hippy-dippy’, or “I don’t have the time to just sit there and try not to think about anything for hours.” Or maybe you’ve tried it once or twice and gave up because you kept getting lost in your thoughts and found it too difficult to maintain focus. For many people, including myself, meditation is something that seems inaccessible on several levels.

Here’s what I’ve learned about meditation as a result of my wellness journey and experience with doing a daily guided meditation practice using Headspace for nearly three years:

  • Meditation is more accessible now than ever with access to free apps, videos and social media.
  • Meditation is both easy and challenging at the same time. Sitting still and paying attention to your breath sounds easy enough but when you bring your thoughts and feelings into the mix, well then it becomes a little trickier.
  • You can meditate just about anywhere. Ideally, you want to find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed.
  • Meditation doesn’t require that you sit cross-legged on a special mat or cushion. You can meditate while sitting, standing, walking, writing, repeating a mantra, or laying down. 
  • If you only have a few minutes in your day, you can meditate.
Cassandra, sitting on a bed, meditation with headphones

5 Reasons to Make Meditation Part of Your Selfcare Routine

With so many daily distractions in our lives, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can slow down, even for a few minutes or learn to focus our attention with fewer distractions? Meditation is about training in awareness. Awareness of your breath, of your body, of your thoughts and how you relate to others. It’s about learning to be more focused and pay closer attention to your daily life. 

Meditation can help you relax and find a sense of calm, but it can help you to listen better, pay more attention and be present with your loved ones with less distraction. In one of the lessons from Headspace, Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of Headspace says, “meditation is an opportunity to let go of that idea of trying to influence the result in some way, of trying to achieve something.” Meditation, rather, is an opportunity for you to take time out for yourself. It is an opportunity for you to “simply be ok, at ease, with the moment as it is, right now.”

Here are just five reasons mindfulness meditation is beneficial and should be a part of your wellness routine:

1. Reduce brain chatter, including negative thoughtsAccording to research, we have over 6000 thoughts a day. Meditation is about training the mind to become more aware of distracting thoughts about the future or past events and then letting them go so that you can focus on the present moment, which helps to reduce the noise and busyness of our minds.

2. Improve focus: Learning mindfulness meditation requires that you practice improving your ability to focus. You are required to focus on your breath, bodily sensations, your thoughts and your emotions as soon as they arise. This, of course, sounds easier than it is given how our minds tend to wander and we get easily caught up in thinking without realizing it.  

However, improving your ability to focus, realize when you’re distracted and then coming back to the task at hand can be applied to tasks in your daily life (for example, while at work, in your relationships or doing leisure activities). 

3. Improves your connection with others: Meditation teaches you about kindness and self-compassion. If you begin with being kinder and more compassionate with yourself then you will be able to be kinder and more compassionate towards others – you bring a different, more positive perspective to your interactions. Meditation is beneficial for our relationships

4. Helps you gain insight: With meditation, there is an opportunity for you to pay closer attention to your thoughts and explore more deeply how you are feeling and what might be causing feelings of anxiety or mental stress you’re experiencing. 

5. Lower stress: Some studies show that meditation can help decrease stress and feelings of anxiety by helping to calm the mind and put you in a more relaxed state, which improves your ability to cope better.

There are many other benefits to mediation on our emotional well-being such as sleep, pain management and physiological health.

Final thoughts – The Daily Meditation Struggle is Real

I still struggle with my meditation sessions on most days. At times I hear myself saying, “you suck at this!” or when my mind is particularly active, “that was a terrible practice this morning”. At other times I simply want to give up partway through for whatever reason. During these times, I remind myself of the teachings from my meditation sessions; meditation is a skill that takes time before you can get to a place where you experience a feeling of ease and calm and be kind to yourself and less critical of yourself while you practice. 

I hope you found this helpful if you were thinking about trying meditation as part of your self-care practice or wellness routine. All the good feelings won’t happen immediately but when they do, it will be worth it. So, give it a try!

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14 Books to Read for Black History Month

February is Black History Month and to mark the occasion, I thought I would share a reading list to take some of the guess work out of what to read for Black History Month and to encourage you to continue to support Black writers (and diverse voices). 

The 14 books on this list are stories of diverse Black experiences that include explorations of identity, culture, family, love, sexism, colourism and racism. Of course, I’ve included popular titles from the literary greats, Morrison, Neale Hurston, Angelou, hook, and Lorde along, with several exciting newer voices.

The books are mostly works of fiction and memoirs. If you want to go deeper with more educational reading, you can take a look at the anti-racism resource list for additional books, articles and movies. You can also find a list of resources specific to Black History Month in Canada created by The CBC and Being Black in Canada.

14 Books to Read for Black History Month

Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God was first published in 1937.  It is Janie Crawford’s coming-of-age story and a love story.

Beloved – Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison passed away in 2019 but is celebrated as one of the best writers of our time. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Beloved (she’s also held Nobel Prize in Literature and other accolades).

Beloved is the story of “Sethe, an escaped slave who has lost a husband and buried a child; who has withstood savagery and not gone mad. Sethe, who now lives in a small house on the edge of town with her daughter, Denver, her mother-in-law, Baby Suggs, and a disturbing, mesmerizing apparition who calls herself Beloved.” It is a complex story that can be a challenging read at times. 

Beloved was turned into a movie in the late 1990s starring Oprah, Thandie Newton and Danny Glover. You can read what Toni Morrison says about the origins of Beloved here.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by writer and poet Dr. Angelou, is one of the few books that I’ve kept on my bookshelf for over 25 years now. It left its mark on me for the storytelling and the story of Angelou’s early years as a young girl growing up in the south as set out in this 1969 memoir. Dr. Maya Angelou was ahead of her time and has led an extraordinary life until her death in 2014 at age 86. Caged Bird Sings is one of several books in Angelou’s autobiography series and is a classic. It was also turned into a movie in the 70s.

All About Love: New Visions – bell hooks

Feminist writer and professor bell hooks recently passed away. I read her work in my early 20s while an undergrad student. She is still as relevant today as she ever was in her writings on the intersection of race, gender and society. All About Love: New Visions, is a short book that examines the foundation of love and how cultural norms have shaped how we love one another. 

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name – Audre Lorde

Writer, activist, and mother, Audre Lorde’s memoir or as she refers to it, a ‘biomythography’, is about growing up Black and queer in Harlem in the 1950s. The memoir is a blend of biography, history and mythology. This is about identity, community, connection and the love for all the women who shaped her life.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half is a story that follows the lives of the bi-racial Vignes identical twin sister who escape their small rural, southern town. The sisters go on to live very different lives spanning from the 1950s to the 90s. One sister passes as a white woman and marries a white man while the other marries a Black man. This is a story about, among other things, family secrets, racial identity, gender identity, racism, classism, love and loss. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent  Isabel Wilkerson

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wilkerson’s novel was an Oprah’s Book Club pick. This novel examines America’s unspoken caste system, how it has impacted and continues to have an impact on, our lives today.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More – Janet Mock

This New York Times bestseller by Janet Mock is a memoir of their experience growing up young, multiracial, poor, and trans in America. “There is no universal women’s experience. We all have stories, and this is one personal narrative out of untold thousands, and I am aware of the privilege I hold in telling my story.”

Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging – Tessa McWatt

Tessa McWatt’s Shame on Me seeks to answer: “How do you tick a box on a census form or job application when your ancestry is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese? How do you finally answer a question first posed to you in grade school: “What are you?” And where do you find a sense of belonging in a supposedly “post-racial” world where shadism, fear of blackness, identity politics and call-out culture vie with each other noisily, relentlessly and still lethally?”

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

This is a debut novel by Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi. Homegoing is a story that spans two continents over eight generations carrying with it the details intergenerational impact of the slave trade. It is the story of two half-sisters, Effia and Esi born in two different villages in Ghana in the 18th century and who live two very different lives; one of comfort and the other as a slave. The story follows the lives of their descendants in Africa and America.

Sing, Unburied, Sing  Jesmyn Ward

A National Book Award winner in 2017, Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is about a family’s struggle with drug addiction, poverty, racism and hope in Mississippi.

Luster – Raven Leilani

This is a multiple literary prize-winning debut novel (2020-2021) by Leilani. 20-something-year-old, aspiring artist and temp, Edie lives in an apartment in New York, when she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey. Eric is in an open marriage – with rules. When Edie finds herself unemployed, she gets an offer to live with Eric and his family. Despite the unconventional circumstances she finds herself in, Edie slowly forms a friendship with Eric’s wife and becomes a role model to Eric’s adopted daughter. Adulting is hard.

What We Lose – Zinzi Clemmons

What We Lose is a debut award-winning novel. It is a coming-of-age story about Thandi, a young bi-racial woman growing up and always feeling like an outsider. Thandi must learn to deal with loss, grief, love, race, identity, sex, family, and country.

Black Girl, Call Home – Jasmine Mans

Jasmine Mans is a Spoken Word Poet. Black Girl, Call Home is a collection of poetry about race, feminism, and queer identity.

Final Thoughts

I hope you found a title or two to add to your reading list this Black History Month. You can also check out my other reading lists that include stories by and about BIPOC, LGBTQ2S and people with disabilities’ communities right here on the Swell Life blog.

As always, remember to support local bookstores and small businesses when you can. They need our support now more than ever.

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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10 Ways To Optimize Your Mental Health During Winter

With the transition into the fall/winter season, I’ve been noticing some changes in my mood. Lately, I’ve been slower to rise in the mornings, and I’ve not been as motivated to mediate, workout or take afternoon walks. I haven’t felt like I have the energy and I’m not in the mood for any of the things that I now make me feel good. I simply want to spend all my time curled up with a cozy blanket, a cup of tea and read a good book . I want to hibernate like a bear and not emerge from under the covers until springtime.

The winter months can be particularly challenging when you’re dealing with the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD is a type of depression related to changes in the season), or other mental health issues. The reduced sunlight due to shorter days and colder temperatures can throw off our circadian rhythms. It can push us out of synch with our daily routines, lowering our energy and messing with our mood. 

Since we can’t all behave like bears (except maybe when it comes to packing on the extra pounds for the winter), it might be the right time to press pause and check in on your mental health.

10 Ways To Optimize Your Mental Health During Winter

1. Give yourself permission to rest. It’s ok to rest and recharge. It doesn’t mean you’re lazy nor, does it mean you need to take large blocks of time. Setting aside some dedicated time to rest guilt-free is a powerful form of self-care. As they say, you can’t take of others if you don’t care of yourself first. Prioritizing rest is a great place to start when trying to combat the winter blues.

2. Assess what you’re eating. Have you been eating a lot more carbs (homemade sourdough bread, anyone?), sweets or consuming more caffeine or alcohol than usual? It’s been a very challenging and stressful time for most of us, and our relationship with food may have changed as a way of helping us cope. 

Take some time to assess your diet and think about ways to make positive changes to improve your mood and overall health.

3. Set some boundaries. This might mean learning to say “no” more often. This may especially be true for work or during the holiday season. Figure out what you’re willing to take on or put up with and what you are not. Then set your boundaries, let go of feelings of guilt, and do your best to protect your peace.

4. Check up on your relationships. Speaking of setting boundaries, when was the last time you evaluated the company you keep. Reach out and connect with the people whose company you enjoy. Maybe check-in and see how they are coping. Consider limiting the amount of time you spend with the friends or family members who drain your energy. Again, do your best to protect your peace.

5. Be Still. You don’t have to be productive or busy every minute of the day. If you allow yourself some time to simply sit and just be still, you can reflect on what’s really going on with you. Ask yourself, how am I doing? What am I feeling right now? And see what comes up for you. Don’t run from the feelings. Instead, try to be curious about it. 

A bit of self-awareness about where you’re at can go a long way in helping you identify whether you need to make changes and if you need some help doing so.

6. Talk with an expert. Speaking of needing help, you don’t have to wait until you’re in crisis mode to seek the support of a licensed therapist or medical practitioner. Having a few therapy sessions can help you work through and process some of your emotions and top-of-mind issues in ways that may be incredibly beneficial.  

A doctor (not Dr. Google but a real person) can help to determine whether you’re experiencing winter blues or something more serious, like Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and suggest the right course of action. 

7. Be patient with yourself. Depending on where you are at, feeling like yourself again may take some time. Try to be aware of the negative self-talk and unrealistic expectations you may have set for yourself (see “Be Still” above). Then let all of that go. Give yourself some space, some grace and celebrate the small wins daily. 

Say it with me, “This will take time and, that’s ok. I will be ok!” If that fails, just play some Beyonce and dance. Bey makes everything better.

8. Get more sunlight and movement in your day. Moving your body, soaking up the natural goodness of the sun and connecting with nature can help boost your mood and contribute positively to your overall wellbeing. Put on some layer, create a playlist of energy boosting songs, of cue your fave podcast and get outside for a walk. 

9. Reassess your sleep routine. Your sleep can get disrupted with the change in seasons and having to set your clocks back an hour depending on where you are in the world. If you’re feeling a little blah, more anxious or depressed, this can impact the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting. Check your sleep routine and make any necessary adjustments.

10. Stop doom scrolling. Try to be more mindful of how often you are scrolling on social media. Pay attention to how often you are picking up your phone and opening the apps. How are you feeling when you see the curated feeds? How are you feeling when you stop scrolling? No matter how self-aware and grounded you are, you may be surprised to find that you’re not immune from the negative impacts that social media can have on your mental health. 

Putting the phone away a couple hours before bed can also help improve your sleep quality.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people struggle with their mental health during the winter months, so you are not alone. You don’t need to deal with these issues alone. You can be proactive now and take steps to improve our mood, energy levels and mental health and wellbeing, not only during the winter months but all year round.

This post first appeared on the Swell Life Blog.

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These Are All The Books I’ve Read This Year!

This was a good year for me with my book reading goals. I like to get through about two books per month – I honestly wish I was a speed reader but I’m more the tortoise than the hare when it comes to reading speed. However, this year I managed to get through a few more books than I normally would and I’m obviously feeling pretty chuffed about it! (I don’t why I just used the word ‘chuffed’ as if I’m British but I’m leaving it in because I can.) 

A few of the books that I really enjoyed – for the writing and because they made me laugh include, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, Selfcare: A Novel and Under the Rainbow Bridge.

Sadly, there were a few books on this list that I did not enjoy (I feel bad about it, but it happens): The Other Black Girl (I really wanted too love this one, I really did… but I didn’t. I did love the cover though, so I guess that’s something); Can Your Hear Me Know, the Celina Caesar Chaveannes memoir; and Frying Plantain.

There were a few professional development titles that I also enjoyed. Professional Troublemaker brought a different, humorous flavour to the space of self help/career advice books that I quite enjoyed. While a few other books were hard to read at various points but in a good way, like Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread and How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House.

Of course, my reading list for the year would not be complete without light-hearted fun reads including detective novels and even a few YA titles thrown in the mix.

Overall, it was a good year and I enjoyed most of the titles on this list. Here are the titles not ranked in any order.

You can also check out my other reading list posts for details on various reads.

My Complete 2021 Reading List

1. Hana Khan Carries On – Ozma Jalaluddin

2. Her Majesty the Queen Investigates the Windsor Knot – S. J. Bennett

3. Butter, Honey, Pig, Bread – Francesca Ekwuyasi

4. The Adventures of Isabel – Candas Jane Dorsey

5. One, Two, Three – Laurie Frankel

6. So Lucky – Nicola Griffith

7. The Firekeeper’s Daughter – Angeline Boulley

8. Professional Troublemaker – Luvie Ajay Jones 

9. When Katie Met Cassidy – Camille Perri

10. Think Like a Monk – Jay Shetty

11. Under the Rainbow – Celia Laskey

12. Can Your Hear Me Now? – Celina Caesar Chavannes

13. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House – Cherie Jone

14. How to Pronounce Knife – Souvankham Thammavongsa

15. Honey Girl – Morgan Rogers

16. Frying Plantain – Zalika Reid-Benta

17. The Promised Land – Barack Obama

18. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – Lori Gottlieb

19. Untamed – Glennon Doyle

20. Selfcare – A Novel – Leigh Stein

21. The Secret Keeper of Jaipur – Alka Joshi

22. Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

23. Selfcare – A Novel – Leigh Stein

24. A Holly Jolly Diwali – Sonya Lalli

25. The Holiday Swap – Maggie Knox

Hope you enjoyed this list and wishing you a very Happy Holidays!

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5 Ways to Protect Your Peace During the Holidays

I know the holiday season is in full swing for most of us what with Diwali, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, or other important holidays we celebrate this time of the year.  For some of us, it’s an exciting time but, for others, well, it can be a time filled with dread, sadness, and unavoidable family drama. Holidays can come with a lot of emotional and mental stress. Even if we love the holidays, it can still be physically taxing and get overwhelming at times. 

If you struggle with getting through this time of year, as I do, one of the ways you might find some peace during the holidays is to think about embracing new traditions. One of these traditions might include continuing much smaller, more intimate family/friends gatherings (given the current climate, going smaller for health and safety reasons is an easier argument to make than in the past).

That being said, I want to share a few more tips for how you can plan to have a more satisfying, less stressful holiday season.

5 Ways to Protect your Peace During the Holidays

#1 Know Your Triggers

Number one know your own triggers are there are certain people or topics of conversations that get you worked up. Learn what you might say to shut down triggering conversations during the holidays according to therapists. 

You might also try to excuse yourself and spend a minute in the bathroom or, if weather permits, take a walk to avoid that person pressing your buttons and ruining your mood and the evening.

#2 Say No To That Invite

It can be hard to say “no” during the holidays. It can be heart-pounding scary to decline an invitation or decide to not extend an invite to certain family members. It may cause some tension and maybe even a lot of drama. But if someone is abusive you literally don’t have to spend time with them even if their family remember this is your holiday too. 

Saying yes to something that you don’t really want to do can also leave you feeling resentful and angry with yourself and others.

#3 Let Go of the Guilt

Whether it’s saying ‘no’, especially to the family during the holidays or deciding to scale back on gift-giving or the size of the family gatherings this year, it can be incredibly hard. Guilt is a difficult emotion to let go of. It can be incredibly difficult, but not impossible.

Reflect on why you’re feeling guilty – where is that coming from? What are you afraid of? What do you have to gain and lose by saying no? Will you survive it? Then, make peace with your decision.

Just remember to be kind and gentle with yourself as you would with a friend or family member.

#4 Don’t Engage in Family Gossip

Not all gossip is bad. There can be ‘juicy’ news about someone that’s positive or helpful. But then there’s negative gossip that isn’t centred around concern for someone else or being helpful. It’s gossip for personal gain and where you question the motivation of the person sharing the information. 

Probably the safest way to avoid engaging in negative gossip is to avoid family gossip altogether. One way to not engage in family gossip is to set the intention that you will not talk about anyone who isn’t in the room with you. This will also require being aware of your own tendencies to get caught up in the gossip game. 

#5 Set realistic expectations

Let go of unrealistic expectations and the Hallmark Christmas movie version of what the holidays should look like. Find a way to celebrate healthily and happily for you and your family. Find what brings you joy and do more of that this season.

I hope that you find these tips helpful and that you can make the most of this holiday season with a heart full of gratitude and hope for a brighter New Year.

This post first appeared on The Swell Life Blog (Swell Made Co.)

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Embracing New Holiday Traditions: 4 Lessons Learned

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” as the song goes. There’s an energy in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Airports are busy with people flying home for the holidays, malls filled with holiday shoppers, countless holiday parties, Secret Santas, and the Santa Claus parade.

It’s a bit magical to watch the city transform, even if you’re not into Christmas. The spectacle of giant holiday trees, holiday-themed storefronts and ice skating under the twinkle of holiday lights. Hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread houses and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want for Christmas‘ blaring through speakers in just about every store. Don’t forget the hours of driving as people go from house to house visiting loved ones and delivering presents. And it isn’t the holidays without the big family gathering on Christmas day with people all dressed in our holiday best and filled with merriment and good cheer.

Most people seem happier and in the festive spirit this time of year and, it’s hard not to get caught up in it at some point. I can do without crowded malls and the expense and excess that can be symbolic of the holidays but, I’m a sucker for a beautifully decorated tree, and I’m all in when it comes to binge-watching holiday movies and having a holiday playlist on repeat. 

Traditionally, that’s what Christmas might look like for most of us – some variation of that. And this year, I was hoping we’d bring back those old traditions and celebrate like the worst of the pandemic era was finally behind us. 

Sadly, that isn’t the case. The pandemic is once again making the holidays complicated. We are left wondering if we can keep our holiday traditions alive and the people we love safe. 

Keeping Some Traditions and Finding New Ones

There are, of course, some traditions that can still be maintained like, decorating the tree, hanging a wreath and stockings and gift-giving.

Some of us might still have small gatherings and enjoy outdoor activities like ice-skating and checking out holiday decorations and activities in and around the community. Yet, many of us will have to find new ways to mark this time of year. We have to create new traditions to replace the old ones that are no longer feasible because so much has changed. There is a great sadness in that, but also an opportunity too. 

A couple of years ago, I had one of the best Christmas holidays I’d had in a long time. It was not the traditional dinner at my mom’s place with family, a ton of food, and lots of leftovers in what always seemed like endless amounts of Tupperware that could probably take up a lot of self-space in Walmart. This time around, my mother opted to spend the holidays in Jamaica with my sister while my niece and I accepted an invitation to stay with my aunt and cousins. 

I spent three days stuffing my face (my aunt, like my mother, loves to cook and I appreciate that so much!), laughing out loud and enjoying the low-key vibe of the holidays with my fam. 

That was a new way to do Christmas for my family. After years of everyone gathering in one place, we celebrated in smaller groups. My mother and sister spent Christmas with family and friends in Jamaica and I spent the holidays with my aunt and cousins at their home. It was not traditional but as an introvert, having a smaller, more intimate gathering was more comfortable and left me feeling energized instead of exhausted as I typically am this time of year.

Did I miss aspects of our traditional dinners, like seeing my four aunties and mom in the kitchen and hearing stories of when they were younger? Absolutely. But experiencing this new way of doing Christmas also had its benefits like, spending a lot of quality time with people I love in a way that I wouldn’t have done. 

I had no idea that would be the last time I would be around family members like that. Three months later, Covid-19 changed everything. 

Letting Go of the Past by Embracing Gratitude

The following Christmas, it was clear that my mother was hoping to have a small gathering for dinner, but she soon realized that everyone’s health and safety, including her own, mattered more than turkey and stuffing.

She was able to cook and bake for pick-up/drop-off, yes very much like UberEats, because it’s not Christmas if she doesn’t get to prepare a big meal for folks to enjoy, even if that meant not enjoying it together. It kept her busy and provided her with whatever comfort she needed to help get through a pandemic Christmas and to make the holidays a little brighter after months of daily heartbreaking news and days filled with panic and anxiety. 

This new version of the holidays was different, not as fun, but we were all so very grateful to be healthy and well, alive, given the circumstances that it didn’t matter that we weren’t able to be together in person. 

I want to share a few things I’ve learned from adjusting my holiday traditions because of the pandemic and why it wasn’t a bad thing.

4 Lessons from Embracing New Holiday Traditions

Placing gratitude at the heart of it all is the way to go.

If you can take some time to look around, undistracted and reflect on all the things you are grateful for this holiday season, you may surprise yourself with how much meaning and joy you can find with what you still have instead of focusing on what you longer have. Hang on to that feeling and let it fill you up and, carry you through the holidays.

Bigger isn’t necessarily better.  

Sometimes it’s in the smaller gatherings that are significant. It’s an opportunity for you, especially if you’re hosting, to slow down and scale down all the things. With less fuss and busyness involved in preparing for large gatherings, you have more time to focus and be present in the moment. 

With smaller gatherings you get to fully enjoy the time you spend with loved ones without the overwhelm, exhaustion and massive pile of dirty dishes.

Also, a smaller gathering may be beneficial if you have extended family members who routinely annoy you during the holidays.

Meaningful connections can still happen remotely.

Last year I had very minimal contact with family members. I’m talking a saw my cousins for a few minutes outside to exchange gifts. The holidays were all about phone calls and video chats. 

I taught my mother how to FaceTime and my aunties how to use Zoom for the first time and, they had a group chat with cousins in the UK that lasted hours. I stay more connected to my family now than I did before the pandemic. Even by phone or video, the connection is still real and, it’s still meaningful. 

Giving back makes you merrier. 

This time of year we can spend a lot on gifts for our loved ones (and dare I say, on ourselves because holiday sales are irresistible!). However, the holiday is also a time for giving back. And since giving back helps others and has the added benefit of making you feel good, it’s a perfect way to help make the most out of a not-so-traditional holiday season. 

Giving back can lift your spirits, knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of others, even when the pandemic has put a damper on our moods. 

Final Thoughts

It’s been a rough, sometimes depressing period for most of us. The holidays are typically a time for celebration and joy but also a time for reflection and gratitude. So, if you find yourself having to adjust your holiday plans and break once again with tradition, it’s ok. Our holiday traditions are wonderful, and necessary in many ways, but they don’t have to be fixed (the past year has proven that). 

Be flexible and open to finding ways to create new traditions or adjust old ones and still make meaningful memories grounded in gratitude for all that you have.


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