Six steps to seasonal stress relief
‘Tis the season to be jolly…But for many of us, the run-up to Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year and there may be moments when you feel like you're losing your baubles.
That relaxing summer beach holiday you booked for next July seems like an absolute lifetime away, you’re tired, it’s cold and dingy outside and you would rather take that holiday right now, thank you very much.
Despite the best intentions, many of us get halfway through December and find we still have a Christmas to-do list as long as an Orang-utan’s arm. Added to that are the financial pressures of finding the extra cash for those all-important presents and luxury foods, and to finish off those DIY jobs you promised yourself back in June that you would have done and dusted in time for Christmas.
Then there’s the issue of negotiating the provision of civilised entertainment for often obnoxious relatives (even though you’d rather lay on the sofa in your reindeer onesie watching The Snowman while embracing a tub of Heroes), not forgetting the need to get ahead with essential work tasks so that you can kick back and enjoy a few days of family time and relaxation over Christmas. (Relaxation you say? Over Christmas!?) Bah humbug!
Take a deep breath and follow our six steps to seasonal stress relief.
For most of us, the feeling of losing control of events can be a trigger for heightened stress levels so stay on top of your preparations by:
- Prioritising tasks with checklists and then organise the checklists in order of priority - treat yourself to a small reward when you’ve ticked off the tasks you least enjoy.
- Keep things varied by balancing enjoyable tasks, like Christmas baking or gift wrapping, with more mundane or stressful ones, such as preparing the house for guests or doing the bumper Christmas grocery shop.
- Set aside a few minutes of quiet time each day to review where you are with your seasonal preparations and try not to let any more than a day or two go by without ticking something off your list.
- Although most of us rely on a browse around the bustling department stores and shopping centres to help us get into the Christmas zone, be kind to yourself. Don’t spend all of your December days off sweating in your winter coat in the homewares section, hopelessly trying to decide through the mental fog if your Mother-in-Law would prefer the votive candle set or the trio of duck egg cushions.
- Try to do a good chunk of your Christmas gift shopping online, even if you’ve been in the store and seen what you want, save yourself the added stress of long queues and heavy bags and order online.
2) Look after your diet
When experiencing a period of stress, many of us reach for that extra-large glass of wine, large bar of chocolate, strong coffee or packet of cigarettes to help us cope, but regularly relying on this kind of quick fix can exacerbate health problems and increase your toxin load, which in turn will ultimately make you feel worse.
Save the excess for those Christmas parties and the big day itself, if you can.
3) Switch off!
Put down the smartphone and connect with those around you. Make time for conversation with family and friends, even if it’s just over the telephone. Too many of us rely on social media to ‘stay in touch’, but there really is no substitute for face-to-face human interaction – especially at Christmas.
Be conscious that some people can feel incredibly lonely at this time of year, particularly those who have lost loved ones or don’t have friends or family to spend Christmas with, so make time for the people around you and show that you care. Being generous to others doesn’t always have to cost money either, sometimes the gift of time is the best gift of all.
4) Spend time with pets
Spend some quality time with a pet, whether it's your own or a family member’s furry friend. Studies show that owning a pet can help reduce tension, stress and even depression in people of all ages, particularly for those who are experiencing strained relationships with other humans.
In particular, owning a dog can provide daily routine and companionship and has been found to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and boost levels of the feel-good chemical dopamine in the brain.
5) Be mindful
Spend a few minutes each day switching off from technology and the stresses of life, if you can, by learning some basic mindfulness techniques. Most of us plough through the daily grind as if on autopilot, and amidst the commotion of everyday life and routine, we may fail to notice what is going on around us and lose touch with our own thoughts, feelings and emotions, leading to poor mental wellbeing, stress, anxiety and even depression.
Mindfulness begins with slowing down your mind and taking notice of yourself and your senses, so set aside a few minutes when you won’t be interrupted and pay attention to your breathing, slowly in and then out. Then focus on subtle ‘white noise’ such as the birds outside, the hum of nearby traffic or next doors washing machine, separating each one out in your mind and really listening. You may find the quiet contemplation helps you to think more clearly, improving your focus while helping to relax you physically.
Another mindfulness technique is learning to savour your food once again. When stressed or busy, eating can become less of a pleasure and more of a hurried necessity, so try taking slow, small mouthfuls and try to really experience each tasty morsel - unless it's Brussels Sprouts!
6) Take a long bath
It may sound obvious but for many people, particularly if you are a parent to younger children, taking time out for yourself can be notoriously difficult and a quick dive in the shower may be all you have time for the majority of the time. But sometimes the simple act of taking a long bath or shower with the luxury toiletries you received LAST Christmas and never got around to opening, the radio and your favourite drink to hand can work wonders to temporarily relieve feelings of stress. A long bath can be the perfect time to reset, recharge and rejuvenate you mentally, so make time.
Speed tip: If time really is limited, try laying back in your bath, slowly relaxing your muscles one by one, quieting all of your thoughts and slowly counting to 100 (one elephant, two elephant) with your eyes closed while focusing on your breathing.
MIND says those suffering from stress may also find concentrating and making decisions difficult, may feel restless, experience a loss of appetite, be short-tempered and feel tearful. While stress is not classed as a mental health problem per se, experts agree that prolonged stress can lead to mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. For advice and support, visit www.mind.org.uk
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