8 speedy ways to a calmer Christmas
It's the most wonderful time of the year, apparently. And there sure is a lot of fun to be had during the festive season - but trying to make Christmas magical can also be pretty stressful.
From decorating the house to ticking off the presents on the must-buy list, doing the Christmas shop to sorting the Secret Santa, it's little wonder that many of us will be feeling as frazzled as Father Christmas himself come 25th December.
"Christmas is, so often, a special time of year, revered as a positive anchor and a way to end the year on a high surrounded by those we love," explains Lee Chambers, psychologist and wellbeing consultant.
"But there is a flip side to this, as it comes with high expectations, 'ideal' gifts and food, perfectly executed events and the associated feelings this generates, included anxiety, overwhelm and disappointment."
Toss in the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and it's hardly surprising our capacity for calmness flies right off with Santa's Sleigh.
"When we consider the instability of the past 18 months, constant messaging that we need to 'make up' for last Christmas and the growing anticipation on the backdrop of variants and changing rules, it's no surprise that people are already feeling unsettled and stressed," Chambers adds.
Read more: Stress really does turn your hair grey
In these intense situations, such as worrying about money, trying to plan a family gathering or navigating schedules and travel, Chambers says we can begin to feel threatened, and our body responds by preparing us to deal with incoming challenges.
"Our body releases adrenaline and cortisol, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure and sharpening our senses," he explains.
"At Christmas, the pressure is amplified and we can find ourselves under threat again and again, leaving us on edge, exhausted and still trying to meet expectations of ourselves and those around us."
As a result, it’s all too easy to forget to take care of yourself, but looking after our mental wellbeing is particularly important at this time of year.
Thankfully there are some simple tips and tricks you can do to help restore an element of calm, and untangle your emotions faster than last year's tangled fairy lights.
Watch: Why most of us find it hard to relax during the festive season.
How to keep calm and carry on Christmas-ing
Be more mindful in the lead-up
When it comes to finding harmony over Christmas, Chambers says it often requires us to bring ourselves into the moment and to de-stimulate our nervous system.
"Utilising our breath, and literally taking a moment to breathe slowly and deeply can help to centre us, reduce physical distress and give us the space to focus," he explains.
When the weather is grim, the last thing you might want to do is head outside, but simply going outdoors can have benefits for both your mental and physical health and help you to feel less overwrought during the festive period.
"Taking a brisk walk around the block can give us headspace and get our blood flowing so we can process things more clearly," explains Chambers.
Read more: 10 nutritionist-approved foods that can help you feel less stressed
Cut yourself some slack
Being kind and compassionate to ourselves is vital during a period where we can typically be particularly harsh. "Planning in some simple self-care can re-energise and balance us and help us to see the things to be grateful for, rather than what might have gone wrong or potentially happen," Chambers explains.
"Having a plan is important, but finding acceptance that things rarely go exactly as we expect them to will give us the space to enjoy what is so often a special time to cherish and reflect."
Journal yourself calmer
Chambers says journaling thoughts and feelings to be a great way to get clarity and express negative emotions in a healthy way. "It also allows you to see on paper precisely what might be eating away at you, and give you an element of power to address and prepare for that event," he adds.
"More than anything, Christmas is a period where we are likely to experience the full spectrum of human emotions, and expressing these in a healthy way is the key to a festive period when we can find enjoyment and recharge after a dynamic and at times, turbulent year."
Set out your Christmas intentions
Ask yourself what type of Christmas do you want to have, how you want to feel during the season and when you come out of it, suggests Natalie Costa, founder of Power Thoughts and confidence coach.
"We often spend time on autopilot - just going ahead with all that comes our way, packing our diaries full, saying ‘yes’ to invites - then when it comes to Christmas day, we’re feeling stressed, tired and maybe even resentful."
She recommends taking a moment to think about how you’d like to feel over this period, and what memories you’d like to create.
"By taking some time to reflect on how you’d like this Christmas to feel, you can begin to make more intentional decisions - perhaps say ‘no’ to certain invitations, create more space during your days and lower the expectations upon yourself."
Read more: How to reduce stress, according to a counsellor
Have a calm-down plan
According to Costa, deep belly breaths help lower cortisol, trigger the rest and digest response and helps calm the nervous system.
"Simply breathing in for a count of three and out for five, really slowly and repeating a few times will start to help," she explains.
Breathe through the stress
Kristy Lomas, meditation teacher and founder of The Ki Retreat agrees that deep breathing exercises have the ability to calm the nervous system, reducing the likelihood of anxiety.
"Deep breathing helps you to avoid the fight or flight response," she says.
Try this breathing exercise to help:
Find a place free from distraction. This could be a place in the house, or even a toilet cubicle in work!
If you're unable to lie down, simply sit and relax the body
Place one hand on your stomach and another on your chest. Inhale, taking a deep breath from your stomach. You should feel the hand on your stomach move, and not your chest. Breathe in for a count of 3.
Hold the breath for short pause
Release the breath for a count of 4. As you exhale, imagine that you are releasing all stress and tension from the body. If you wish, you can imagine saying a mantra, such as "Calm" as you exhale.
"Another quick tip for helping calm your mind is the 5-4-3-2-1 method," Lomas adds.
"Bring awareness back to your body and the present by simply thinking of and naming
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell and
1 thing you can taste."
Read more: Are you suffering from RSF (Resting Stress Face)? Here's how to fix it
Perform a 'brain dump'
Another top tip for helping to manage the pre Christmas overwhelm, according to Lomas, is to carry out a 'brain dump".
"We are faced with endless lists of what we need to buy, people we need to see and with this being our first 'normal' Christmas in a couple of years, people are feeling the pressure build up," she explains. "Stress and anxiety are creeping in. A brain dump can help release some of the mental pressure by creating a bullet point list of everything that's on your mind. This may be things we need to do, worries or things completely unrelated."