How to keep calm at Christmas
Tis the season to be jolly. Right?
But what if you’re not happy at Christmas?
Do you find yourself being more Christmas Grinch than Jolly Old Elf? I understand that - Christmas is a busy time with the sheer volume of energy and activity. You might be dashing around with a to-do list as long as your arm. There are gifts to buy, money worries from over-buying or guilt gifting, the works Christmas do, the school nativity, food to buy and prepare, eating too much food, drinking too much alcohol, over-committing with social engagements, ridiculously tight deadlines at work, trying to get everything finished on time.
Let’s not forget that visiting and hosting families can also be difficult for some. We are all unique characters with our own ideas of how celebrations should be conducted and there can be tension or dis-ease in spending more time with our loved ones than we normally do. Minor niggles can grow arms and legs and turn into an ugly beast when you feel under pressure.
Witnessing the jolliness and frivolity of Christmas preparations may actually cause some people hurt or pain. They might be dreading the season of family and togetherness because they do not have their loved ones around them, through the sadness of bereavement or because of a marital separation or divorce.
So yes, I get it that Christmas is not always for some a time of happiness and cheer. There are times when nerves can be frayed by feelings of stress and the body responds accordingly.
Stress and anxiety at Christmas
Before I move on, it’s important to underline that this is a primal response to a perceived danger. The body will not distinguish between the idea of being faced with a hungry tiger or trying to prepare a huge feast for twenty people. It will just recognise that the body perceives danger and it will ready itself to fight the aggressor, run away from it or stay very, very still in the hope that the tiger won’t see you and will move on. This response is an automatic response and we know it as the sympathetic nervous system or the fight, flight or freeze response.
This is normal. We have this instinctive response to keep us safe from hungry tigers.
Some signs to indicate if you are feeling the effects of stress are
quick or shallow breathing
increased heart rate
quick & jerky movements
tension in the muscles of the arms, shoulders or legs
nausea or tummy upset
You may have noticed that during times of worry or anxiety, you feel nauseous or the need to go to the toilet. The body is trying to eliminate any food or water in the digestive tract that requires processing. You may have noticed that during times of stress or worry you don’t much feel like having sex or physical contact. The body is directing all its energies away from body systems and processes that aren’t essential to dealing with the immediate danger. The digestive and reproductive systems are not key to keeping you safe during a tiger attack.
This is normal.
But if we don’t get rid of the stress hormones, they can be damaging not only for our emotional and mental wellbeing, but also for our physical health - they are inflammatory and can contribute to or cause autoimmune disease, menstrual or fertility problems, anxiety and depression.
Mother Nature is expert in the beauty of synchronicity - yin and yang, light and dark, male and female - and she has the perfect remedy for us in the form of the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest element.
When the tiger has gone, the body can concentrate on replenishing and recuperating. The muscles become relaxed and digestive system goes back to full steam to make sure the body is properly nourished. The body can also think of the evolution of the species and libido returns.
you’re probably in rest & digest if you notice the following
steady heart rate
a lightness in the body
slow or deep breathing
normal appetite and digestion (normal for you)
being more in touch with physical sensations of the body
As well as being an expert, Mother Nature is also a babe. She gives us an amazing tool to use. I’ll share it with you. Are you ready? Brace yourself, it’s a good one.
Your breath is key to your relaxation.
Yes, you read that right.
At the moment we were born, no-one taught us how to breathe. It is a function that happens automatically, outside of our control, within the autonomic nervous system. When we need more oxygen, we breathe in when we have too much carbon dioxide, we breathe out. Simple.
However, we also have the ability to choose or control how we breathe. In yoga we know this as pranayama and in my yoga classes we practice this all the time. Prana means life force, yama means ’to extend’. And in yogic terms, this is a pretty big deal. Pranayama has equal importance as the physical yoga poses within the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yep, those pretty postures that we know as yoga are only 1/8th of what it all means. And pranayama is just as important.
When you are relaxed, the breath is naturally deeper. Consciously taking a deep breath is a way to trigger a relaxation response in your body. The old wives tale of counting to ten or taking a deep breath when you feel angry or anxious? THIS IS WHY! Those old wives knew their stuff, right? We should heed their wisdom.
How can you prevent stress from overtaking at Christmas?
For some, this religious festival has become synonymous with over-indulgence. But self care is not indulgent and it is not selfish.
Here are some of my easy tips for making sure that you take care of you
Take your time
As tempting as it is to do all the fun stuff, don’t over commit to social engagements and pre-Christmas visits. Considering the yamas Ahimsa and Satya, kindness and truth, be honest with yourself about how much time you are willing to give. If it’s an event that you’re invited to attend that doesn’t create a sense of joy for you, do you really have to go? Can you use your voice to speak up for yourself with kindness and politely decline the invitation?
Time invested into yourself will reap benefits for your emotional, mental and physical health. Let’s be clear, this doesn’t need to be a massive chunk of time - you don’t want it to be another item on your to-do list that you have to cram in. If could be something short, like a couple of minutes meditation or a few deep breaths. Take the time to sit with your favourite book and a cup of tea, roll out your mat for a short yoga practice, wrap up for winter walk to get yourself out in to nature.
You can be sure that if you are feeling pressure, others will be as well.
It’s the nature of humans that we might not always be met with kindness. You may have many things on your to-do list, but what’s important to remember is that everyone has different triggers for their stress response and we cannot assume to know the stories of every person we meet. What we can do is approach people, ourselves included, with empathy and kindness.
What we can sometimes forget is the fact that acting with kindness to others also has hugely positive benefits on our own physical and emotional health. Read this excellent article from Dr David Hamilton to learn about The 5 Side-Effects of Kindness
You can do anything. But not everything
Ah perfectionism…. We must provide and create the perfect celebration; amazing food, laughing children, snoozing relatives, incredible presents, immaculate dining experiences. All the things making us worthy of a John Lewis advert, yes? Even if it means staying up til past midnight every night, running ourselves ragged in the process. Please take this from someone who has always had a tendency to do these things. Yes, things have always turned out how I’ve wanted them too, but normally at the cost of my inner peace and that of my family. I’m gradually letting go of this, but I can tell you I get it.
Perhaps what you can do is decide which element holds the most importance for you and use that as your focus. Maybe the important thing is your Christmas lunch? Maybe it’s that the presents look beautiful. Maybe it’s the post-dinner board games. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to be with the focus of that thing.
All Alone at Christmas?
If a quieter Christmas is on the cards for you, same goes. Decide what elements are within your control; maybe you can really make a meal out of it. Do you like to take a walk on Christmas morning? Do it! Plan a particularly scenic route, dress appropriately for the weather and make sure you take a smile with you in case you see another soul out doing the same thing. (Some people don’t like to walk just for walking’s sake, do you have a neighbour who would lend you their dog as a bit of a stroll-companion?) Do you like a slice of fruit cake but don’t want to have a whole one just for yourself? Maybe you can share treats with another household if you’re worried about the waste.
But whatever it is that will bring you a period of joy, take it!
Notice it and make it memorable for you.
However you plan to spend the next couple of weeks, and whether you are celebrating or not, I would really like for you to know
You are loved
You are special
You are important
I really appreciate your spending the time reading this blog. I would be really grateful if you would offer your thoughts or comments if you’d like to share them. Also, pay it forward to someone else who might benefit by using the social share buttons beneath the post.
Sending you love and warmth