The promise of Christmas has been the beacon of hope for many families that have been separated since the first lockdown was announced in March. With many of us having our plans to visit and spend some quality time shattered over the weekend, it’s more important than ever to practice kindness to ourselves and to others.
While nothing can replace the pain of being isolated from family and friends, there will be times when emotions are much more heightened than others, and when the sense of loss can feel greater. Christmas – a time to celebrate love and time spent with family – is most certainly one of these occasions and as the festivities kick in, so too may your feelings of sadness and dread. Feelings of isolation are set to be especially high this year, as many families have chosen not to celebrate together in order to protect vulnerable family members or because they unable to travel home or due to restrictions in light of the Tier 4 announcement. The pressure you might feel to put on a brave face can often get too much, and forced merriment may leave you feeling even more isolated and unhappy.
Even if you feel like you’re alone this festive season, it’s important to remember that there is support available and many ways to feel connected to others virtually.
Here are some mindful tips to help you stay relaxed over the festive season and into the New Year:
Whatever this Christmas season means to you, there is always something to be grateful for. William James, the Father of American Psychology once wrote: ‘The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another’. So this Christmas, if you can, choose the grateful thought over the anxious thought. Notice that whatever your situation you can meet it with kindness: compassion to yourself and kindness to others.
The 10-finger gratitude exercise is a great way to appreciate the small things in your life. The task is simple: think of 10 things which you are grateful for, counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to 10 things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after three or four! This is exactly what the exercise is for — intentionally bringing into awareness the tiny, previously unnoticed elements of the festive period.
Simply having a wonderful Christmastime
There’s a lot to learn from McCartney’s Mantra. Instead of focusing on making this Christmas ‘perfect’, look at what you can do ‘simply’. Every single moment can in its own way be seen as ‘full of wonder’, and its often the simple moments which are filled with the most laughter and joy.
Laughter goes a long way in the fight against stress and can lighten your mood, stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles, and also releases endorphins. Laughter also boosts circulation, helps muscles relax, and lessens the physical symptoms that are associated with stress.
Whether your laughter is powered by sidesplitting moments in your favorite movie, jokes at the dinner table, a holiday prank, or an afternoon of fun activities, be sure to include some holiday humor, and leave the mulling to the wine.
Christmas often means late nights and early mornings, especially if children are involved, so your normal sleep routine may be reduced. Lack of sleep can make you feel irritable and more prone to feeling stressed. What’s more, in winter the days are shorter and the lack of natural light causes an increase in the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our body clock and sleep-wake cycle. Unless we can sleep, more melatonin means we are more likely to feel tired, grumpy stressed
Eating lots of rich foods and drinking alcohol can also disturb your sleep, not to mention Santa coming down the chimney in the middle of the night!
Over the festive period try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, turning off electronics, keeping your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark, and avoiding heavy meals before bed. If you notice you are not sleeping as well as you normally do, try not to compensate for lack of sleep by going heavy on stimulants such as caffeine in tea, coffee or fizzy drinks – especially in the evening. They interfere with falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Have some water (for any looming alcohol-induced headaches), or a hot milky drink or herbal tea instead.
Go for a mindful walk
The antidote for holiday stress could be just as simple as taking a walk around the block. According to WebMD, physical exercise boosts the production of feel-good endorphins, can improve mood and self-esteem. If things get a bit too much at any point this festive period, try going outside, breathing deeply and taking a few moments to be calm. Increasing our intake of oxygen is thought to affect the levels of serotonin released in the body which helps us alleviate stress, relax and feel happier.
Find some quiet time to recharge
If you don’t have enough time to go for a leisurely stroll to practice mindfulness, try to find little pockets of calm instead. Even if it is just mindlessly stirring the custard or making a coffee, try to find a calm few moments to recharge and relax so you can enjoy the festivities.
If you can, show yourself some self-compassion – that could be taking time to read a book, soaking in a bubble bath, lying on the sofa watching your favorite film, or listening to music – whatever it is, it’s important to take some time out from the festive preparations to indulge yourself with something you love.
Try some crafting, making or baking
Making things with your hands – whether it’s sewing, drawing, knitting or even baking – is called grounding. It’s a technique that helps you to focus entirely on being in the present moment and completely absorbed by one activity. It’s a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.
As you decorate the tree or bake festive cookies, forget all the items left on your to-do list and give yourself permission to have fun. Finding positive ways to manage stress could reduce many of the related adverse health consequences. Finding stress-busting techniques that work best for you can enable you to have a stress-free Christmas.
Seek help if needed
Christmas can be a testing time of year at the best of times, but when you’re navigating loss and grief, it can be especially difficult. Remember, it is always okay to ask for help if and when you need it. If you aren’t able to open up to friends or loved ones, there are still people you can turn to.
At YMCA St Paul’s Group, we offer Release Counselling sessions which give individuals the opportunity to explore thoughts and feelings in a confidential and supportive environment. Our counselling services are open to all regardless of age, gender, faith, physical ability or sexual orientation. If you would like further information or to book an assessment please call 0208 339 7310, or alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org.
However you are able to celebrate Christmas this year, we hope it’s as festive as it can be given the circumstances, and we look forward to welcoming you back in the New Year.
By Megan d’Ardenne
28 December 2020