What a mixed bag this time of year can be!

It is all too easy to imagine that everyone apart from us is having a wonderful chocolate box Christmas with cherished friends and family, who all get on and enjoy each other’s company. We see these pictures all over our TV’s and social media.
The reality is that most people suffer from a level of stress and anxiety over the festive period. In most households across the country people are worrying about how family members will get on, how they will afford the christmas presents on their children’s Christmas list, and how they will pay for all the excess in January. There is so much pressure to have the perfect experience. And the reality is, life is not perfect for any of us. Try to remember that there is often a story behind the façade. And that TV adverts and films are just a made-up fantasy.

Finding ways to take care of yourself is always important, but particularly so around this time of year. By thinking about coping strategies and planning in advance you are taking a pro-active approach to looking after yourself.

1: Dealing with loneliness

Firstly, remember you are not alone in feeling this. It is estimated that there will be over 1 million people in the UK spending Christmas on their own.

  • Work out a plan of people you can spend some time with this Christmas and who you could call or text or contact online over the festive period.
  • Accept invitations without feeling guilty that you are taking up someone else’s family time.
  • Talk to people, it could be a friend, a family member, a person in the supermarket queue. Making connections with people is good for our mental and emotional health.
  • Know what social support there is in your area. Perhaps there is a Day or Community Centre offering Christmas dinners.

2: Create boundaries

It maybe that your anxiety about Christmas comes, not from being alone, but from having to spend time with certain people. Think about what you can do to create boundaries to protect yourself.

  • Can you limit the amount of time you spend with them? Could you factor in some ‘Timeout’ time in case you begin to feel overwhelmed?
  • Think about your ‘red flags’, which tell you that you have had enough and need a break.

3: Stay connected to what matters most to you

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of end-of-year functions, shopping, food and logistics as we prepare for Christmas Day. As you work your way through your to-do-list consider ways that you can stay connected to the bigger picture. Take time to reflect on what really matters to you. Being with people you love and care about? Slowing down and really giving yourself a proper break? Sharing delicious food with your family or friends? Having a laugh and letting go a bit? Easing up on yourself?

4: Create space and time for yourself

Try creating a ‘Me Time’ plan. Are you the kind of person who needs to recuperate by having some time on your own, or are you the kind of person who over-commits, putting other people above your own needs. If so, try to create some time and space for yourself. Think about what you enjoy doing and decide to build this into any Christmas plans. Maybe you enjoy getting outside for a healthy dose of fresh air and nature, or perhaps curling up with a novel, listening to your favorite music or having and afternoon nap.

5: Use your five senses to bring yourself into the present moment

During hectic periods like Christmas we tend to spend a large portion of our time up in our heads worrying about the future and rehashing the past. When we get swept up by our minds we miss the beauty and simplicity of everyday things like having a good chat or spending time in the sunshine.
One of the most effective ways to anchor yourself in the here-and-now is to tune into your five senses. So when you notice yourself getting carried off by thoughts, bring yourself back to the present moment by deliberately focusing your attention on what you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. For example, as you’re eating lunch try to notice all the colours in the room around you, the smell of the food on your plate, the texture and taste of the food as you eat it, the feeling of your body making contact with the chair, the sounds of conversations around you. Soak it all up.
At first, the idea of tuning into your five sense might seem a little strange. Give it a shot though. It’s surprisingly satisfying. You’ll experience the world around you in a different way. Plus, there’s the added bonus of getting a break from the chatter of your mind - and who doesn’t want that?

6: Calm your mind by calming your breathing

If you notice your buttons being pushed by a particular situation or person, or you just need to pause for a moment, one of the most effective ways to put the ‘brakes on’ is to focusing on your breathing.
When you become overwhelmed by strong thoughts or emotions your breathing changes. Typically, your breathing becomes shallow (you breath from your chest rather than your stomach) and more rapid. Some people even hold their breath slightly. These changes disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. This imbalance then fuels the fight-flight response and can leave you feeling dizzy, light-headed, confused, tingly, breathless, tense, flushed and nauseous. It becomes hard to think in a rational way – because the part of your brain responsible for thinking clearly has effectively frozen.

There are a number of different techniques you can use to calm your breathing. Why not try the simple 7/11 breathing exercise below:

  • Place your hand on your upper abdomen near your waist
  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. Keep your shoulders relaxed. Your abdomen should rise rather than your chest.
  • Count to 7 as you breath in
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, counting to 11 
  • As you are exhaling purse your lips slightly and relax your jaw – you should hear a whooshing noise
  • Repeat as often as you need to

7: Most of all, be Kind and Compassionate to yourself this Christmas

  • Be kinder to yourself. Try to be your own best friend. 
  • Recognise that everyone feels some stress at this time of year you are not alone
  • Be mindful, enjoy simple pleasures and try not to feel guilty for enjoying Christmas in your own unique way
  • Seek help if you need it. Have some emergency numbers by your phone, these can be support services or trusted friends

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