Take care of yourself for a change!
For many people, December is the busiest time of the year. When financial pressures and work load pile up and the calendar gets filled with social commitments, the routines that normally keep us healthy and happy (gym or yoga class, morning runs, healthy home-cooked meals, a meditation practice) are usually the first things to be abandoned. In addition to increased pressure, eating poorly and drinking excessively can also exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, almost everyone is stressed out during the holidays season, There is even some scientific evidence that it can literally give you a heart attack.
Yet it does not have to be like this and you have the power to make your festive season even more enjoyable and relaxing with the following tips.
Be realistic and let go of SHOULDs - The holidays don't have to be perfect or just like last year. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. Learn to say 'No' - Taking on too much, creating endless 'To Do' lists and filling up your diary will only stress you out.
Ask for help when needed! - Despite what you may think, people can't yet read your mind and volunteer their help when you need it. Don't wait until you are exhausted and seething inside – ask for help from the start and notice what a difference it will make.
Identify your triggers - Learn to become more aware of your stressors by taking time to reflect on them. If you are aware of what stresses you out in the first place, you can pause and respond mindfully rather that just react and let the triggers take over. For example, if you know that somebody is going to make an unkind comment about your cooking skills (or anything else) have some options in your toolkit for how to handle it. This does not mean triggers won’t affect you, but you will be in a better position to deal with them.
Stop negative thinking - When you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, you can stop your thought by saying 'Stop!' Note every instance of negative self-talk. Replace with positive words. Say “I am enough”. “I give myself permission to relax’ ‘It IS good enough’ etc.
Shake it off / move - Often the anticipation of stress is worse than the stress itself. If you are already worried about the end of the year deadlines or creating perfect holidays for your loved ones, chances are you have unknowingly created patterns of stress in your nervous system. This makes you more reactive and tense. Take a walk, go dancing, get to the gym or a yoga class. Exercise helps relieve tension in the body, which in turn helps to reduce your overall stress response – both physically and mentally.
Keep good posture and strike a power pose - A power pose looks like good posture with your shoulders back and open, rather than forward and down. You can put your hands on your hips and puff out your chest. Chin up. Think Superman or Wonder Woman. Striking a power pose isn’t about just pretending. It’s about actually changing your hormones. Power posing increases levels of testosterone and decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your brain.
Don't abandon healthy habits - Don't let the holidays become a free-for-all. Over-indulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.
Laugh! - Laughter is scientifically proven to improve your response to stress. Short-term, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. Long-term, laughter helps to strengthen your immune system, relieve pain and improve mood. So, make sure you have a great comedy film or a funny book handy this holidays season.
Reach out - If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events in your local area. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits, broaden your social network and create new friendships.
Make room for grief during the holidays if you are missing loved ones who have passed. Consider making a place at the table or a shelf with photos, having a moment of silence, or sharing favourite memories of loved ones who are missed during the holiday season. Joy and sadness can coexist in the same time, so leave room for both as much as you need.
Focus on yourself - Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm. Check in with yourself right now and you may find that you are shallow breathing. Take some really deep breaths, breathe in pushing your stomach out, hold for 3 seconds then breathe out and hold for 3 seconds. Tell yourself: “I breathe calm in. I breathe stress out.” Repeat 3-5 times. Can you feel your shoulders dropping? It feels good, doesn’t it? Make sure that you check in with yourself at least twice a day between now and 1 January and breathe: calm in, stress out. You’ll become a personification of calmness in preparation for the new year!
Practice gratitude – End of the year is a good time to reflect back on the past 12 months and be grateful for all the achievements and good things in your life. There is a growing body of evidence that people who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they are thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. There are so many different ways how you can practice gratitude every day. For example, you can start a gratitude journal and add to it every day. At the end of the year, or any time when you feel low, you can read your journal to remind you about all the good things in your life. You can also tell someone you love them and how much you appreciate them. You can make gratitude a part of family life and share it with each other during meal time. Possibilities are endless!
Remember: Gifts are not just for special occasions – That's right. Both giving and receiving gifts brings us pleasure and creates that warm feeling inside. Gift does not have to be expensive. It could be a smile, a few kind words to other people and yourself, some quality time spent with your family and friends or volunteering for your local charity. It could be a book or an article that you wanted to read for some time, or skills that you always wanted to develop. Whatever it is – enjoy it!
The Change Maker Group is working on a number of new things – our gifts, that will be revealed one-by-one throughout the new year on our website: www.thechangemakergroup.com