Navigating Seasonal Stress, One step at a time

It’s that time of year. The shops are filled with Christmas ‘stuff’, the Christmas carols are on repeat…It is supposed to be a time of year of glad tidings, Christmas cheer and Joyful fun.  Many of us love the Christmas season, but others are dreading the holidays, battling depression, anxiety and all the pressures that go along with family and financial pressures.

Too often the Christmas anxiety we may feel is a result of our own thoughts and habits. Our mind leads our body, so changing the way we breathe can get us through this very “full” time of year as it helps recalibrate our nervous system.

We worry. We worry about everything. About not buying the right gift, what others will think, will we have enough money to get us through the holiday season. Our thoughts and actions trigger the fight or flight part of our nervous system because our body feels under threat. This can show up in many ways in our bodies such as poor sleep, upset stomachs, irritability, headaches, pain or fatigue.  No wonder our mental health can be strained during the silly season.

In today’s busy society we are no longer ‘holidaying’ – we are shopping, spending, travelling, spending, drinking, spending. The addictive behaviors come out in spades during this time of year and we try to be everything to everyone.  Some of the triggers of our anxiety that we can experience during this time include: 

  • Family can range from being the same room together, dramas that unfold, toxic relationships that are there for you to experience in all its widescreen glory. Knowing your boundaries at this time of year – knowing your own mind and listening to your heart are key.
  • Grief can trigger when you least expect it, especially if it is the first time a loved one is not there. If can also be a change in your personal circumstances – a move away from traditional habits.
  • Financial stress – can trigger as we push ourselves to the max buying things we can’t afford, travelling or expenses exceed our income. It is also the parents managing the comparison complexes of their children – managing their expectations in a society that is currently vomiting plastic toys at every turn in the supermarkets.
  • Work: There are many layers with work stress that impact our Christmas anxiety. Deadlines, loss of work, fatigue and long hours can all take its toll on our body and mind. 
  • Loneliness: How easy it is to be lonely in a crowd. Not having family around, not being supported and not having the human connections that we crave as human beings can further trigger Christmas depression. Social media doesn’t help, as we can move into comparison mode and a negative thought pattern.

There are several ways to help reduce this holiday stress – or stress around these types of occasions.  First you must take care of the basics… take care of your mind, body and soul.

  • Emotions Run High – Breathe: When we worry, emotions are running high, we are stressed, or in a state of high expectation. Our breathing alters. We may to breathe incredibly shallow, or even catch ourselves holding our breath. So, take a moment. Sit, feet flat on the floor and take a deep breath in for a count of 4. Hold for 4. And Release for 4. Repeat this several times so your breathing has slowed, and your heart is no longer in your mouth. Gain clarity on why you were feeling like that in the first place – and recognise when you hold your breath again.
  • Move your BODY: It is a time of year where we go out more, stay up late more, and eat the wrong things more. Poor sleep and digestion, headaches, low mood and fatigue are all symptoms of Seasonal stress. How can we limit this? Through moving more. Get fresh air in your lungs – if you have been busy shopping or stuck in an office – get out for the those long lovely crisp winter walks, the fresh air literally refreshes us and moves the energy around our body. Alternatively put on a cheesy dance track and have an afternoon disco- let loose and dance like no one is watching. All this helps you get into the festive spirit.
  • Eat Drink and Be Merry: Some of us enjoy a drink at Christmas, we go mad and buy spirits we never drink, we buy in bulk “just in case” and we indulge in double helpings of Christmas pudding and the sweets left out for guests. We wouldn’t normally eat like this – so why do we feel the need to overindulge at Christmas time? Why not try swapping out the sweet treats for healthier alternatives – like nuts, raisins, popcorn or fruit. Enjoy a drink in moderation. Save it for when you are eating or out for your Christmas party. But always double park with a glass of water to keep you hydrated and sparkly.
  • Keep your daily list short and ask for Help: First, keep your Seasonal to do lists manageable and short, think about what you can accomplish one day at a time. Having a huge to do list, can become overwhelming and set us up to fail, to feel we never get anything done. Set yourself 2 or 3 actions a day and congratulate yourself on getting those done. And delegate if you can – give your partner a list of things that need picking up, have your kids help wrap presents. Share the load and make it fun!
  • Self Care is a priority: Make sure you carve out some time for you. Away from the madness. It can be as simple as sitting in the car for 5 minutes before you get home or arrive at work, or get up 5 mins earlier, and meditating- it all adds up. Book into that yoga class, practice mindful cooking, go for a walk in the middle of the day, stick a Netflix box set on,  or if you can, cat nap!
  • Recognise your Thoughts: Overthinking and spinning scenarios, is when we can self-sabotage ourselves, the focus of thoughts has a huge influence on your life and how you feel. Too many of us spend too much time thinking about the past or the future, rather than being in the present moment. When we over think, we rarely envisage the best scenario do we? It’s your choice how you think and feel. And if you need to step away from a situation that has got you spinning, do so. Don’t become attached to that thought, observe it, regulate your breath and see how easy that thought floats away.
  • Practise Gratitude: Look around for things to love and appreciate, things that make you feel grateful right now in this moment is easy. Once you start to look for them, you’ll begin to see them everywhere in your life. And I don’t just mean present giving.  From the song you sang along to, to the person who opened the door for you, or your child’s laughter, these moments happen every-day in your life. When you start to notice them, it can change your whole perspective of Christmas.  

Finally, BE present in your life. BE in the NOW. Let go of over thinking and worrying about the past which is already done and gone or let go of worrying about the future which isn’t here, BE in the NOW.