10 ways to reduce stress over Christmas

We’ve reached December! Festive greetings to you all at this wonderful, though at times stressful, season of goodwill. I’m struggling this week, there is so much to do and we place such high expectations on ourselves. I would like this Christmas to be about spending quality time together with family and friends, and not about presents presents presents! This week, I’ve put together 10 ways to reduce stress so you are not completely broken by the New Year, and so that you can take some time to enjoy yourself!

1. Silence your inner critic

Don’t worry if you’ve chosen the slow queue at the supermarket, can’t find the perfect colour scarf or are on a tight budget and fear friends will secretly criticise your gifts. It’s not the end of the world if it takes five minutes longer to get to the checkout or if that scarf’s a slightly paler shade of blue than you’d like. And anyone who judges a present’s worth on its monetary value… well, they’re not the best of friends.

2. Practise mindfulness

Accept that if you’re shopping for presents – either online or in heaving retail parks – it’s likely to be frustrating. When the wheel of doom sabotages an online transaction or a fellow shopper jumps the queue, try not to get anxious. Focus on your breath, be aware of the situation but don’t judge it or question why it’s happening. Accept it’s happened, calm your thoughts and slowly let go of the angst. Keep in mind that the frustration is temporary.

3. Duck out of the crowds

You don’t have to spend all day shopping (in fact, you don’t have to spend any time shopping at all if you don’t want to). A great way to hide is to pop into your local cinema and lose yourself in a movie. Public libraries are also a great place to sit quietly away from the hordes.

4. Show self-compassion

Whether it’s a night in reading a book, taking a long, luxurious soak in a hot bath, knitting in front of the TV or lying on the sofa listening to your favourite music, take time out of the festive preparation to do something you love. Indulge your senses, feed your soul and make time just for you.

5. Make time for meditation

If you can, schedule 10 minutes a day for some quiet time.

  • Sit comfortably somewhere peaceful, keeping your spine straight and gently resting your hands, palms facing up. Your eyes can be open or closed. If they’re open, focus on an object on the floor a few feet in front of you.
  • Take five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth.
  • Bring your attention to the rhythm of your breath. Don’t try to change it or try too hard to relax.
  • Pay attention to the full in-breath and the full out-breath. Focus on where you feel it most strongly.
  • Continue to observe the breath. If your mind wanders off, observe where it goes and try to bring it back. Don’t judge or get anxious if your thoughts are lively, just look at them and let them go.
  • When you’re ready, lift the palms of your hands up, open your eyes – or shift their gaze – and slowly take in your surroundings.

6. Head out for a walk

A leisurely stroll is a great way to alleviate stress, clear the head and lift the spirits. Don your warmest woollies and let nature soothe your woes. Observe the light, feel the ground under your feet and ponder the resilience of our winter wildlife among the sparse trees. For urban dwellers, respite can be found in city parks, gardens and squares. Wrap up, fill a hot flask and take in the scene, there’ll still be birds and probably a few squirrels too. You could even do this on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – perhaps a slow, mindful pre-breakfast walk watching the sunrise could become a new festive tradition.

7. Play a game

Come the big day, remember you don’t have to stop behaving like a kid just because you’re no longer 10 and under. Laughter is good for the soul, eases tension and gets you in touch with the present moment. Playing a game with family and friends is a great ice-breaker, and really brings people together.

8. (Over) indulge – if that’s your thing

Don’t be frightened of embracing the festivities. It’s a time of year when excess is positively encouraged. Listen to your body – it will tell you when you’ve really had enough. But by the same token, practise mindful eating and drinking.  Before reaching for another drink or canape, just pause and minute and consider if you really want it, or if you are just mindlessly consuming. Take time to actually enjoy what you are eating or drinking!

9. B r e a t h e to reduce stress and relieve aches and pains

Cooking, cleaning and socialising all take their toll. If you find you’re getting overly anxious about the roasties or worrying excessively about who’s not getting on with whom, step away. Head to the quietest place you can find, observe your breath and breathe deeply. Taking a few deep breaths all the way down to your stomach and breathing out slowly will help to calm your mind, body and nerves. Here’s how:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with your hands gently resting on your knees, palms facing upwards, or in a mudra position, where the first finger and thumb are touching.
  • Breathing gently, take a moment to allow your body and mind to settle. Then slowly close your eyes and imagine a big, bright hot sun.
  • Now, take a deep breath in all the way down to your stomach, for a count of three. As you are breathing in, picture a hot sun in your mind’s eye.
  • Hold this image for a count of two or four, whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Gently breathe out for a count of six and, as you breathe out, imagine you are the sun radiating light out into the world.
  • Repeat this pattern for three to five minutes and observe how your body feels. You may feel warm energised light bright afterwards.

10. Enjoy yourself!

Perhaps most important of all, enjoy yourself!

Squeeze and breathe, Love Hannah x