Christmas Tips for Managing Seasonal Stress
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and more to the point it’s beginning to ‘feel’ a lot like Christmas.
Is there ever a more confusing time emotionally? It’s possible to swing from the joy of Christmas when we hear our children singing Christmas carols to overwhelming sadness when we think of loved ones no longer with us.
But sometimes it’s the accumulation of the small, micro stresses of this season that cause the most problems for our emotional health and the knock-on effect that has on our food decisions and ultimately our physical health.
The normal daily stresses of work, family, children, finance, food, health, wellness are all still in the melting pot with the addition of Christmas finances, Christmas school shows, Christmas shopping (who to buy to and who not to buy to), Christmas decorations, Christmas socialising and who comes and goes where on Christmas day. Rarely does all this go smoothly – and these are just the wee things. What if someone is sick or has passed away or can’t get home for Christmas or is recently separated or in Debt or lost their job?
Here are a few wee tips to help you mind your mind as the stress mounts.
Everyone you meet could be fighting a battle you know nothing about. A big battle or a small battle, it’s always worse at Christmas. So be kind to others and in doing so it will help you think kindly of yourself. A kind word, a smile, a compliment to a friend, family member or stranger could make their day. My mother is the best I ever saw at this. My sisters and I are completely embarrassed when we are out and about because she tells shop assistants their nail art is lovely, their lipstick a nice colour, they have a lovely smile. She stops and asks people where they got that lovely coat and OMG, she loves their bag and on and on and on. We may be embarrassed, but the recipients all feel great and as she walks away, they are beaming. She has made their day.
There are challenges in all our lives. And those challenges can seem more significant at Christmas when the pressure is on for perfection. Some of us are luckier than others but we all have things to be grateful for. There is so much science supporting the daily practice of Gratitude that I could write a book but just try it out for yourself. Start small. You woke up this morning? You have a loved one in your life? You have enough food to eat? You have water coming out of a tap? You are safe? The first step is to think grateful thoughts, but it will be more powerful if you write out the words. Start a wee gratitude journal now, don’t leave it till January. It will carry you through the good times and not so good times this month.
Be mindful when shopping, eating, drinking. Christmas is a time of excess, binges and consumerism at its worst. We rarely ever feel good after eating or drinking too much and the January debt often brings much more than the new year blues. Choosing to eat a meal mindfully results in more enjoyment, better digestion and a reduction in the amount you eat. Tips for drinking mindfully include deciding, before you go out, what and when you are going to drink and matching each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Mindful shopping involves a lot of planning, list writing, crossing out and really checking in with yourself about what you are buying. Resisting the pull of marketing moguls and social media at this time of the year requires a strong will but focusing on gratitude will help. It sounds soppy, but the spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with the cost of Christmas.
Starting the day with some activity sends a message to your brain that you are a person who looks after yourself and takes care of yourself. Start the day with a win and you’ll have a winning day. This tip is particularly relevant over the Christmas holiday week and can be helpful for those of us of us with health goals, whether that be fitness, wellness or weight loss.
We are always on the move at Christmas, between fitting in shopping at lunchtime or after work, to running to school plays and nights out, but fitting in a regular walk, every day, is one of the best things you can do to give yourself a break. Start small. 10-15 minutes every day and after this has become a consistent daily habit, increase it by 5 minutes each week. 30 minutes a day will work wonders for your mind and body. If you can do it in daylight and anywhere near trees, you get additional benefits.
I recommend listening to Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast number 84 “Why Walking Is the Superpower You Didn’t Know You Had” with Professor Shane O’Mara.
This tip doesn’t always sit well with me. I’m not a “Take the easy option” kind of person. Normally I think nothing worth having is easy won, but at Christmas time (and any other stressful time) I strongly suggest taking the easy option. This could be as simple as buying prepared vegetables, pre-cut carrots, ready made desserts, buying everyone pyjamas, use recycled giftbags (charity shops) instead of spending hours wrapping, self-care vouchers for older children or adults you are buying for. After years of peeling and chopping at the sink and sweating over the steaming pots on the cooker (even with help, it’s stressful), I now buy my oven ready sides from a local caterer leaving only the turkey and ham to cook. I know It’s a luxury, a treat for me and my family and gives us more time to spend with each other on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,
Sleep, or rather the lack of it (less than 6 hrs a night) is the root of disease and a regular 7+hrs is the route to health. Sleep deprivation is implicated in obesity, heart disease and diabetes and insufficient sleep is the key lifestyle factor determining whether you will develop Alzheimer's disease. Chronic sleep debt is also suggested as a lead into long-term mood disorders like depression and anxiety and even one sleep deprived night can leave you irritable and moody.
It is also worth noting that with less than 7 hours sleep, our appetite hormones are wildly dysregulated; Leptin, the fullness hormone is lowered by inadequate sleep. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone is increased by inadequate sleep. It’s easy to see how an Imbalance in these hormones’ triggers increased eating, estimated at 300 – 600 more calories a day. Sleep more over the holiday period, and you’ll eat less.
In the few weeks left in the run up to the Christmas and New Year break, using these few tips might help us manoeuvre our minds through the stresses and strains without the crash and burn.
Merry Christmas to You All