The festive season can be overwhelming, so we’ve rounded up the experts to show you how to feel more present (no pun intended)
How does Christmas make you feel? If your answer is less ‘full of the holiday spirit’ and more ‘just trying to keep it together’, we hear you. In fact, according to MIND, one in four adults feel anxious over the festive period, as the extra demands become overwhelming. All is not lost, however, and you can enjoy the season (yes, really). We asked the experts for their top tips for being more mindful throughout the day, which will make a big difference to your Christmas this year.
Change up your mornings
“Setting an intention to spend some time with yourself first thing in the morning will enable you to start your day right and feel a greater sense of calm as you navigate busy days throughout the festive period,” says Alister Gray, life and mindset coach and founder of Mindful Talent (mindfultalent.co.uk). Try his ideas that can replace a period of aimless scrolling in 15 minutes or less:
- A cup of tea or coffee in the garden with no distractions
- A 10-minute meditation in a room where you won’t be disturbed
- A 15-minute walk in nature where you set an intention to be fully present
- Dedicate some time to read a book that enables you to switch off your mind
Use your time
“Every morning, ask yourself what is the one thing you need to do today to take better care of yourself and, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, commit to just that one thing,” says yoga teacher Brenda Ward (brendayoga.co.uk). “It really can be as simple as making sure you have a healthy lunch, spend 10 minutes in the fresh air or read a chapter of your favourite book. Next, take a lovely full breath. Notice whether you feel tight or restricted in your belly and, if you do, simply soften and relax this area. Place your hand on your belly and then, when you next breathe in, allow your belly to gently expand and, when you breathe out, draw it back gently towards the spine. Do this three times and feel the subtle difference that mindful breathing makes.”
Make more of your morning drinks
“If coffee or tea is your morning drink, take time while you prepare it to be present in the task and mindful of how you do this,” says personal trainer and wellbeing coach Fiona Storey (becomingyou.today). “Just by simply noticing what you are doing, you will stop your mind wandering ahead of itself, rushing to the next task. The coffee has to be made, so allow yourself to enjoy the process fully and then you will also appreciate the real taste! For example: If it is the smell you like, hold it under your nose and close your eyes. Breathe in naturally, savouring the aroma. Take three to four breaths, this way you can take in the smell with each breath, before the taste hits you. Done regularly, this will not only bring you into the present moment and give you a few moments of pleasure and calm, but it will enhance your sense of smell.”
Remember what the season is about
“Christmas time is meant to be filled with joy, merriment and thankfulness,” says Mark Newey, psychotherapist and founder of headucate.me. “Carve out time with family and friends to reconnect with one another. Slow down and think about what you really want to do this season.” Gratitude is also important: “Before you begin handing out the gifts and tearing in to them, take a moment to reflect on all of your blessings since last Christmas,” Mark adds. “Write them down. Look at all of the good you have in your life and be grateful.”
Yoga teacher Cheryl MacDonald, founder of YogaBellies (yogabellies.com), suggests these postures to help overcome stress and anxiety during the festive season:
1. Downward-facing dog
This pose enables fresh blood to flow into your body. It stretches the neck and cervical spine, releasing the stress in them, thereby reducing anxiety and calming your being.
2. Seated forward bend
This pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression by stretching the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. The stretch soothes headaches and anxiety, reduces fatigue and is therapeutic for high blood pressure.
3. Wide-angle standing forward bend
This pose helps relieve tension in your back, shoulders, and neck and improves the functioning of your nervous system. It calms you and reduces anxiety.
4. Upward-facing bow
A back bend will open your heart and release the stiffness between the shoulder blades. At some point, you will have some sort of emotional release, which you may or may not be conscious of. It’s about doing the inner work to shift or change, and be open to doing your best with your weaknesses and faults.
5. Child’s pose
This pose helps calm your brain and relieves stress and anxiety. It gently stretches your lower back and hips, enabling your body to relax. Peace and calm prevail over your entire being, helping you deal with depression better.
Consciously choose the foods you love
“Psychological research indicates that we make over 200 food-related decisions every day, with 90 percent happening outside our awareness”, says Dr Aria, a clinical psychologist specialising in weight loss and mindfulness (dr-aria.com). “We often eat festive foods at Christmas parties or events because they are in front of us. However, unless you really enjoy mince pies, eggnog or Christmas cake, you’ll be unnecessarily consuming extra calories. Focus on making mindful choices and only choose the foods that you really enjoy!”
Focus on your breathing
“Taking control of your breathing is a great way to manage symptoms of social anxiety,” says Stuart Sandeman, the UK’s leading breath coach and founder of Breathpod (breathpod.me). “It allows you to balance your body and mind so that you can enjoy quality time with friends and family.” Try Stuart’s ‘If in doubt breathe it out’ technique, which is designed to balance your nervous system to wave goodbye to anxious feelings:
1. Breathe in through your nose using your diaphragm for a count of five.
2. Hold your breath for a count of five.
3. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 10.
4. Repeat for five rounds.
Scan your body
“When we are under increased pressure, it can be difficult to remain present and fully engaged with what is happening around us,” says Kate Harahan, holistic therapist, yoga teacher and franchise owner of Neal’s Yard Remedies Edinburgh (nealsyardremediesedinburgh.com). She recommends doing a body scan to help you stay centred, because when you’re aware of what is happening within your body, you can be more present and engaged with what is happening outside your body. “Lie down still, and quickly scan through your body, focusing on relaxing every individual part,” she explains. “Start with your right big toe, right second toe, right third toe, right little toe, right shin, right calf, right knee, and work your way through your entire body. I usually use this exercise at night time to help me fall asleep, and rarely make it around the entire body before falling asleep.”
“At the end of every day, say thank you for three things: the people who love you, the food you eat, your healthy body, or anything else you feel grateful for,” says Brenda.