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Beating the ‘Silly Season’ Stress
The Christmas season is meant to be a time of joy and celebration, but for many people it can be a time of stress, anxiety, disappointment or loneliness. Christmas comes with high expectations of perfect, happy families enjoying luxurious celebrations and gifts, but not all of us are able to live up to these ideal.
Stanford psychologist and science director of Stanford’s Center For Compassion and Altruism Research, Emma Seppälä, says when you find yourself in those moments of stress during the holidays, your increased feelings of stress and anxiety activate the sympathetic “fight or flight” response. This may be the reason why some people tend to “flee” (metaphorically) into over-consumption of alcohol or food, or even literally start a fight with relatives.
If you are looking to beat some of the holiday stress and enjoy this festive season, the Black Dog Institute suggests the following:
1. Work out your priorities and keep a list
Prioritise tasks and tick them off when they’re done. Make the tasks possible; don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself. The festive season is a good time to include the important people in your life as priorities and attend to these relationships.
2. Think before you commit yourself to other people’s expectations
We can often perform tasks merely to feel accepted by other people; there is no better example of this than the holiday period, when we try to squeeze everything into our diaries. Practice saying ‘no’ to requests that are unreasonable or more than you can handle at the time, rather than suffer subsequent regrets and stress. Consider whether you should learn to rely less on the approval of others – it can be helpful to talk this over with someone you trust.
3. Practice relaxing and take time out
Imagine air as a cloud. Open your imagination and focus on your breathing. As your breathing becomes calm and regular, imagine that the air comes to you as a cloud: it fills you and goes out. You may imagine the cloud to be a particular colour.
4. Identify your stressful situations
Make a list of events that leave you emotionally drained, with one or two ways to reduce the stress for each. When they occur, use them as an opportunity to practise stress reduction techniques, such as deep breathing and keep notes on what works for next time.
5. Take your time
Don’t let people rush you. Frenzied activities lead to errors, regrets and stress. Request time to orient yourself to the situation. If rushed, ask people to wait until you finish working or thinking something out. Plan ahead to arrive at appointments early, composed and having made allowances for unexpected hold-ups. Practice approaching situations mindfully.
6. Set aside time each day for recreation and exercise
Gentle repetitive exercise such as walking, swimming and cycling are good for relieving stress. Meditation, yoga, pilates and dance are also excellent. The trick is to find what suits you best. Hobbies that focus attention are also good stress relievers and can give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction.
7. Smile whenever possible / look for the positives
According to a recent study published in the journal Experimental Psychology, researchers found smiling — even a fake smile — can have a positive impact on mood. Essentially, triggering certain facial muscles by smiling can “trick” your brain into thinking you’re happy. When times get tough try to walk away from a difficult situation with a positive thought. This will help you deal with stressful times in the future.
8. Watch your alcohol intake
It’s easy to get caught up in festive activities, and sometimes a drink or two can feel like a solution to a problem, but it will only help temporarily. Drinking can create more problems in terms of physical and mental health. Consider the effects you are looking for (sedation and stimulation) and whether or not you can achieve them differently.
9. Perform small acts of kindness
Performing five kind acts a week creates a measurable boost to levels of psychological well-being. Giving not only makes you feel good about yourself, it enhances your connection with others and can bring you positive feedback from others.
10. Don’t do it alone
For some of us Christmas can be an overwhelming time and sometimes isolating, but we don’t have to do it alone. If times get tough, pick up the phone and talk to someone you trust.
11. Live in the moment
Try this one minute exercise: sit in front of a clock or watch that you can use to time the passing of one minute. Your task is to focus your entire attention on your breathing, and nothing else, for the minute. Have a go – do it now.
12. Have fun!
It’s important to not get caught up in all the festive planning and then miss all of the fun stuff. Join in the festivities, be a bit silly and have a laugh. ‘Tis the season after all!