I love Christmas, but sometimes, it can all just be a little bit too much. Despite the sweet treats, twinkling lights, time spent with family, and gift-giving nature of it all, the pressure we put on ourselves to 'get it all done' can be overwhelming.
I think I'm noticing it more this year, as last year was so restrictive, but getting back into the whole festive season has been a shock to the system. I'm generally an organised person and usually have it all wrapped up (excuse the pun) in plenty of time, but with a host of family and friends events to squeeze into a busy diary, there are moments in between where I just crave alone time to settle my body and mind.
We all know that stress is bad for our health, but few of us know exactly what it does to our bodies. Being a therapist, this awareness means I will slow down earlier than most, but even then, I'm still surprised but my own stress levels every now and again.
When we feel stressed, our bodies go into fight or flight mode. The body's parasympathetic system (which form parts of the nervous system) responds by sending our distress signals - your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes shallow, and your digestive system slows down. For me, I'm finding it harder to sit and concentrate. I must admit, I am writing this with my headphones on as my husband is watching the TV and it’s far too distracting! And it’s not just me either. Talking to my clients, their patience is also starting to wear a little thin. All signs the body needs a rest.
Plus, it's not always the things we are aware of happening either. Continuing to flood the body with stress hormones has a detrimental effect on the immune system, which you will only notice when you get that 'inevitable' winter sore throat, cough or cold.
While living in a stress-free environment is near impossible, there are daily steps you can take to reduce your stress levels - especially at this time of year. Here are some of my favourites to keep your stress in check at any time of the year.
Early morning - stretch your joints
Personally, I like to get up and either go to the gym or for a walk to get the blood flowing, loosen up etc. But if you prefer to hit the snooze button, try setting your alarm 10 minutes earlier and get a quick morning stretch in before you start the day. This way, you'll have a revived sense of mind and a flexible body.
There are plenty of apps you can follow for inspiration. I have a yoga app and a women's workout app with great 10-minute stretch workouts to follow. But it can be as simple as rotating the wrists and ankles slowly, first one way and then the other. Then do some cat-cow stretches to wake up the spine and the nervous system. Come onto all fours into a cat position. Taking a deep breath in, arch your back and pull the tummy in. Exhale, round the shoulders, dip the spine, and relax the belly. Repeat this cat-cow breathing cycle 10 times, moving with the breath. Believe me, your spine and joints will thank you for it!
Mid-morning - snack time
Stress is a rollercoaster of cravings due to low serotonin levels, so snacking in the morning and afternoon and three meals a day can help balance blood sugar levels.
Clever snacking means looking for soothing foods that don't spike the blood sugars. Oats are known for their soothing properties, so pack a few oats cakes with cottage cheese or peanut butter to feel calmer from the inside. I also love a nice juicy apple with peanut butter.
Lunchtime - Take a break
It's often tempting to keep working through lunch when you are busy, but you'll benefit hugely from taking a proper break. If you have time, take a quick walk around the block before you sit down to eat, and this will clear your mind and balance your energy. By the time you have returned from your walk, you will have worked up an appetite to tuck into a healthy lunch.
Mid-afternoon - Tea break
Herbal tea can act like nature's tranquilliser, as they contain properties associated with relaxation. Sip on Neal's Yard Quiet Time Herbal Tea X 18 Bags (£4.00) when the Christmas season starts to feel a bit overwhelming. The warming mix of delicate chamomile, the subtle floral infusion of fragrant pink rosebuds, and sweet lime flower will take you away to a quiet place for a moment of mindfulness.
After tea - Unplug your tech
If you've spent all day checking emails, scrolling for the ideal present, or checking Pinterest for the perfect tableware, then it's time to disconnect. Switching off our phones an hour or two before bed not only limits blue light use to aid sleep, but it will also allow you to refocus your attention on the truly important things. After dinner, pick up a book or chat with a loved one to help your brain forget about the worries of the day.
If your mind is racing, then putting pen to paper with a journal can help you to focus on the good parts of your day. Make a list of all the things you are grateful for this festive season. Remind yourself of the things that mean the most to you because managing stress includes looking after your mental wellbeing too. You'll go to bed feeling much calmer and happier.
Bedtime - Sleep well
A regular bedtime is essential for feeling less stressed. Your body repairs and rejuvenates your cells during your sleep, so you wake feeling fresh and energised. You should aim for 7-8 hours a night, and if you have trouble sleeping, try investing in an eye mask. Even the smallest amount of light from the clock or other light sources can influence the sleep hormones and play havoc with our circadian rhythms. The dark will calm you, help you drift off, and, more importantly, stay asleep.
When you are well-rested, you have the energy and drive to take care of yourself the following day, and in turn, you're more likely to sleep well that night.
Keep up with your self-care and make time to relax.