Christmas. The word alone is enough to strike fear into the heart of the most seasoned shoppers, foodies who adore cooking for friends and family, and even those for whom showing goodwill to their fellow citizens isn’t just an annual event. But the festive season doesn’t have to be a stressful, draining and tortuous affair. Here are Breathe’s 15 tips for taking the heat out of Christmas and replacing it with mindfulness…
Turn down the competition.
So a colleague’s already bought and wrapped all their presents and a friend’s Christmas-lunch timings are laid out in military precision on a spreadsheet… so what? It’s not a race. Do your shopping at your pace, in your own time and in your own way. And remember the best gift you can give anyone is love, support and just being there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Allow 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.
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.
Channel your inner child.
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. If you’re outdoors on that pre-breakfast walk we suggested, splash in puddles, skip, play hopscotch and, if you’re nimble enough, turn cartwheels. Play and laugh without inhibition.
(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.
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.
Spread the goodwill.
Christmas can be a difficult time for those who live alone, have lost loved ones or who cope with anxiety. You could use the time to reconnect with aunties and uncles who you rarely see or pop in to say hello to an older neighbour. Don’t feel disheartened, though, if an invitation is declined. There are plenty of people who prefer to spend Christmas alone, totally happy to follow their own routines blissfully free of the worry of upsetting relatives, while others find the event too intimidating or reject the forced bonhomie and choose to see friends and family in their own way and in their own time. Respect their wishes but let them know you’re always at the end of the phone if they need you.
Dare a digital detox (or at least a digital diet).
Close the laptop, switch off the phone, give the telly a miss. In short, give your mind space and time to recover from the barrage of information it’s having to process at this stressful time of year. Even if you can only manage an hour’s ‘off’ time it will work wonders. Your eyes will also thank you for the well-earned screen break.
Swerve the sales…
and go for a short run or cycle instead. Exercise has been shown to lift anxiety and improve mood – you can’t say that about vying with the bargain-hungry hordes nursing post-Christmas hangovers.
Rest up with an easy yoga posture.
Give the headstand a miss and try the winning ‘legs up the wall’ pose, aka Viparita Karani. This stress-relieving posture can be done any time you feel the need to relax, restore and reconnect with yourself. Here’s how to do it:
- To get into the pose, sit straight and tall close to a wall, legs slightly to one side and your bottom near the wall but not touching it.
- Gently lower your back to lying flat on the floor, then slowly swing your legs up the wall so they are softly resting against it. Your arms should fall loosely at the side of your body, palms gradually opening upwards.
- Stay lying, with your legs resting up against the wall, gently breathing in and out. You can keep your eyes open or closed.
- Stay in the position for as long as you find helpful and is comfortable. If your room’s a little chilly, you might find it nice to cover yourself with a cosy blanket.
- Now come out of the pose. Bend your knees towards your chest, roll over to your right side, press your hands onto the floor and walk your yourself up to sitting, letting your head come up last.
- Sit quietly for a few minutes and feel the effect of your practice.
Hold some treats in reserve.
January and February can feel lonely after the Christmas rush, so rather than seeing everyone while the festive season is in full swing, arrange to see some people early in the New Year. And it needn’t be for an expensive night out. An evening with good friends, a feel-good movie and a warming tipple is hard to beat.
This festive season, do what you can and don’t worry about what you can’t or don’t want to do.
Mindful greetings from The Breathe Team
- Words: Catherine Kielthy
- Meditation exercise: Tracy Hallett
- Calming breath exercise and Viparita Karani posture: Dawattie Basdeo
- Photo: Daria Minaeva / Shutterstock