How to relieve stress this Christmas

Christmas tree at home

Want to know how to relieve stress this Christmas? Well, isn’t that the million dollar question this year? Coping with Christmas is difficult for many of us at the best of times – and let’s be honest, these times are not the best for anything! Whether we like it or not, stress has become part and parcel of everyday life these days. But at Christmas time, there’s usually a hell of a lot to cope with, even more so now!

Sarah at Christmas presents how to relieve stress this Christmas
Relaxing at home in my kitchen having put up my tree!

When I look back a few years, I remember writing a blog on how to avoid stress at Christmas. However, the trials and tribulations of Christmas 2018 seem nothing compared to this year. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis that has loomed over most of 2020, there are a whole lot of other stressful situations, which could come into play.

The key worker

For me, Christmas will be different because the husband is a key worker. For us, this means we’ve decided not to have a ‘bubble’ with anyone, let alone chance it with family members this year. It makes sense to me because the family are vulnerable with a variety of health issues ranging from chronic asthma to an irregular heartbeat. And I don’t think it’s fair to subject our friends to the high possibility they could catch it from us if we’re carriers. At Christmas time, we love having friends and family to visit – in fact, we’re usually a very sociable household. But we won’t be spending time with anyone indoors this Christmas. In fact, I’m already investing in plenty of warm clothing, so we can meet family (and friends) for walks. Now that’s not really much of a hardship in the grand scheme of things, as I love walking – and many of my friends and family do, too. Of course, this Christmas won’t be the same for many. In fact I’m hoping, this time next year, everything will be back to some level of normality.

Christmas this year

Stick man figure holding a red paper roll with christmas wish list. Back to normal life from covid
Bet this is top of all our wish-lists this year…

So, of course, on top of all the usual Christmas worries, we now have the implications of COVID-19 to deal with too. I honestly know how utterly overwhelming many people are finding that prospect. I will of course be deploying my usual tried-and-tested strategies, such as exercising, Pilates and of course walking. But to help myself stay calm and composed, I have asked a selection of experts for their advice on how to relieve stress this Christmas. So exhale, relax and read on…

The power of positivity

Finn Prevett on how to relieve stress at Christmas Photography: Emma Croman
Finn Prevett, The Positive Planners gives some helpful advice on how to relieve stress. Photo: Emma Croman

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” What a powerful message to mull over from Finn Prevett, a leading mental health campaigner and the co-founder of The Positive Planners. Prevett is a firm believer that self-care and stress relief are inextricably linked. “Put yourself on your own to-do list,” she advises. “It’s a sad truth that we will prioritise everyone around us, before our own needs. However, in order to function at our best, we really need to make time to rest, replenish and regain our energy.”

A useful parallel, I think, is in the inflight advice (hands up who remembers planes?!) to sort out our own oxygen masks in the event of an emergency. But the key is to do this before attempting to assist others with theirs. It might seem counter-productive and, whisper it, rather selfish when it comes to ways in which to relieve stress. But that’s the course of action that has the very best outcome for everyone concerned. If you want to relieve stress at Christmas, you must maintain your own “oxygen” supply. Thankfully, there are many different ways to do this.

How to relieve stress at Christmas - try journaling
Finn recommends journaling

Journaling can relieve stress

“Think of self-care like damage prevention or self-preservation,” Finn advises. She personally recommends journaling, and also practicing positive affirmations. “Daily affirmations are designed to change the beliefs we have about ourselves, so that eventually they become a reality,” she explains. “Sometimes that little voice [in our heads] can be so negative, telling us all sorts of things, such as we’re not good enough, and we’ll never achieve what we want. Then we start to believe that our thoughts are our truth. In actual fact, you are not your thoughts! It takes practice and a lot of conscious effort, but making a statement or affirmation allows you to actively challenge and control those negative thoughts.”

Finn is also a firm believer that positivity breeds more of the same. “Looking for the good can sometimes feel impossible,” she acknowledges. “But when you start, you will always find something, even if it’s really small. And the more you look, you more you see.”

STOP right now

Dr Alka Patel reveals how to relieve stress at Christmas
Dr Alka Patel at Lifestyle First (with her gorgeous pooch Stormzy) uses STOP as a great way in which to relieve stress

Another effective way to relive stress at Christmas is to simply STOP. This is great advice from Dr Alka Patel, a lifestyle medicine physician, GP, coach and founder of Lifestyle First. The S part of STOP is fairly explanatory: Just stop what you’re doing – in this moment, just stop. The T stands for take a breath. “The power of breath work is incredible,” Patel underlines. “All the research evidence shows that reducing your breath rate down to 6 or fewer breaths a minute switches off your stress response – and switches on your relaxation response – giving you calm and uplift in the moment.” She adds: “Your cortisol levels also drop, providing protection from the long-term effects of chronic stress on your health.”

O is all about observing your thoughts, feelings and sensations. “Give yourself a chance to notice yourself, and if you’re worrying about the ‘what ifs’, shift your attention to the present moment,” Patel counsels. “Use your five senses to fully experience the moment that is ‘now’. Notice five things you see, four things you touch, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste. Practise this for a few minutes at a time throughout the day.”

happy family mother and child bake christmas cookies
Focus on what makes you feel good says Dr Alka Patel

The P of STOP is for prioritise. “Prioritise you – focus on what makes you feel good – for both in the moment happiness and long-term fulfilment,” Patel explains. However, she does acknowledge how difficult this can be during the dark days. “When you’re feeling down, low or stressed, it’s easy to get withdrawn, but do try and focus on activities through the day that are enjoyable and important.” She recommends breaking these down into micro-activities for just a few minutes to start with. “It’s a ripple effect,” Patel promises. “The more you do, the more you’ll want to do. Stretch, tidy up, draw, bake, do a puzzle, listen to music or dance to your favourite song. It’s all about staying connected with yourself and with others.”

Pull back on perfectionism

Dr Marsha Chinichian
Marsha Chinichian, Mindshine knows all about how to relieve stress

For clinician Marsha Chinichian, Clinical Psychologist and Science Advisor at Mindshine – the Mental Fitness Coach, lowering impossible standards is a proven way to relieve stress at Christmas. “Many women tend to take on a lot of responsibility for the Christmas holiday, and are therefore sometimes more stressed out,” she explains. “But this year could be different. We’ve had time to reflect and find out what really matters to us. Having a “perfect” Christmas might not be possible – that’s why we need to let go of all the perfectionism.”

online present ordering
Online present shopping makes a great alternative to venturing out on a shopping trip with the crowds

Three key tips to relieve stress

Chinichian offers three key tips for managing the typical Christmas-time perfectionism. “Ask yourself which aspects of Christmas are meaningful to you. Reflect on what you loved about the Christmas holidays in the past, and how to honour those traditions. Which ones can you continue with? Thirdly, have a plan to set boundaries and expectations with others and yourself – and clearly communicate it.”

Mindshine believes increasing mental fitness is a great way to counter stress – at Christmas and indeed any other time. That’s why the company has created the Mindshine mental fitness app, designed to boost confidence, productivity and happiness. Mindshine is about much more than meditation – I know because I’m now using it and it’s brilliant (AD). This app offers a wide selection of mental exercises drawn from the worlds of positive psychology, leadership coaching and mindfulness. So you can train your mind to become stronger and more resilient, just like you train your body. Mindshine’s exercises are short, simple and fun – and all you need to do them is ten minutes and your smartphone. No matter how busy this Christmas gets, we should all be able to manage that! So far, so good I must say – I’m already sleeping through the night again which is definitely something to be thankful for.

Managing the menopause

Dr Jo Hobson Nurture Fertility
Dr Joanne Hobson, Nurture Fertility, reveals her expert advice on how to relieve stress during the menopause

Some of us will have an extra element to contend with in our efforts to relieve stress at Christmas: the menopause. Now, I think this is still an awkward subject for some people, but it really shouldn’t be. After all, menopause happens to roughly half of the world’s population. So getting embarrassed about it, or pretending it’s not happening, serves no purpose whatsoever.

how to relieve stress at Christmas preparations
Staying cool, calm and collected with some top tips from Dr Joanne Hobson

Nurture Fertility’s Hormone Specialist, Dr Joanne Hobson, acknowledges that menopause can absolutely add to the annual Christmas stress-fest. Here are her top ten tips to stay cool, calm and collected throughout the festive season.

Dr Joanne Hobson’s top ten tips:

  1. If you are on HRT, DO NOT FORGET TO TAKE IT!
  2. Plan ahead and make lists to help temporary memory loss and brain fog. Share your to-do list with others in your family. It is EVERYONE’S responsibility to have a good time.
  3. Make sure you are NOT putting yourself at the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. 
  4. Have a quiet, peaceful place to retreat to if you are feeling stressed – and use it!
  5. Take time for yourself to exercise, talk to friends, to do something that you enjoy.
  6. Avoid too much alcohol.
  7. Try to get plenty of sleep.
  8. Know your triggers and avoid them.
  9. Watch what you eat and try not to comfort eat. Unfortunately menopause makes it harder to lose those extra Christmas pounds.
  10. If you are cooking, keep the kitchen well ventilated, and don’t wear your big Christmas Jumper. Stand outside to cool off, and take some deep calming breaths if it all gets too hot and stressful.

Are you worrying about what to serve at the dinner table on the big day? Help is at hand as I reveal a whole host of alternative Christmas dinner recipes here to whet your appetite.

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