Christmas is such a wonderful season; the food, the family bonding, exchanging gifts, the parties. But it can also be extremely hectic and stressful with a never ending to-do list! Families can often become overwhelmed and by the time the 25th of December eventually arrives, everyone is worn out and even, dare I say it, a little jaded by the whole festive spirit! Everything leads up to those brief 24 hours, and then within the blink of an eye, it’s finished. Over for another year. It is important for you to put some time aside to be still, quiet and collect your thoughts. This will re-charge your batteries and give you that extra ‘oomph’ to enjoy the festivities. I’m sure we all want to have some energy to actually celebrate with our friends and families!
I teach mindfulness, yoga and relaxation techniques to children, but even they can become anxious and worried during Christmas. Is the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ watching them? Have they been good enough to receive the presents they want? Will they be on Santa’s naughty or nice list? This can all sound trivial but to a child, it is very important. We sometimes don’t think about their perspective during Christmas and if they don’t (or can’t) verbalise how they are feeling, then it is easy for us to either dismiss our children’s anxieties or not even notice that they are struggling a little. The modern trend for excess can engulf families and this trickles down to children. Their little bodies and minds deal with some intense things during this season, for example excitement, anxiety, hyper-activity, tiredness, extra sugar etc. This is why it is important, as a family, just to take some time to relax and enjoy your time together.
Here are 10 easy ways to really enjoy the lead up to Christmas, as well as the big day itself:
Go for a walk as a family.
Walking is a brilliant stress reliever and it’s free! A relaxing walk can soothe frayed nerves and you may be surprised at the conversation you have with your children, uninterrupted by smartphones and iPads. It’s amazing how just 15-20 minutes of walking together can really boost everyone’s mood.
This is one of the easiest yet most powerful ways to alleviate anxiety. This one-minute exercise activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you relax, by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure. The important thing to remember is to keep your exhales longer than your inhales and then your body will begin to rest. To do this exercise close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose for a count of 3 and then exhale through your mouth for a count of 5. Focus on your breath and repeat for 60 seconds. If your mind wanders, which it invariably will, just gently guide it back to your breathing. This exercise really calms down children too and is an easy stress-relieving tool to remember.
Take a heart-warming lesson from the Danes and indulge in some ‘hygge’.
‘Hygge’ loosely translates as ‘cosiness’ and what better way to enjoy the winter than putting on some toasty socks, lighting some candles and snuggling up to watch a Christmas film. Hygge is all about spending quality time with friends and family, in a warm, relaxed environment. It’s not about formality or perfection, but it is centred on wellbeing, during these darker months.
Just say no.
We say ‘yes’ to too many things and even more so over the Christmas period. There is a tendency to pack our diaries full to the gunnels. Sometimes we do this because we want to but more often than not, we do it because we feel obliged, guilty or pressured into it. So maybe this year, think about saying ‘no’ to a few things. Don’t put yourself or your family under too much pressure. Do your schedules need to be packed out with event after event? Children (and adults) can easily become overstimulated and worn out, if they are constantly on the go. Sometimes saying no can be a relief!
Give to give, not to receive.
Christmas these days seems to be more about the receiving rather than the giving.
We are bombarded with adverts for toys, clothes, perfumes etc. and images on social media of Christmas trees swamped with presents. Is this really the message we want to be sending to our children, one of self-absorption, excess and greed? Spending a little time during Christmas by helping others can be beneficial in a number of ways. In fact, new studies attest to the benefits of giving—not just for the recipients but for the givers’ health and happiness and for the strength of entire communities. Buy some extra items for a food bank, ask your children to select some old toys to give to charity or help out an elderly neighbour. I guarantee, this will warm your heart and be an excellent lesson in ‘giving’.
We’re all guilty of a little excess when it comes to Christmas, whether it is food, alcohol or sweets for the children. The key to mindful eating (and drinking) is to slow down and fully engage all the senses and what better time to do this than now! The smell of mulled wine, the taste of rich chocolate, the sweetness of clementines and pomegranates are all comforting reminders of the season. By mindfully savouring these treats we will not only enjoy them more fully, but we will also be less likely to overindulge and then punish ourselves in the New Year for those few extra pounds.
Look after yourselves.
It’s important to eat well, exercise and stay hydrated to avoid being hit by the seasonal colds, flu and sickness bugs. School-aged children are particularly susceptible because germs spread wild and free in Christmas classrooms. Teach your children to ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ by sneezing into tissues, throwing them away and then washing their hands. Simple hygiene rules even for very young children can help prevent germs spreading throughout your family.
Have realistic expectations.
Media images distort our expectations of the perfect Christmas. Remember, people generally only show their highlight reel on Instagram and Facebook, so don’t worry if things in your house go wrong this Christmas. So what if the turkey is a bit burnt or you all can’t agree on which festive TV programme to watch or you forget to press record on the video for those Christmas morning expressions. Give yourself a break and relax a little.
Instead of multi-tasking, try solo-tasking.
For years there has been the good-humoured debate over whether men can multi-task as well as women. Well, I think it is now time for solo-tasking. This is a case of doing less, to do more. Don’t try to juggle too much when preparing for the big day. When we really focus on one task and see it through to the end (even if it is just peeling the potatoes or wrapping those presents), we get immense satisfaction from crossing it off our list. If we start a number of jobs at once and go to bed with many of them unfinished, the stress and anxiety can kick in.
The gift of listening.
Finally, one simple gift you can give your family this Christmas is the gift of listening. I have used a number of techniques with children to demonstrate mindful listening and the one thing they have all said is that they love being heard. Everyone is so busy that it is easy to pretend you are listening whilst making a cup of tea or scrolling through your phone but to give someone your undivided attention, without interrupting, can be really powerful. Your family will love how important it makes them feel and this simple action can really strengthen bonds during what can be, quite a fraught time.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year!