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Maintaining mindfulness this Christmas

December 20, 2017

Image sourced from Soul Seeds

 

If you’re anything like me, then the Christmas to New Year period is a chaotic time.

 

Between work, travel, shopping, family, holidays and looking after hyped-up kids, it’s easy to let everything build up to the point of boiling over.

 

I want to share a few of my tips for controlling stress and anxiety during the silly season, but first let’s look at the difference between the two. 

 

At its core, stress is a short-lived response to an external stimulus. For example, you might become stressed when you have a short deadline to meet, when someone cuts you off in traffic or when the kids are fighting, screaming and yelling from one side of the house to the other. Stressful situations trigger a ‘flight or fight’ response, meaning we can become frustrated and aggressive, or we become reserved, upset and just want to leave.

 

Both of these are perfectly normal responses to stress. Stress events are temporary, most of them are short lived and easily resolved.

 

In comparison, anxiety is more severe, longer lasting, hard to control and is often dominated by fear. Anxiety is overwhelming and many people who suffer from it describe an intense crippling feeling of fear and panic. It’s common for anxiety to cause physical symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness in the limbs and overwhelming emotions. If you identify with any of these symptoms and you think you may have anxiety, it is important that you see a GP and a psychologist to explore treatment options.

 

It's important to remember that anxiety is treatable and, with intervention, learn coping strategies to manage the symptoms.

 

Here are my top 5 tips for coping with the silly season:

 

1. ‘Me time’ is non-negotiable

With all the demands we have it’s easy to become selfless, to put everyone first and ourselves last.  We do this because we take pleasure in seeing the people around us happy. It’s critical though, that we also take time for ourselves.

 

If we are recharged and mentally focused, all the people around us are better for it.

 

Why spend so much time organising the parties, holidays and catch ups if you’re too exhausted to take full advantage of it?

 

So, how do I do that if I have relatives staying over and three kids to look after? It’s a team game. You need to communicate really well with your partner and family about having that twenty minutes, an hour, or morning/afternoon ‘off’ when you need it, and encourage others to do the same.

 

Make a plan, schedule ‘me time’ in if you need to. Having a bit of space will help to manage those feelings of stress and anxiety.

 

What is ‘me time’ you ask? Anything that brings you joy, happiness, rest and rejuvenates you. Take a walk, read a book, play a game, have a bath. Whatever it is for you, make the time and enjoy.

 

2. Exercise and stay active

When I talk to people about exercise, I sometimes get a groan in return. I’m not talking about a hard-up weights session or an intense spin class in the gym (but if this is you, then go for it!).

 

What I recommend is some moderate intensity activities like bushwalking, jogging, walking the dog, a swim or a bike ride. Exercise gives us a key neurotransmitter called serotonin. Serotonin is our natural happy drug. When we have a deficiency in serotonin we tend to become depressed and unmotivated. The second advantage of serotonin is that it’s critical for sleep. In fact, research has shown normal to high levels of serotonin have significant positive effects on quality of sleep.

 

So, when we go to the gym, have a workout or go for that walk, get home and feel happy and energised. That’s thanks to your serotonin.

 

3. Alcohol

I’m not suggesting that you need to cut alcohol out completely, but let’s be smart about it. We have a culture that is heavily influenced by our alcohol consumption and with that comes the stereotypes of using beer, wine or spirits to make stressful situations more tolerable. Well, that’s what most of us believe anyway. Alcohol actually increases stress and can cause you to become more emotionally sensitive than normal. While a few drinks are great within a comfortable and happy environment, it’s brutally destructive in an unhappy one and conflict can easily arise. If you know you’re going to have a busy week and that you’ll be in situations that may cause you stress and agitation, then it’s probably best to avoid alcohol or limit your intake.

 

So, why do we see so much conflict when alcohol is involved? Alcohol inhibits your judgement both physically (slurred speech, imbalance etc.) and emotionally/cognitively (for example, decision making).

 

Dopamine is a happy chemical in our blood and as soon as we have one or two standard drinks we become flooded with it. Not only does this make us happy, it also changes the decisions we make by inhibiting the frontal lobe; the part of our brain that makes “good” decisions.

 

Therefore, you’re more likely to have a lower tolerance for the things that agitate you, and you’re more likely to react to them. Pick and choose your alcohol consumption wisely and don’t use it as a coping strategy.

 

4. Expect the unexpected!

This tip is all about you and how you perceive your surroundings. For example, take the Marion shopping centre the week of Christmas. It took you twenty minutes to find a park, you can’t get a seat in the food court, and people are walking in front of you very, very, slowly. You just want to get what you need and leave! Can you feel your stress levels rising? We need to be aware that this is a busy time. Reminding yourself of this and accepting it, is the first step.

 

Other people are just as stressed and rushed as we are, so try to be patient, breathe and relax. Take some time to sit and compose yourself in that second you become overwhelmed or frustrated, and be prepared to be frustrated. Be flexible. When we set expectations of ourselves (and others) and the reality doesn’t meet those expectations, we experience an emotional backlash. Our frustration gradually builds and can be hard to release. So, to prevent that, change your expectations and change your internal dialogue.

 

5. Give back

Christmas is a great time of year to reflect on and be grateful for all we have in our lives. It’s also a great time to think of others, after all, isn’t that the Christmas spirit? Doing acts of kindness is not only helping out others, it’s a proven mood booster. It could be just the pick-me-up you need at this time of year.

 

Giving back doesn’t have to be monetary. You could donate your time to a local charity, visit a friend who is having a tough time, donate used clothing and toys, or do something unexpected for someone.

 

Volunteering our time or donating to those who are less fortunate than us also helps to create a sense of shared connection and community, which is so important these days. It can also reaffirm our common humanity. So give where you can.  

 

Enjoy the festive season and have a great Christmas everyone!

For more information on Stress and Anxiety:

https://www.sane.org/mental-health-and-illness/facts-and-guides/anxiety-disorder

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/stress-management

 

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