The end of a calendar year and Christmas often arrives like a crescendo – a build-up of work to be completed before a break, a peak of school stress, seasonal parties and events to juggle, gifts to buy, holidays to organise and not enough time in the week to do it all. However, it is also a time for connection, fun, achievement and a powerful collective feeling of generosity and goodwill. The festive season is a very individual experience with excitement and invigoration for some and the potential for conflict and loneliness for others. No matter what your experience or outlook on the Christmas season, here are some ideas to consider to maximise enjoyment and mental wellbeing and minimise worry, depression, stress and conflict.
Tune in to your relationships - like twisting the dial to find the perfect station signal on an old transistor radio. Give a little more time to your partner, children, friends or family especially when the moment arises each day. Pay a little more attention and simply listen. What are you really hearing? You don’t always need to do anything with what you hear, but just stay in the moment and connect a little longer. It is amazing what great things come from just paying close attention to those incidental, day to day conversations and small moments of quality time with loved ones.
Hope is about anticipating good things and is a wonderful antidote to depression and stress. Because with hope, tomorrow looks a little better than yesterday. It doesn’t matter if tomorrow is better than yesterday, it only matters that you say to yourself that it might be! This is a simple and potent mental disciple for adults and kids that injects hope and positive anticipation into the day and keeps a focus on the good things to look forward to. You don’t have to believe it completely; you just have to say it. Look ahead to the many Christmas rituals as an opportunity for an uplifting experience.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that can be integrated into everyday life. Good mindfulness practice is all about the two As – Attention and Attitude. It involves purposefully focussing your attention back into the present moment and all the sensations, emotions and thoughts of the moment, while maintaining an open, non-judgemental attitude to those emotions and thoughts. Brief and frequent practice is the way to go. A mindful approach to Christmas is to just go with the flow of each experience without judgement - events are neither successes or failures and gifts are neither good or bad. Practicing mindfulness can bring you back out of the fiction and spiral of stress, and can be an effective mental tool to refreshing the way you experience events and challenges of Christmas.
Identify your own personal priorities for the festive season and rank order them - in your mind or literally on a piece of paper. Place these priorities in relation to everything else you have planned. The things at the front of line or top of the page become front of mind and give perspective to all the other things. Stay focussed on achieving the priorities and it is amazing how much time, stress and money can be saved. This can be applied to events, gifts, catching up with friends or relatives and even Christmas day food.
Negative or unhelpful thinking patterns can erode mental wellbeing during the festive season. If negative thinking becomes a habit, it can also put a pretty low ceiling on the level of happiness you allow yourself to have at Christmas time. The first indication that you may be doing this to yourself is often not the awareness of the internal dialogue itself, but the emotional and behavioural expressions such as irritability, feeling overwhelmed, snappiness, not enjoying events, feeling “on edge” and anxious, feeling down or flat. So when you detect yourself being stressed, snappy or blue, take a moment to see if you can unravel what you are saying to yourself that is contributing to the emotion. If you do identify the negative thought, simply take a breath and congratulate yourself for doing so. Then, ask yourself “what is a positive spin I could put on this?”.
From a mental wellbeing viewpoint, many psychological challenges can be prevented or resolved through simple good health habits including sleep hygiene and, if you can, physical activity or exercise. It is a great time of year to avoid interactive technology 40 minutes before bedtime and watch your favourite seasonal movies instead. Being active during the day is not only fantastic for physical health, it also builds up sleep pressure – that biological impulse to fall asleep. People often find that falling asleep comes easier to them on days they are physically active.
Research shows that those who volunteer lead longer, healthier lives. Furthermore, those who give support through volunteering may often get more health benefits than those who receive the support from volunteers. Christmas is a time of year where there are many opportunities to support others in the community. Take care of yourself and if you are able, someone else too!