5 steps to a happy, stress-free festive season

-Nov 12, Naomi Buff , Health -

With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, this is going to be a festive season quite unlike any other. Many of us don’t know yet if we’re even going to be allowed to travel to spend time with family, or go out shopping for gifts, and with anxiety over the pandemic it’s threatening not to be the happiest of Christmases. 

We spoke to Naomi Buff, a British Wellness Coach who believes we can seize this opportunity to have the healthiest and happiest Christmas yet.  Here she gives us her tips to survive the upcoming holiday season without ending up feeling frazzled.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, but in fact many of us are feeling exhausted at this extremely busy time of year and can’t wait for the Christmas holidays – just so we can have a lie-in, or a break from work and dealing with the kids and school. 

Are you feeling frazzled and stressed at the moment? – You’re not alone. Many of us are feeling low over Christmas parties being cancelled, with doubts over travelling from one end of the country to another, getting in and out of the car countless times while food shopping and worrying about hand sanitiser and masks, wrapping up in twenty-five layers of clothes, drinking too much, eating too much, then feeling guilty for drinking and eating too much, squeezing in healthy nutritious food, worrying what to wear, doing hair and make up for all the different occasions (even if it’s just a virtual office party on Zoom) and so on.

How to beat stress this year and enjoy the festive holiday season 

Put all that to one side for a moment. First on your list this year should be controlling stress which is is crucial for good physical and emotional health and can seriously dent your health when stress is chronic and daily as it has been this year.

A closer look a what stress and anxiety do to your body 

Stress is the body’s natural response to a threatening situation which is a reflex that dates back to caveman times; if you were being chased from your cave by a grizzly bear, your body would switch from calm and relaxed to an emergency mode where the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released – which gives you a jolt to run to safety.

We all know that hot, uncomfortable panicky feeling that can arise when in an overcrowded shopping centre, or the shakiness when the red mists of anger, annoyance or irritation descend. Not only does it feel horrible, it’s incredibly bad for you and can knock years off your life in the long-term – so learning coping mechanisms to control our body’s ancient stress responses is crucial.

Unfortunately, the pressures of modern life mean that many of us are living a near-permanent state of stress and never switching back to relaxed; we are running on excess cortisol, insulin and adrenaline, day in day out, relying on caffeine (which also mimics the stress response) and sugar to fuel us through our busy lives.

Think of it this way; every time you flick your stress switch, you’re also shortening your precious telomeres, creating wrinkles and straining your immune system. Not only that, you’re likely to be suffering from stress-induced insomnia. Those very early mornings, or long sleepless nights are very probably down to chronic stress. 

In the long-term, this frenetic high-stress lifestyle comes with many health problems including unwanted weight gain, headaches or migraines, extreme fatigue, depression, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and many digestive complaints.

Here’s 5 easy steps to a stress-free festive season this year. 

1. Write a daily mood list 

At the end of each day, before you go to bed, just down what kind of mood you have been in for most of the day. If you were sad and crying, feeling lonely, angry, irritable, as if the world doesn’t appreciate or understand you, or very tired you could be suffering from early warning signs of depression.  Once we are in a certain mindset it can be easy for it to become the norm, and it’s only when looking back over a week or so that we’re able to differentiate between a bad week and something that you might need to talk to your doctor about. If you think you’ve had a bad day, but then sit down and remember lots of good things the write that down too. Next for each emotion, add in the types of thoughts you had during that day which are related to that thought.

Then, think of positive actions you can make to solve the above issues.

Your list might look like this: 

Specific Description of Issue number 1 (issue: I feel ignored at work and that makes me angry)
I think I know better than everyone else. They don’t listen to my views and so I get angry and have to go for long walks away from my desk. This makes me have physical ills. 

Thoughts:
“I’m so fed up and feel annoyed all the time,” “I am furious” “The company will go bankrupt and I just want to be able to pay my mortgage.”

Emotions:
Fear, anxiety, worry, anger, health anxiety

Actions:
Try meditation each morning and evening. Go for a bike ride after work so I have something to look forward to all day. Keep in mind I’m lucky to have good physical health and should look after my mental health rather than set myself up for issues down the line.  

This technique has its roots in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and is all about setting realistic, obtainable goals, developing newer, more positive ways of thinking and enjoying life more. You can’t change or control the world around you but you can change your reaction to it. 

2. Make time for joy each day 

Next on this list you’ve made, write down what you’ll do that’s purely for you, to make yourself happy the next day. It needs to be something healthy and positive that you’ll enjoy. It could be taking Spanish lessons, going for a long walk in nature, painting or writing, or perhaps it’s time to take up something completely new like boxing lessons! Make time for this, setting aside all worries about the pandemic and the election and thins you can’t control. You only need one hour a day to turbo-charge your happiness levels and melt away anger and stress. 

3. Find time for yourself every day to be still and breathe

Finding just ten minutes every day to be quiet can be valuable, precious healing. Spend the time switched off from social media, phones and people (if possible), sit in a quiet and relaxed place, maybe burn an aromatherapy candle, or listen to some relaxing music and concentrate on your breathing.

Take several deep breaths, close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body from your feet all the way up to your brain. It’s a wonderful way to start and end a day on a happy note and to see the bigger picture during time of stress.

4. Slow down when you are eating

For every mealtime, try to eat mindfully.

Eating too quickly signals to the body that it is in stress response, which triggers excess cortisol and insulin (hello, weight gain!) and decreases absorption of vital nutrients. It also decreases calorie and fat burning and causes digestive shutdown – resulting in bloating, overeating, gas and heartburn. Take time to slow down and take pleasure in the food you are eating and enjoy a stress-free meal; even if the rest of the day feels like it has been a train wreck. Talk to your loved ones and savour each bite! Life is good if you have food on the table and a roof over your head. 

Turn off the television and your phone, if you’re with family or friends eating at the table with phones and other electronics switched off often results in some much needed stress-busting laughter.

5. Remember great physical and mental health comes from within 

Introduce adaptogens into your diet. These herbs have been around for thousands of years and help your body adapt to stress. They have balancing effects on hormones and can lift your mood. Try cutting out refined sugar and load your plate up with fresh vegetables – pumpkin soup is perfect as a starter or for lunch or supper at this time of year.  

Add as much turmeric into your diet as you can; it has been shown in studies to be more effective than certain anti-depressants for battling moderate depression in many cases, and will give you a lift in less than 15 minutes if you juice it.

RELATED: How to have your best December ever 

You might not be able to change the amount of stress you have in your day, but you can work towards changing how your body and mind react to it. Focus on making the next six weeks all about welcoming in the new year in 2021 with a fresh, revitalised mindset. If you start getting in the habit of building time to relax into your day now you’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep up with the festive season out of the way come early January.

Let us know your tips to deal with seasonal stress in the comments below. 

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