Looking After Your Wellbeing In the Holiday Season
This year has been like no other, so if you’re feeling exhausted, stressed or anxious, you are not the only one. A lot of people find this time of year stressful and holiday stress can affect anyone, including children. This time of year, we often focus on others by giving gifts, hosting dinners and sending cards. However, it’s also important to find time for yourself and schedule some time for self-care.
Unlike other types of stress we encounter in life, the stress of the summer holidays is somewhat predictable. We know when it will start and finish, and this gives us the opportunity to be proactive and reduce the negative impact it has on us.
I’m pleased to tell you that there are many proven ways to successfully combat stress and anxiety throughout this time of year and in any other scenario. The Mind Strength Method, my four-step approach to overcoming anxiety, worry and building resilience, can be used in the holidays to help you stress less and enjoy more.
Here are some ways you can look after yourself using the Mind Strength Method:
1. Become Aware of Stressors
It has been a challenging year for everyone and this time of year can add another layer of stress. Some will experience financial stress over Christmas while others may experience social anxiety as family get-togethers and work parties approach. Those who suffer from perfectionism may find themselves stressing over selecting and wrapping the perfect presents and cooking ‘Masterchef’ style meals. For those who have recently lost loved ones, the holidays can trigger grief or loneliness.
The Mind Strength Method begins with building self-awareness. In order to identify what may be causing you stress, you first need to give yourself the space to reflect on your thoughts, feelings and actions and determine whether they are rooted in fear, anger or low mood, or if they are being driven by your sense of purpose and values. This will help you differentiate between thoughts that are unhelpful and those that are helpful.
Stress can manifest itself physically in many different ways and you need to identify your symptoms. Symptoms of stress can include:
By becoming aware of how stress is coming up uniquely in your body, you can then build greater awareness of what triggers these symptoms.
2. Become Aware of Your Values
It’s easy to get lost in going through the motions over Christmas and New Years. The holidays come with a lot of expectations, and these expectations can cause stress and anxiety. Rarely do we stop and ask ourselves ‘Why am I doing this?’ or ‘What is important to me?’.
Reflect on what gives you a sense of meaning and fulfilment this time of year. What is it that you value? Gaining self-awareness of your values, what gives you meaning and an overarching sense of purpose can help you navigate this time of year and find happiness and fulfillment. What brings you joy? Is it catching up with family and friends? Giving gifts? Seeing the faces of your children light up? There are likely to be lots of things that bring you joy. By focusing on those value-driven actions you can take ownership of this busy time of year, achieve greater satisfaction and steer clear of the direction that fear, anger, anxiety or depression may have been taking you.
3. Build Resilience Through Mindfulness
In order to power through the holidays without too much stress or anxiety, you need to build resilience. After identifying what things worry you and what values motivate you, try practicing mindfulness techniques to help you overcome stress and anxiety, and to stay on the path to fulfilment:
Breathe: The adrenaline released during periods of stress and anxiety can make your heart rate increase and cause your breathing to become rapid. While many people will tell you to ‘breathe deeply’, it is more effective to focus on taking long, slow out breaths. To try this, inhale and then exhale slowly. Every time you exhale, try to release tension, worry, stress, agitation, low mood or distress away. You can add in a pause with each exhale.
Observe: Worry takes you into all sorts of negative possibilities about the future. This internal fear-driven focus keeps anxiety alive. The key to overcoming this is to turn your attention outwards and focus on what’s going on around you. This is powerful, mindful engagement. Try to engage all five of your senses. Listen to the sounds, sights, smells and feelings around you. Meals are a great opportunity to focus on all five senses. The essence of mindfulness is intentionally observing and allowing both your internal and external experiences to just be, with no-judgemental curiosity. Try to get distance from your thoughts by being an objective observer. This process can also help you decide whether your thoughts are fear-driven or values-driven.
Proceed: After you have stopped and taken a few long, slow out-breaths and observed your surroundings, you are ready to proceed with what you were doing before anxiety took hold. Remember, one of the keys to The Mind Strength Method is recognising that things are not always in your control and accepting them as they are. While you may be busy, overwhelmed, perhaps finding yourself in traffic, queuing at the shops or dreading another dinner, these aren’t things you can control and as soon as you accept that you can’t control them, the sooner you can move forward.
4. Engage in Purposeful Action
What we focus on grows. While circumstances are not always in our control, we have the power to choose how we respond to stress. By aligning your values and purpose, you can create a values-driven plan to enjoy the holidays while minimising stress and anxiety. Having a clear wellbeing action plan for the holidays makes it easier to stand up to the voice of worry and alleviate the anxiety, both in the short-term and the long-term.
When it comes to stress, it’s important to listen to what your mind and body are telling you. Learning and utilising The Mind Strength Method will not only help you deal with stress this time of year, but it can help you better manage stress year-round.