As we draw closer to the holidays, there can be a mixture of excitement and dread. Some feel a build-up of anxiety when thinking about all of those meals, social events, gift buying that lie ahead and start to worry about our wellbeing.
It's supposed to be the season of cheer and a time to celebrate. However, it can also be the time of year when we swing between feelings of freedom and fun and a fear of losing control over the health goals we may have set for ourselves and have been trying to stick to for a while.
Setting overeating during the holidays and exercising less aside for a moment, for many people, this time of year can be a huge drain emotionally and energetically. Here we explore four ways that might help you welcome in a little more peace and goodwill this holiday season and help you be as mindful of your goals as possible.
How to look after your wellbeing over the holidays
1. Watch the way you talk to yourself
We often become consumed with guilt with overeating and drinking during the festive season, not to mention maybe not exercising ‘enough’. It can totally spoil our enjoyment. How many times have you spent Christmas Day planning all the exercise you will ‘have’ to do to balance out the number of roast potatoes and mince pies you may have eaten?
The stress that we put on ourselves by emotionally beating ourselves up can be just as toxic to our health as the things we consume. Try and become aware of the way you speak to yourself after you have had a big blow out meal or a boozy night out. Are you being harmful to yourself by berating what you ‘did’? Are you then tempted to go on a restrictive diet to counteract the ‘bad’ things you ate? Is your go-to solution to punish yourself in the gym as a way of compensating?
Focus on the experiences and the memories you are creating and take the "Would I say this to a friend?" approach. If your bestie told you that she had eaten a big slab of Christmas cake, what would you say to her? Would you be as unkind to her as you are being to yourself?
2. Fill yourself up first
Often our energy and immune systems take a battering over the festive period, mostly because we feel like we have to be ‘on’ for everyone else – leaving little time for ourselves.
The reason why so many people get ill and run down during this time of the year is because they are running on empty. Our bodies can only keep going for a certain time before they succumb to the winter lurgy. We are generally reactive rather than proactive when it comes to our health so by the time our bodies have let us know it is not ‘doing so well’, we are flat out on the sofa with a box of tissues and bottle of cough medicine.
Think about this: what if you reversed this idea and gave yourself the rest in advance of the craziness? What if you imagined yourself as a phone battery – when the battery is drained it won’t work anymore, however, if you charge the battery before it runs out there is enough energy to text your friend or call a loved one. Most of us plug our phone batteries in way before they are empty, so think of doing the same for your own energy! Keep that 'battery' topped up at all times and you will always have enough.
3. Take time to close your eyes and breathe every single day
You may not have the time for a full-blown meditation practice, but just by closing your eyes and taking full breaths in and out you can begin to reduce the speed at which your buzzy brainwaves are functioning. This can instantly bring you closer to a more relaxed state and less out of the ‘doing’ state of mind. Taking time for yourself may help you find the peace to hep you stick to your health goals over Christmas.
Even just a couple of minutes with your eyes closed and taking deep breaths can make a huge impact on your mental wellbeing, as well as gives your body a couple of moments of rest.
Try this breathing exercise to reduce anxiety: whenever you get a quiet moment (even if it is in the bathroom or when you go to bed) close your eyes, rest your hands on your belly and repeat to yourself, "I am breathing in all that I need. I am breathing out all that I do not need." Do this a few times a day and you may feel a positive difference.
4. Freestyle it out with your body
You don’t have to be a contortionist yogi to enjoy a little freestyle movement that can help energy move around your body. A great yoga pose or exercise to help with stress and anxiety is the simple Cat and Cow! This movement is ideal for doing in the morning and/or evening to move any stuck energy around your body, wring out any stiffness and help you connect back to your breath and any physical sensations that might be trying to get your attention.
Here's how to do the Cat and Cow yoga pose: come to your hands and knees (support your knees with a blanket or yoga mat) with your wrists carefully under your shoulders, fingers spread nice and wide, and your knees under your hips. If this is not available to you, you can also do this seated in a chair with your hands on your knees.
Take a deep breath in to fill the belly and look forward and slightly towards the ceiling as you do so (not so much you compress the back of your neck though). Allow your belly to carefully lower towards the floor (while keeping the tummy muscles gently engaged to protect the lower back) and imagine that you are lengthening the whole front of the body all the way from the pubic bone up to your collarbones.
As you breathe out, take the body in the opposite direction. Push the mat gently away from you and arch your back up towards the ceiling – like an angry cat – softly tucking your chin towards your chest and rounding across the shoulders. Imagine you are pushing into someone’s hand as you arch the back to create even more space across the back. Try this move 3 to 5 times.
Next comes the fun part. Close your eyes and let your body guide you. What does it need to do today? Does it need to move sideways? Forwards? Backwards? Maybe you need to wiggle the hips or stretch your sides out? Try and keep your awareness on your breath, allowing the air to reach all parts of your body that need some TLC, and imagine you are literally shifting any negative energy around the body and out.
Of course, be very mindful if you have any injuries or back problems and if the movement does not feel good then please stop. This should not feel painful or uncomfortable, but freeing and energising.
Try choosing one or all of these tips to help you stay as relaxed and 'together' as possible this holiday season and enjoy connecting with yourself!
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