Christmas should be celebrated. It’s meant to be about fun, spending time with family and friends, and relaxing.
For many, it’s a time to live with and a time of great pressure. My patients often talk to me about needing to ‘just get through Christmas’. It is a terrible thing.
With nostalgia, we often recall the childhood Christmases with the pure excitement it brought. Why, when we’re adults, must it be different? Enjoy Christmas best when you are clear-eyed and without expectations.
As we begin the build up, this week I created an advent calendar with simple tricks to help you get through each day. It’s a combination of meditation and mindfulness, gratitude therapy and self-care.
You can choose what you are most interested in: it shouldn’t take longer than ten minutes per day.
Dr Max Pemberton has created an advent calendar for mindfulness, gratitude therapy and self-care as you countdown to Christmas (file image)
ENJOY THE BREATHE
It’s easy to fly into a panic as the calendar clicks over from November 30. Try to begin the year calmly and relaxed this year.
Set an alarm for 3 minutes in a private room. Keep your eyes closed. Deepen your breathing, and hold it for three seconds. Then take three more deep breathes in. Now exhale. Pay attention to your breathing, and let your mind go.
Refocus your attention on your breath if thoughts get too much. Focus on the sensation of each breath and how it feels in your chest. Allow worries to float in your mind and then let them drift back.
RAISIN EXERCISE – TRY IT OUT
If you’re new to mindfulness, this is a great exercise to start you off. The entire process takes only 3 minutes.
Take a raisin and imagine you’ve never seen one before. Notice how the raisin feels between your fingers. Take it and squeeze. It can be rolled. It’s delicious! Pop it in your mouth but don’t chew it at first — notice the taste and texture.
This is a way to focus on only one thing. If you practice this regularly it will be easier to focus your attention on one thing and help with anxiety.
RESERVE A PANTO
Many theatres are counting on the panto season as a boost to their finances after this pandemic. Book one for your family and to support the arts.
A panto is the best entertainment. It’s entertainment for all the family, introduces children to key ideas about morality, and is also a wonderful tradition steeped in folklore since the Middle Ages.
SIGN UP FOR OUR FOUR DRINK PACKAGE
It’s the first Saturday of December — and the first ‘party night’. Many people associate Christmas with excessive drinking. However, alcohol can disrupt sleep and cause anxiety. It also interferes with thoughts and memory.
Limit your Christmas drinking. Plan your parties and give yourself four ‘passes’ when you allow yourself a drink, but the rest of the time, abstain. It will make a huge difference in how you feel about getting togethers.
MAKE YOUR CARDS COUNT
Dr Max suggests that you take two minutes to get a manicure, haircut or massage today in order to save time on the day before your holiday. (file image).
Are there people you have on your Christmas card wish list that we don’t see enough? Spend Sunday afternoon reviewing it, and choose five people to get back in touch with.
Don’t just sign their card. Write a couple of heartfelt sentences about your loved ones. Close your eyes and think about them. Suggest meeting up in the new year — and write a reminder to yourself to contact them again and suggest a date to meet.
BAN BEDTIME TELEPHONE USE
You have so many things to accomplish before your holiday and stress can make it difficult to fall asleep at night.
Good sleep hygiene is essential. Ban your smartphone from the bedroom and don’t look at it for 20 minutes before bed.
You can charge it in your kitchen, and set an alarm to wake you up each morning.
SCHEDULE SOME ME TOO
You can reserve some time in your calendar later in the year for yourself.
Book a manicure, haircut or massage today for your holiday. Don’t invite anyone else — this isn’t about sharing an experience, it’s about you getting a chance to be pampered in a busy time.
TAKE A BATH FOR 10MINUTES
Dr Max suggested that you take a relaxing bath in a luxurious bath while getting ready to go to bed. (file image).
While you’re getting ready for bed, run yourself a warm bath.
You can add luxury bath salts or bubble bath to your water. Then, slip into the tub and relax for 10 minutes while inhaling deeply.
Pay attention to how water feels on your skin. Concentrate on how warm your skin feels.
Set an alarm to make sure you don’t fall asleep in the bath (there’s nothing relaxing about waking up at 3am in cold water with skin like a prune), then get out, dry yourself and go straight to bed.
Do one act of kindness
Today, perform one random act of kindness, preferably for someone you don’t know. Buy a homeless person something to eat, offer to get someone’s shopping or make tea for a colleague.
This is about becoming more aware of people around you and being mindful of their small challenges.
If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the incredible power of small acts of kindness. Imagine how wonderful the world could be if everyone did this.
Perform a BODY SCAN
A body scan is another well-known mindfulness activity. For ten minutes, set an alarm. You can now lie down on a mattress with your arms extended, or in a chair, your hands resting on the floor. Now, close your eyes.
Take note of your breathing. Pay attention to the sensations of your feet. Next, shift your attention up to the lower legs, thighs and stomach.
Don’t spend all day in the shops — find a carol service to attend. And when you go, sing along and don’t worry if you’re out of tune. Nobody really does care.
Children don’t care if they’re in tune or not, or even if they know the words. Enjoy the song. Carols provide a way for us to reconnect with our past as well as those who are dear to us. Sing for them, and celebrate their memories.
Instead of purchasing decorations, create your own. The idea of ‘craftfulness’ draws on positive psychology, neuroscience and our inherent desire to create things in a technique that relaxes, clears and heals the mind.
The key is that it’s active and involves focusing on a task. Create salt-dough ornaments or paper chains. Focus your attention solely on the task at hand.
GO ON A NEW WALK
Dr Max said go on a brisk walk, even if it’s just a different way home – try to appreciate what is around you and take in the new sights (file image)
Take a walk in the winter. Wrap up warmly and try to pick a route that you haven’t been on before and wouldn’t normally follow.
If you’re working from home, set out early before your day starts. If you’re in the office, nip out during your break. Look around at the scenery — even if it’s just a different way home, try to appreciate what is around you and take in the new sights.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed in the last two weeks before Christmas, get an adult Christmas colouring book. Instead of spending your time watching television after work, you can colour in. It’s a relaxing, soothing activity that is both regressive and fun. This reminds us of childhood when life was simpler and there were fewer worries.
But it’s also what I term ‘purposeful mindlessness’ — an activity that gives you mental space to take yourself out of the moment and clear your mind. It’s amazing how calming it is.
BOOST FEEL-GOOD HORMONES
Nurturing touch can give you a boost of oxytocin, a feel-goodhormone.
Give your hands a massage to celebrate the end the workweek. Three minutes of gentle hand massage will be enough to get the best out of your hands.
You will start at the bottom of your palm and move up towards the fingertips. Next, you’ll switch to the opposite hand.
TEST MINDFUL Seeing
Hitting peak busy? Those who struggle with mindfulness exercises sometimes find ‘mindful seeing’ useful instead.
A window with a view is all you need. Take a look at everything that is available. Don’t label things. Instead of looking at a road sign for instance, focus on the shapes and colors. Take note of how the sunlight changes and how greenery moves.
BAKE FOR OTHERS
Dr Max suggested that Christmas biscuits should be baked with care to avoid causing allergic reactions (file photo).
Why not spend tonight at home and make some homemade Christmas cookies to share with your family and friends? While you’re doing it, be aware of the smells and textures, and the noises and sensations you experience. Don’t rush it.
Take a couple for yourself and put the rest in an airtight container. They can be taken to work or given to neighbors.
STEP INTO THE SHOPS
Make sure you make your last Saturday shopping before Christmas.
While you’re queuing in the shops, you can practise the ‘Five Senses’ exercise.
First, notice five small things you can see — a shadow, a crack in the pavement. Next, it’s four things you can feel — a breeze on your face, perhaps. Then, three things you can hear — pick noises you would normally filter out. Then, add two smells. And, finally, focus on one thing you can taste — try sucking a mint.
CHEER UP SOMEONE’S SUNDAY
Sundays can often be hard for people especially when the sun goes down so early in winter. Take a look at your contact list and see if there is anyone you can help.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak to them regularly — it’s Christmas, so you have the perfect excuse to call someone out of the blue.
You may think you’re too busy, but spend a short time on a chat and you’ll find this kind of positivity will reflect back on how you feel, too.
GIVE FESTIVE FLORORS
Dr max said if you’re stuck for a last-minute present, send flowers or a plant like a poinsettia (pictured)
It’s done. You’re on the home straight. Have you forgotten someone? If you’re stuck for a last-minute present, send flowers or a plant like a poinsettia. Flowers are guaranteed to brighten the spirits of those you care about.
I love Christmas narcissi. They fill your home with wonderful smells and will remind you throughout the Christmas season.
IT’S ALMOST A WRAP
You are still at work? You can stop working?
You can listen to Christmas music or just make an effort to relax and enjoy the moment. Make sure you have enough space to store all your presents. Then, imagine how happy loved ones will be when they get them opened.
PREPARE TO SAY THANKS
You should have plenty of thank you cards, and small notes to record what you get for Christmas. Studies have repeatedly shown that gratitude is strongly linked to mental health over time.
Thank you letters have been found to be beneficial for people who are suffering from heart problems, as well as reducing the amount of pain suffered by cancer patients. Putting pen to paper — as outdated as it sounds — has been shown to be superior to a text or email. Writing takes more time and is more difficult. This allows the writer to focus on the positive while they are writing.
Escape IN A XMAS BROCHURE
We all enjoy a good Christmas movie. How about starting a Christmas tradition by reading a Christmas book instead?
Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the quintessential festive story, or some other Yuletide-themed tale, is a perennial joy. Fiction allows us to escape from our worries in a secure way. A story can be written if you’re inspired. It is your story and no one needs it.
HOLD ON to YOUR MEMORIES
The night before Christmas, take ten minutes to make yourself a hot drink you might not normally try — a spicy hot chocolate, perhaps — that will stimulate your tastebuds.
While you’re having your drink, sit alone and think of your happiest Christmas memories. Why are they so special?
Think about what the memories are all about: The excitement, relaxation and the love you share with your loved ones. These feelings are important to carry with you into Christmas.