Life

Being Mindful will keep you healthier and happier throughout Christmas

If things become stressful over the holidays, try to think of thoughts that will build you up rather than beat you up

RATHER than slowing down at Christmas, we are now conditioned by our culture to be busier than ever. Running around buying gifts and attending events, we are deep into the 'doing mode'. We get caught up in the treadmill and we can end up trying to please everyone.

In doing so we are often neglecting our own mental and physical wellbeing. Rather than winding down, many of us go in the other direction. The good news is that we have the power to change how we react to Christmas stress, and mindfulness gives the tools to do this.

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS??Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment to the breath as it flows in and out of the body. Focusing on each breath in this way allows us to observe our thoughts as they arise in the mind and, little by little, we learn to let go of struggling with them. We come to understand that thoughts and feelings (including negative ones) are transient and, ultimately, we have a choice about whether to act on them or not.

MINDFUL TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS:

:: Stop catastrophising over small events

Many of us get very worked up with frightful thoughts about how things can go wrong over the Christmas season. This is only going to make situations worse than they are. We can take small problems and blow them out of all proportion. This is your mind playing tricks on you; worrying about what you can't control will cause you to get exhausted and run down. When you find yourself catastrophising, step back from your thoughts, ask yourself if thinking like this is causing you anxiety. Take a deep breath and let go of the fact that you can't control future events and focus on what is in your control right now.

:: Stop all self-criticism

The inner self-critic can ill us with fear and self-doubt. Many of us get worked up about 'getting it right' on Christmas Day. We want to have the perfect house, perfect gifts and perfect meal. We need to make a serious effort to switch off the negative thoughts and the self-critic. Our friends and family are not expecting perfection and would much prefer if we were in a good mood over Christmas. You are doing the best you can in the moment you are in. Think of thoughts that will build you up rather than beat you up.

:: The 10-finger gratitude exercise

Mindfulness research studies show that more positive emotions emerge when we are grateful for what we have instead of complaining about what we don't have. At least once a day think of 10 things that you are grateful for, counting them on your fingers. It is important to get to 10 things, even when it becomes increasingly harder after four or five. This will help you reflect on all the blessings you may have not noticed before and lift your mood as well.

:: Take a break from technology for a day

The Christmas holidays offer a great opportunity to occasionally step back from our reliance on smartphones, TV, tablets and laptops and live in the here and now, to re-connect with ourselves and those we love. Too much technology can be harmful: although we are sharing the same space each in our own online world, we are connected but not connecting.

:: Mindfulness practices will help with Christmas stress and keep you away from the doctor

Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily. Other studies have shown that regular meditators see their doctors less often and spend fewer days in hospital. Mindfulness helps lower blood pressure, improves memory and increases creativity.

:: Enjoy your chocolate?At this time of year it's all too easy to eat too much chocolate and rich food. At first, all that lovely rich food is packed with flavour and is irresistible. But after a while, you hardly notice it at all. When you eat without thinking, you miss out on so many wonderful flavours, textures and aromas. Mindful eating is about really tasting your food and savouring every mouthful.

:: Reclaim your life and slow down

Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. It's the ideal way of taking a break from all of those projects that have to be completed by Christmas. So today, why not go for a short walk?

May you have a very happy and peaceful Christmas.

:: Anne Costello is a Belfast-based mindfulness professional who offers mindfulness and stress management programmes to the public and private sectors. Email anne@wellnessforlife.ie or visit www.wellness-for-life.co.uk

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