Mind Matters: Have yourself a mindful Christmas

Christmas shopping can be stressful and even overwhelming
Christmas shopping can be stressful and even overwhelming Christmas shopping can be stressful and even overwhelming

IT HAS become easier to get caught up on the conveyor belt of being in 'doing' mode in the run-up to Christmas. We can end up trying to please everyone.

But in doing so we are often neglecting to our own mental and physical wellbeing. We are barraged, directly and subtly, by marketing efforts telling us what products we need to make us look and feel better. Rather than winding down, many of us go in the other direction.

It’s not simply about the Christmas season excess; it’s about not listening to our own bodies and the need to rest and be able to think straight and to come out the other end the better for it. Being available in the best frame of mind is one of the best gifts we can give to those who genuinely care about us.

The good news is we have the power to change how we react to Christmas stress by being mindful and drawing upon our inner resources. And in so doing we can still enjoy ourselves to the fullest without the stress of added debt and wearing ourselves out.

Here are some mindful tips for Christmas:

Over the Christmas period recognise stress. Start in the morning by taking five minutes to plan your day. Your plan will help you stay calm and focused. Meditate, sit, relax the body; breathe in for the count of two and out for the count of four, for 10 breaths. Continue throughout your day to pause and catch your breath.

Take time to reflect on what the spirit of the season means to you. Make time to catch up with your close friends and family members; nurture those relationships that are special in your life.

Shopping: Try not to be engulfed in a Christmas tied to battling crowds in shops. If you find yourself in that situation simply pause and go to a cafe or sit down; take a few breaths and bring yourself back to a sense of what is going on around you that is beautiful and meaningful.

Cooking the perfect meal: Try humour instead of frustration if things do not go right. Avoid upset in the kitchen, try not to react to stressful situations but train your mind to respond skilfully and mindfully by pausing, taking your breaths and waiting until you are feeling calm before responding to anything annoying.

Presents: Think about buying meaningful small gifts that are thoughtful and functional. To cut down on stress levels create a 'secret Santa' group where each person is responsible for only a single gift. Think of each gift that you give as a gesture of love.

Mindless eating: Many of us eat unconsciously, often not tasting beyond the first bite, our minds on other things. Applying the principals of mindfulness can help us to pause and reconsider for a moment the choices available to us, here and now.

We may decide to choose two courses instead of three when eating out over Christmas. Mindful eating helps us focus on eating our food slowly and enjoying the flavour; this in turn will aid digestion and help us recognise when we are full.

Slow down: We should be mindful that the break between Christmas Day and the New Year can be a special time to spend with loved ones, walk in nature, read, watch movies, play music, stare at the fire, and to shut out the relentless assault of consumerism.

Be grateful: Studies show that people who practice gratitude are more optimistic, feel happier and are more connected to the world. It is also linked to resilience – inner strength that helps people bounce back quickly from adversity.

Happy Christmas.

:: Anne Costello is a Belfast-based mindfulness and yoga teacher who offers mindfulness and stress management programmes to the public and private sectors. Email website or visit