The carols are singing out on TV and radio adverts, decorations are appearing in shop windows, and the must-have gifts for this year are lining the shelves. Yes, the countdown to Christmas is well and truly on.

For many, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but for others it can also be the most stressful. Debbie Van Tonder, Clinical Nurse Manager at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services says, “In the run up to Christmas, many people find themselves swept away and overwhelmed by the presents, the cooking, the wrapping, the decorating…But by attempting to take a more mindful approach to festivities, stress-levels can be hugely reduced”.

Mindfulness is derived from the belief of ‘living in the moment’. It is the practice of purposefully paying attention moment by moment, in a non-judgmental way to the things you do. The practice includes learning how to make time for one-self, learning how to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance and purposefully allowing the body and mind to rest in the moment.

Here are some simple tips to apply a mindful approach to your Christmas countdown;

1. Make a mindful list

Instead of writing the usual ‘to do’ list that will inevitably include some needless activities, it may be a good idea to sit quietly and ask yourself what activities are going to benefit and nurture ourselves and others and what activities are more avoidable. Focus on what matters.

2. Mindful shopping

Mindfulness accepts that some experiences are unpleasant, including Christmas queues. See if you can become aware of your reactions when something holds up your progress. Take a moment to ask yourself:
– What is going through my mind?
– What sensations are there in my body?
– What emotional reactions and impulses am I aware of?

3. Walk

Physical activity lifts your mood and can reduce stress. Go for a walk and pay attention to the sights, sounds and smells at this time of year. Walk with as much awareness as you can.

4. Breathe

When anxiety or stress gets on top of you, it can be difficult to remember why you should remain calm. By taking three minutes by yourself to meditate, stress-levels can be vastly reduced. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing, in and out.

5. Have compassion for yourself and others

Kindness can change an experience completely. The desire in all of us to alleviate suffering is part of what we celebrate at Christmas, the opportunity to share and give. With 1 in 4 people experiencing a mental illness at some point in their life, there is bound to be someone on your Christmas card list who is not feeling festive. Reach out to them. Be kind to yourself and others.

Finally, take a moment to remember what Christmas is really about – having fun and spending time with the most important people in your life, those who offer you emotional support.

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