Creating space in this Christmas pace

It’s a sunny weekday morning and I’m fluffing around with about 5 different things going on in my head at the moment and I can’t decide what to do…so instead of doing any of them I’ll procrastinate and write a blog about it instead!

With the lead up to Christmas (5 sleeps and counting) the number of people I have spoken with over the past few days who have said how BUSY they are, how tired they are, and how much they have TO DO before Christmas – is quite frankly ridiculous! It’s like the world stops on Christmas day, or over the holiday period and therefore we must all bust a gut to get everything finished and ticked off before that day arrives. Which by the way, arrives every year at this time – so it’s nothing new and not a surprise, yet this manic behaviour happens every year – the mad flurry of activity before Christmas. To be fair, in New Zealand the world really does stop, well the business world anyway, as many businesses literally shut down for 2 – 3 weeks for the summer holidays, and schools close for 6 weeks like the UK does in July/ August time.

My point is however, that even knowing this happens, why is it that we all do this crazy dash of high energy and madness at the end of every year.

Whilst not news to some of you, research tells us that our bodies don’t like high levels of long term stress. What we also know is that when we are in a heightened level of stress for a long period of time and then stop, (i.e. go on holiday) our bodies often get sick. Who has been on holiday and madly tried to get a whole lot of stuff done and ticked off before you leave and then fallen sick in the first few days of the holiday. This is because our body needs time to recover, to re-balance our mental and physical batteries. Waiting until the end of the year to do this after weeks or possibly months of ongoing high levels of stress is not great for us and can ruin our long overdue well planned, and often expensive holiday!

Umbrella consulting (organisational psychology specialists in workplace wellness and resilience) say that in general terms, identifying stress usually means noticing specific changes in ourselves, or someone else. Usually these changes fall into these categories:

  • Physical changes; such as body tension or feeling breathless

  • Emotional changes; maybe feeling overwhelmed or anxious

  • Thinking changes; perhaps having trouble seeing the big picture or remembering important details

  • Behaviour changes; being less productive or drinking too much coffee.

Of course there can be other reasons for changes like these. However usually if we notice several changes over a specific time period we often identify the signs as signs of stress

So to help you create some ‘space in this Christmas pace’ over the next week or so think about what you can be doing NOW to ensure you don’t spend the first few days of your holidays sick.

  • Ensure you are getting recovery time – be it through breaking up your day with a 2 min stretch at your desk every hour, a walk to the water cooler every hour to fill up your water bottle, or some deep breaths (see below). Alternatively go and stand out in the sun and get some fresh air for a few minutes or so - just close your eyes and breathe.

  • Practice appreciation – take the time to thank and recognise others. There is good research that shows us that by thanking and appreciating others, they feel good and you also get a good hit of that feel good factor. Buy a pack of Christmas cards and identify some of those key friends, work colleagues, people around you who have helped you out, or added a bit of positivity to your life recently. Write them a little handwritten thank you note and pop it in their post box or on their desk before the end of the week.

  • Take a breath – Whilst this may sound cliché, again there is good hard pure scientific research that tells us that our body positively responds immediately to a few slow deep belly breaths. This diaphragmatic breathing slows down our anatomic system and reduces our stress hormones. Count in for six and out for six. Focus on the air at the end of your nostrils, and aim for four deep breaths in a minute, over 2 minutes.

  • Think big picture – We often get so bogged down in the detail that we forget why we are doing that thing in the first place. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t get that thing done, or that action achieved before Christmas? How perfect does that event, activity, or action really have to be? Does anyone else really care …. or is it just you?

  • Stretch, sing and move – Take a minute to stand up from your desk, the couch, the steering wheel, from behind the kitchen sink etc and do some long slow ‘hands-up-above-your-head’ and ‘standing-on-your-tippy-toes’ stretches. Alternately listen to some music you love, and dance, sing or both – this gets the blood flowing, you moving and the endorphins going. It connects your body with your head and heart and can really help to change your mood. I love blasting out one of my favourite tunes in the car on the way home after a hard day at work! Another experience I had lately was going to a trampoline park with a bunch of 4yr olds on a day-care trip. I hadn’t bounced on a trampoline for years and it was SO MUCH FUN. I felt amazing after an hours bouncing around. (Ensure you’re wearing a good bra though and a top that won’t flop up and down to expose a mummy tummy on each bounce!)

  • Connect and touch – Christmas time is a fab excuse to hug people, from friends, work colleagues (within reason) family and of course little people and pets. Again there is plenty of neuroscience out there that tells us that physical touch, including holding hands, a hug, a kiss, and good old ‘sparkle time’ with your partner all release a great hit of oxytocin – the free natural feel good drug. So start giving away those hugs people!

  • Hydrate – This is a given really around the holiday time, particularly in the summer when it’s getting warmer, and we may be drinking booze. Do ensure you are giving your body enough water it needs to recover and be at its best.

Whilst on holiday here are some additional ‘resilience building’ ideas you can build into your day to help you reset and recharge so you are your best resilient-self heading into 2017.

  • Switch off – The holidays are the perfect time to relax, unwind, recharge and switch off – from work, emails, and even technology. Whilst many of us feel we have lost our right arm if we misplace or break our mobile phones, the holidays are a great time to unplug from the internet and cyber-world, and be in the ‘present world’. Try turning off your phone one hour before going to bed, leave your phone at home for a day, or even just an hour if you head down to the beach for a walk. Perhaps consider allowing mornings only for checking emails or facebook, and experience having your meals with no technology present.

  • Sleep – The holiday break also means a great opportunity to catch up on that well deserved and overdue sleep. Aim for 6 – 8 hours a night, and whilst routine is generally wonky in the holidays do try and get to bed around the same time each night. With all the Christmas food we eat over the coming week or so, it also tends to make us sleepy – if you have the opportunity to take a little siesta then grab it with both hands!! A little nap will really help to recharge the brain.

  • Talk – The holidays are a great time to catch up with loved ones, and not just a quick hug and a ‘how’s things’ conversation, but a real deep and sincere ‘I’m really listening to you and want to know what’s going on with you at the moment’ type of conversation. It’s also a good time to download to someone else. When we verbally download we also mentally process at the same time, allowing our minds the opportunity to look deeper at something and possibly see something from a different perspective. Ask questions of yourself and others on any ‘limited thinking and beliefs’ you hear from yourself, and others.

  • Read – Pick up a good book and read for fun. Not for work, not for research – but for fun, or to learn. Buy a couple of magazines, the weekend paper etc and enjoy guilt free chill out time.

  • Organise and de-clutter - Having a good clear out or de-clutter feels so great. Sort through things you don’t use anymore, tidy up that linen cupboard, or organise your pantry or fridge.

  • Explore – Get out and explore. Shops, museums, new cultural food shops, cafes, art galleries, beaches, bush walks – allow your senses to engage and be curious with what you see and find.

  • Practice Mindfulness – Being ‘mindful’ means being present and in the moment. Not having 5 things juggling in your head all at the same time like me earlier on today, but just one thing, and focus on that one thing for a few minutes. Be it reading a story to your child, walking along the beach, talking with a friend, or sipping that lovely first class of chilled wine in the evening. Whatever it is you decide to do mindfully, consciously switch off all the other noise in your head and for just a few moments focus purely on that one thing. There are some awesome apps out there to help you improve your mindfulness practice including Buddhify2 and Headspace.

  • Create a ’Ta-da’ list- make a list of the positive energising things you want to do each day – and be creative. It’s not a daily to-do list (although those are good too), but rather a positive and soul filling version of one. Celebrate when you complete a ‘Ta-da’ item and prioritise those that contribute most to your wellbeing.

Finally, set some Goals for 2017 – Think about some great motivating ‘stretch-you-that-little-bit- further’ type goals – alternatively a ‘big fat hairy audacious’ goal is also a goody! Think of 2 – 3 goals you would really like to achieve, be it health, sport, finance, business, work, or relationship related.

If you can put one, two or more of these practices into place each day over your Christmas/ summer holidays you will be setting your ‘resilient-self’ up really well going into 2017, refreshed and ready for the year ahead.

Happy holidays!

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