Self-care tips for a more mindful Christmas
Baking, crafting or meditation – whatever your self-care MO, it’s time to check in, chill out and give yourself a little something back
As much as we love Christmas, the festive season comes with its own demands and challenges which can make sticking to a healthy routine that much more difficult. And as a particularly eventful year draws to a close, taking time to relax, be kind to your mind and give a little back to yourself is more important than ever. ‘Christmas this year will likely be different,' points out Jolawn Victor, Chief International Officer at Headspace. 'This could create feelings of loneliness, sadness or even anxiety.'
Compassion is key. And it starts at home. ‘People generally assume that compassion begins with a deliberate focus on others, but we must first cultivate a sense of kindness towards ourselves,’ Jolawn explains. ‘It’s essential to maintain some kind of self-care routine throughout the festive period so we can step back from the noise, distraction and worry to carve time out for ourselves.’
Calming, grounding and uplifting, these self-care strategies will help you steer a mindful course through the festive season.
Start your day the mindful way
If you've always been curious about meditation, or you've given it a go but not quite managed to keep on with it, the run-up to Christmas is a good time to start a daily practice. ‘Making mindfulness and meditation part of our routines this December can help us sleep better, and be less stressed, more compassionate and ultimately happier,’ says Jolawn.
She suggests starting with just three minutes a day, first thing in the morning. ‘Meditating in the morning helps us begin the day on a positive note,’ she explains. ‘It releases feelings of fogginess and helps our bodies and minds feel crisper and clearer for the day ahead.’
Meditation can also help you to cope with stress, uncertainty and the unexpected. ‘It helps to provide an anchor of predictability, and prepares you to cope with any stressful situations that might arise during the day,’ says Jolawn.
Check in (with you)
If you happen to snooze through your morning meditation slot, don't worry – there are plenty of other opportunities to work a little mindfulness into your life. Simply take regular pauses to ‘check in’ with yourself as you go about your day. ‘When you feel uncomfortable or frustrated, try not to get lost in the moment,’ Jolawn advises. ‘Instead, take a moment to acknowledge the situation, accept it, sit with it, focus on your breathing and bring your attention back to how you're feeling and why.’
This simple process can help you get a better understanding of your thoughts and feelings. Over time you'll learn how to work through them to improve your focus on the here and now, and develop a healthier relationship between your mind and body. ‘This will help you become more intentional in your interactions and activities, and make better decisions, from a place of awareness and clarity,’ explains Jolawn.
Take a winter walk
Staying active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body on tip top form at any time of year, but keeping it up over the winter months (even if you don't feel like it) is key. Gentle exercise aids winter wellness by helping to support the immune system, maintain energy and boost mood. Exercising outdoors in natural light can also help with symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
A short lunchtime walk is a great solution for the time-poor, but if you can’t get out at all, it’s still worth taking yourself for a walk inside. ‘By encouraging you to focus on the rhythm of your gait, mindful walking exercises can stop the mind becoming distracted by stressful thoughts,’ explains Jolawn. ‘Walking meditation exercises are designed to connect your body and mind, and focus your attention on the present moment. They help you to step away, refresh the mind and tune in to the rhythm of your body.’
Try the ‘Walking at home’ exercise from Headspace’s free Weathering the storm collection, which will guide you through a mindful walk inside your home in just ten minutes.
Have a breather
While it’s important to keep moving, it’s just as important to take time out. With global events continuing to affect our lives, carving out time to switch off, relax and focus on ourselves is more important than ever. ‘We know that some ideas for looking after yourself may feel unrealistic right now,’ says Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind. ‘But relaxation doesn’t have to take up lots of your time. Just stepping away from something stressful for a few minutes or taking time away from your normal routines and thoughts can give you the space and distance you need to feel calmer.’
This can be as easy as reading a few pages of a favourite book or magazine, watching a funny film, running a candlelit bath, or trying a simple breathing or relaxation exercise. Try one of these exercises from Mind next time you need a break.
When you want to get away:
- Think of somewhere relaxing and peaceful. You might choose a memory of somewhere you've been, or a place you have imagined.
- Close your eyes and think about the details of this place.
- What does it look like – what kinds of shapes and colours can you see?
- Can you hear any sounds?
- Is it warm or cool?
- Let your mind drift and your body relax.
When you need a breather:
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Try to keep your shoulders down and relaxed.
- Place your hand on your stomach – it should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out.
- Count as you breathe. Start by counting up to four as you breathe in and four as you breathe out. Try to work out what's comfortable for you.
Bake up a storm
Baking Christmas treats is a surefire way to inject a little festive cheer into the Christmas countdown, but it can also be a meditative, therapeutic experience that relaxes and grounds you. ‘The repetitive, simple nature of tasks like mixing and chopping encourage mindful thinking,’ Jolawn explains. ‘Your movements will mirror your breathing, providing you with an anchor to focus on.
‘Try decorating gingerbread houses or snowman biscuits, focusing on the precise movements your hands are making, the shapes you are creating and the colours of the icing you are using,’ she suggests. ‘Think of your time in the kitchen as time to wind down and switch off from other thoughts.’
Cultivating a mindful attitude to cooking and baking can also help you tap into a deeper sense of gratitude for what you have and how you have come to have it. ‘It helps us to appreciate the process and outcome more,’ Jolawn explains.
Why not bake a batch of mince pies, Christmas cookies or mini puddings to give as gifts? You’ll find plenty of inspiration on the Waitrose website.
Enjoy a Christmas crafternoon
When you're fully absorbed in a creative activity, you enter a focused, mindful state known as flow – essentially, a kind of active meditation. And just like meditation, getting crafty can have huge benefits for your wellbeing – research suggests that even small acts of everyday creativity can lift our moods, reduce stress and relieve symptoms of anxiety.
‘Getting in touch with your artistic side can help you feel more calm and relaxed,’ says Stephen. ‘Try painting, drawing, crafting, playing a musical instrument, dancing or sewing. Don't worry too much about the finished product – just focus on enjoying yourself.'