Ok so 2020 might be the weirdest Christmas ever if the rest of the year is anything to go by. But then Christmas can be weird anyway with all the expectations that surround it, right?
If you are the one that does all the organising, co-ordinating, present buying and peace-keeping, you might need a few tricks to help save your sanity. If the festive season brings feelings of sadness for you then having some coping tools can be essential. It is a different experience for everybody but the key to staying calm is the same. It is in how we set our expectations and this part is within our control to manage.
Last year I spent Christmas Day at home without guests, or without going somewhere else. No family, no friends, just me and my partner as if it was any other day. Do you know what? It was great. We got up when we felt like it, ate when we felt like it, watched some great TV, lounged on the sofa under a snuggly blanket and pottered around enjoying being at home. There was no expectation. Just whatever.
So if it is like this for you this year, don’t worry. Just enjoy it. It is just another day, but this time without the burden of expectation. Without the inevitable disappointment that comes from trying to make things perfect. Without the stress of trying to please everyone else. You really can just be.
With all the uncertainty and anxiety around, I hope that these tips help keep your world just a little calmer this Christmas.
Often traditional events like Christmas are weighted with what you are ‘supposed’ to do, how things are ‘supposed’ to be. What does the ‘perfect’ Christmas look like to you? Ask yourself if this is really an idea from an advert in a glossy mag? This is where disappointment or stress can start to creep in. If you can choose to drop expectation, you are way more open to enjoying unexpected and spontaneous events. This isn’t about lowering your expectations. It is about releasing expectations and meeting the day as a totally brand new day, whatever it brings.
If you couldn’t get that special thing for your special meal? Try a different thing.
If that special stuffing you wanted to make from scratch isn’t perfect? So what? What does perfect even mean? Enjoy your first attempt at making something new. Laugh about it, learn from it, taste it. Give it to the birds if you want. They will love it even if you didn’t.
Gratitude, the opposite of expectation, is a state of mind. Just a different way to view the same circumstance. Rather than focussing on what you are hoping for or don’t have, have a look around you at what you already have. It is incredible how positive this can make you feel.
Try gratitude as a mood-boosting trick right now and see how it feels. Write down 5 things in your life that you are grateful for. Perhaps start a gratitude jar now and look at it at Christmas. This is where you write something you are grateful for each day. Fold it and put it in a jar. Then when you need to, dip your hand in to read and remind yourself of all the lovely things that are already in your life.
If you are on your own at Christmas, see it as a gift. Plan it, savour it, enjoy it. If you had 1 day all to yourself, what would you do with it? Would you paint? Would you get stuck into a book you wished you had time to read? Would you indulge in a home spa day with a facial and loads of essential oils? Would you sing?
3. Limit The Time You Spend Shopping
Searching for gifts and spending too much can be massive stress inducers at Christmas. This year, more than any year, be gentle on yourself. It will be harder to physically go shopping and so many people will have less money to spend.
For adult friends and family a ‘Secret Santa’ can be fun. Each person just gives a gift to one person in the group. Choose names randomly and agree a spending limit up front. The gift giver can remain anonymous too if you wish. A good way to reduce the stress of over spending whilst keeping things fun.
If you don’t want to or can’t venture to the shops, there are some great on-line markets this year too. I like artisan ones like www.pedddle.com or www.bristolmarket.com. You can plan in an hour, browse from your sofa, do it all in one go and support small businesses at the same time. Win, win.
4. De-stress Rescue Trick
If things are starting to feel stressy, this breathing exercise can be done anywhere in less than 60 seconds. It is based on a yoga technique. By regulating your breathing, it kicks in the parasympathetic nervous system that also slows your heart rate and reduces stress hormones. This is the opposite state from the fight or flight stress response. By deeply emptying your lungs and filling them with fresh oxygen, it also gets rid of excess carbon dioxide that is toxic to our bodies. Known as the 4,7,8 breathing trick, it is a very powerful and simple tool for calm.
· You breathe deeply all the way in through your nose to the count of 4.
· Hold your breath to the count of 7.
· Then actively, slowly and forcefully expel all the air out from your lungs to the count of 8.
This last bit do through pursed lips, forcefully enough that you can hear your breath going out. Repeat as required.
It is the proportions that are relevant. They don’t have to be exact seconds. Just mentally count it through. I have tried this on quite a few occasions when feeling anxious about something. It really worked extremely well for me.
5. Calming Essential Oils
Some essential oils can have a deeply calming effect. The trick is knowing which ones to use as they are all very different. Some also energise and keep you awake. So choose carefully.
If you have a diffuser and want to create your own oasis of calm, choose between 1 and 3 essential oils. Then add 6 drops in total to the diffuser. Here are my top recommendations to quietly calm your mind:
· Roman Chamomile: there are several variations of Chamomile. To max out on its mentally calming properties go for the Roman Chamomile version (Anthemis Nobilis). It has a herby sweet smell, like juicy hay and honey. Great for quietly soothing frayed nerves.
· Frankincense: that quiet, steadying, meditative scent that you associate with churches and Christmas.
· Vetiver: a deeply peaceful, slightly smoky scent that feels grounding. It is known as the ‘Oil of Tranquility’
· Sandalwood: cooling, calming and grounding with a beautiful woody scent. Pacific Sandalwood (Santalum Austrocaledonicum) is the one that is not endangered as a species and tends to be sustainably sourced.
· High altitude Lavender: you can get just Lavender, but when it has been grown in the mountains it contains a much higher proportion of Linalool - the component of the essential oil found to reduce stress. It is this that gives it its reputation for helping to calm anxiety. Check the label. It should say High Altitude Lavender (Lavandula Angustifolia).
· Bergamot: a lovely cheerful mood-boosting orange-like citrus that helps release pent up tension.
Combining calming essential oils with the 4.7.8 breathing technique can be very powerful.
It is like a double whammy of calming tricks that you can do anywhere.
‘Aromatherapy Mood Shots’ by Emotiv Aromatherapy are designed to be used in this way. Just roll on the blend to suit your mood. Roll it onto the back of your hands or wrists, bring to your nose and inhale. The BREATHING SPACE blend has been created to help calm your mind and is suitable for any time of day. If you feel like you need a big comforting hug, then SOUL NURTURE is just the ticket.
Both blends are also available as an aromatherapy room spray. A really lovely gift for yourself or someone else, they are sold with a little felt ornament. Just spray the mini pot plant or dog. The felt holds the aroma for hours and adds a cheerful presence to your room that brings a smile to any face..
6. Pass it forward
Be kind. Do one kind thing for someone else.
Passing kindness forward makes the world a better place. If you do someone a favour, just ask them to pass it forward. If someone does something kind for you – pass it forward. This is truly giving without expectation. It feels good. It feels freeing. It feels positive and fills your soul with a sense of hope for the world.
I heard a lovely story about how to talk to your child about Santa when the time comes.
A mum told her daughter that she was going to be told a very special secret. She was going to be allowed to join the Santa community and actually become one of the Santas. It was a special community only for people in the know, people who were observant and kind, ‘Secret Santa’s’ as it were.
Her task was to look around her and notice who might need cheering up, who needed help, who needed a kind gesture. Then give them a gift. That gift needn’t cost money. It could be doing something kind and inclusive for them. It could be a surprise anonymous gift of something they might just need or love. Maybe something home-made. Over the next few weeks her eyes were opened. Rather than feel disappointment about Santa, she felt special. She had the power to make someone else feel good. She noticed other people and started thinking about how she could make them feel loved and included. How she could pass it forward.
She chose an old lady in their street to receive her Secret Santa gift. She had never really noticed her before, but now that she was looking, there she was. Always on her own, she would come out to tend her garden or struggle to put her bins away.
What did she give her?
What would you have given her?
Maybe there is someone near you who could do with someone who cares enough to notice them…?
Pass it forward to make our world a brighter place.
Rebecca McKnight is an aromatherapist and product designer. Creator of Emotiv Aromatherapy, she is drawn to light, space and the mood-boosting effects of sunshine and colour. Often found mixing and stirring potions and lotions, she is passionate about the healing power of plants on many levels. A traveller and explorer, she is equally happy cradling a hot chocolate over a cosy chat, or enjoying the simple things in life like stroking a friendly cat.
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