Coping with the stress of Christmas

Guinea-Pig-in-lightsThis is the third Christmas on the ‘let’s talk!’ blog and here at The Terrace we like to share our hints and tips for coping with the stress and strain of the season. However one celebrates at this time of year, it is impossible to avoid the crush in the shops, the inflated prices and the temptations of food and alcohol that can lead to those ‘morning after’ feelings and affect our overall well-being at this  time of year. Coughs, colds and other bugs adore the warm, wet weather we have had so far and the last thing we want is illness to drag us down when so much needs doing. We are at risk of scuttling round like this gorgeous guinea pig, ending up under the duvet and desperate to avoid all the trials and tinsel.

Jane Gotto has come up with some wonderful ideas over the years, and here we offer more of her thoughts on how to cope over the coming weeks. Today we focus on that awkward moment when you are making final arrangements for the days over the holiday:

Think about what you would like to do for Christmas

If final plans are not yet made, and you dread some of the options open to you, take time to make sure days are, as far as is possible, arranged in the way you would like them to be. If necessary, come up with alternatives and check with family and friends if you are concerned that changes may affect them.
Do NOT allow yourself to be pulled into an arrangement which you know is
not going to work for you. It IS just a few days in the year, and the temptation is to think only about making others happy (that is what we all hope to do at this time of year after all) but the anxiety and stress can be present  for weeks in the lead up and can effect health, sleep and general well-being for a long period. 

Come back early next week for some more wise words from Jane, who has years of experience in supporting individuals and couples through testing times. Christmas can be great fun, but it can also put a strain on the closest bonds….

If you fancy a pre Christmas massage, our therapist Sarah Sellick still has a few appointments available at a reduced rate. Or why not buy a loved one a relaxing massage for Christmas? Contact us about gift vouchers on 01823 338968.
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On a Mindful Christmas contentment. Why can’t we just ‘be happy’?

trolleyLots of Christmas shopping was done over the weekend. We woke up in the knowledge that money needed to be spent,  car park spaces must be battled  for and crowds coped with. It was daunting, but ’tis the season…’ and all that – jolliness is required of us. Here at The Terrace we do like to offer support to readers over the festive season, but in the rush of consumer madness that is challenging.

So it was good to come across a piece by our own Miranda Bevis, mindfulness practitioner and leader of many of our workshops and courses. She recognises that the real world makes living in the moment (the basis of mindfulness practice) tough, but maintains that with work we can achieve a peace and level of contentment in many of those situations that threaten to overwhelm us. Here she offers some wise words on becoming content. How much of the ‘stuff’ we accumulate over the Christmas period do we actually need? We have written on here about looking at our rituals and making a decision to change. No more three for two gift sets, over indulgence and post Christmas strain on relationships – and perhaps creating new ways to celebrate the things that are important to us.

This time of year should be reflective, a time to take stock, but we have to admit that major changes  to seasonal celebrations are best planned rather earlier than mid-December when many of our presents are bought and paid for and meals planned etc. So, take a look at what Miranda writes below, and have a think about how we can appreciate the things we have already. Then perhaps we can take steps this year to enhance our Christmases to come.

Scanning the weekend newspaper supplements, I find so many articles and advertisements telling us how we could (should?) change: How to get fitter, thinner, look younger; give your garden a makeover, re-design your interiors. Revitalize your love life, spice up your cookery and your sex life (because you’re worth it). There is no end of things that we could change for “the better”. And of course, change is supposed to be good for us; after all, we wouldn’t want to be bored or get stale, or allow ourselves to get into a rut, would we? We “deserve” more, we “have a right” to more. We should seek out new excitements, discover new thrills, acquire new things, visit new places, meet new people.

“Now and then it’s good to pause in ourAnd there’s nothing wrong with any of this, except, perhaps, the overall message. Which seems to be that, if things were different, in terms of our looks, our possessions, or our experiences, we’d be happier. That there’s a better place to be, a better way to be, than where we are right now. And that surely breeds dissatisfaction. It’s all too easy to get caught up in disgruntled thoughts, and end up not noticing what we’ve actually got.

When we practice Mindfulness, we explore being with whatever is, without immediately trying to change anything. Sitting with our sensory experiences alone, and allowing them to be exactly as they are, while letting go of thoughts and desires for things to be different. We begin to realize that often it’s not so much what is actually happening that is the problem, but rather the thoughts about it. Realizing that the mutterings of “I don’t want it to be like this”, “It’s not fair”, and “I deserve more” breed discontent.

Letting go is not the same as giving in. It’s not a state of hopeless resignation. But it gives us the space to fully appreciate what we already have. It can help us to discover what really does need changing, and teaches us to develop a different relationship with what we have no control over.

The art of contentment and well-being is being good at noticing what you have, and wanting what you’ve already got. In the words of Guillaume Apollinaire: “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”.

Miranda is offering more taster sessions and courses in the new year. See our ‘What’s On’ page for further details.

 

‘Re-charging’ the Christmas ritual….

images (3)As the days of December rush past, leaving us little time to pack in all the annual rituals – present buying, writing and sending cards, attending the work Christmas ‘do’- as well as trying to keep the non-Christmas side of our lives under control, it is all too easy to succumb to a bug, or feel oneself become overwhelmed with the stress and anxiety of it all. Here at The Terrace we like to gather together some tips to help survive the second half of December and on into the new year.

For many of us the rituals are all part of the season and fill us with a sense of nostalgia. For others, the rituals seem stale, lowering and unnecessary, washed away in a sea of consumer madness, bright lights and bad tempers. Money is tight, the shops are filled with things we can’t afford and don’t need. It can be difficult to cope.

If you fall into the latter category – or if Christmas holds darker memories and is a time when you battle depression-  rather than avoiding it altogether, you might want to create your own ritual, one that is personal and connects you to who you are rather than joining the ‘Christmas Mad Rush’. So why not consider the following:

  • Pay particular attention to what is important to you; seeing special friend(s) or spending time with one or two members of your family rather than all of them.
  • Prepare a meal you enjoy, rather than feeling obliged to have turkey with all the trimmings, or create your own spiritual practise – meditation and or quiet time.
  • Take time to read a book, or watch a film that interests you.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be pulled into an arrangement which you know is not going to work for you. If you cannot say ‘No’ outright, say you would like some time to think about it and let the other party know a time when you will get back to them.
  • Never feel guilty about saying you need to spend time alone if that is what you really want.
  • Try to build an understanding of what is important and getting it right for you. When a ritual has become dead for one person it normally has for others too – naming it can be a relief and stimulate new ideas. You might be concerned about upsetting other people’s routine – but they may just be waiting for someone to take that step for them!

In getting the festive season right for you, it often gets it right for others too.

More mindfulness practice: On eating that Christmas raisin……

a-mindful-christmasWe are in December now, and here at The Terrace we are keen to promote ways to ensure our well-being is protected in what is a busy, festive month. We have written many times on mindfulness, and have started a new series of posts on the subject. Our expert practitioner Miranda Bevis offers regular and popular taster sessions and courses here, to those interested in finding out more. Here, Miranda discusses an exercise that some of you may already have heard of, and perhaps even dismissed. After all – how useful can eating one raisin be? Read on and find out. Perhaps, as you eat your rich Christmas cake or pudding this year you can give it a try…..

“The first exercise we do in the Mindfulness course is to eat a raisin. It seems a bit crazy. Never mind. Just do it. Notice. What does it look like? How does it smell? What happens when you put it in your mouth? As best you can, try not put the experience into words, but just allow yourself the bare experience.

If the mind wanders, which it probably will, gently guide it back to the exploration of this small object. Let go of any thoughts or judgments.

The whole thing takes about 5 minutes. People are always surprised and I regularly hear comments such as  “I didn’t know I could get so absorbed in such a small and insignificant thing”, “I can’t believe how intense it tasted”, “I didn’t think I even liked raisins, but that was really enjoyable”; and there’ is always someone who says, “It’s really strange, but I feel so much more relaxed”.

This exercise is far from crazy, and should not be dismissed. It demonstrates a number of things, including how, a lot of the time, we don’t really notice what we are doing, but are functioning automatically. Now, that’s not always a bad thing to do. For example when we react to real danger, or the mechanics of driving. In this complicated world, there are many times when we have to multi-task.

But if we function without awareness, we miss out on much of our experience. How many meals do we not even taste because we are in such a hurry?

And sometimes it’s downright unhelpful, and can actually make things worse. Reaching for the biscuits or the bottle when we get stressed, or kicking the cat because we are feeling irritable – perhaps if we were more aware of our actions, we might act in ways that were kinder to ourselves, and to others.

raisinFinally, the person who noticed she became more relaxed whilst eating the raisin had touched on something of great importance. I never used the “relax” word, never say ‘chill out’. I just said, really, really notice what you are doing. So what we discover is that, just by becoming fully absorbed in a very mundane activity, the body relaxes.

Why not give it a try? For a few mouthfuls every day, switch off the radio, don’t read or talk. And just eat. And notice…”

Miranda Bevis is offering mindfulness taster sessions and a new 8-week course in January 2015. See our ‘What’s On’ page for more details.

Grump or Grinch? How to let in the Christmas Spirit without Marley’s Ghost

draft_lens2250991module12234196photo_1224646919christmas_spirit_apothecaryToday we have another Christmas thought from Jane Gotto here at the Terrace.

Firstly, we are not directing this at those who find Christmas a difficult time of year for reasons of  isolation, or depression and anxiety for example. It can be a hard, and sometimes life-threatening time of year. If this sounds like you, then please do seek help now.  There are wonderful charities out there who offer 24 hour support (such as Mind and The Samaritans for example).

But now we are speaking to those who might be, simply a ‘Christmas Grump’?

That’s ok, and you are entitled to feel that way. It can be overwhelming,  but you might want to think about what made you a ‘Christmas Grump’.    Usually there is a reason – either recent or back in your history- of being ‘made’ to feel the Christmas Spirit, or feeling you have to continue in a particular ritual without enjoying it. You may feel under an obligation to attend a regular event which evokes difficult memories.   These are all Christmas Spirit killers and understandably so.

But it is possible to lift that grumpy mood. You might want to create your own ritual – one that is personal – and connects you to who you are rather than joining the ‘Christmas Mad Rush’. This might mean paying particular attention to what is important to you; seeing special friend(s) or spending time with one or two members of your family rather than all of them.  Prepare a meal you enjoy, rather than feeling obliged to have turkey with all the trimmings, or create your own spiritual practise – meditation and or quiet time.  Take time to read a book, or watch a film that interests you. Certainly you should never feel guilty about saying you need to spend time alone if that is what you really want.

This is a time for coming together with others, cementing or building relationships but it is also about coming back to yourself, understanding what is important and getting it right for you.  In getting it right for you, it often gets it right for others too.

Anyone got other suggestions?

 

Creating a connected circle – an Advent ritual

The Terrace Advent candle

The Terrace Advent candle

This is another Christmas tip from Jane Gotto at The Terrace – a rather special one that you could use in a family group, in a circle of friends or in a workplace.

December begins on Sunday and with it comes the thrill of the Advent Calendar. Sadly, the ritual of opening a door a day to reveal the Christmas story, or if preferred, the classic pagan and secular images of Christmas , has been overtaken somewhat by commercialised chocolate calendars. It can still be fun, but essentially it means little and can’t even evoke feelings of nostalgia for Christmas past. Of course, that nostalgia can be a sentimentalised version of the festive season and depicts a celebration many have never enjoyed. So perhaps it is time to do something different? To create a new meaning, or rekindle old feelings?

A regular December ritual of giving at The Terrace involves the distribution of Advent candles. All in the connected circle lights the candle for the day marked (being careful to blow it out as the next mark is reached!) and takes time to contemplate what this time of year means to them and the things that are important to them. It doesn’t have to be at the same time of day and no-one is checked up on so everyone loves it and feels connected through the Christmas period – thinking of each other and the year travelled, and offering a reminder of years past.

So why not pop out and buy some candles to offer to your own ‘circle’? They aren’t expensive and don’t tempt you to eat a week in one go as some of the chocolate calendars do! Perhaps some people won’t be able to engage with the idea – that doesn’t matter. It still offers them the chance to think about the people they connect with and could prompt a rekindling of relationships that have drifted over the year.

Guess who! Is a ‘Secret Santa’ a ‘stressbuster’ for the festive season?

santaSo – we are already on to Christmas Tip No. 3 and it isn’t even December yet – but have you seen how so many people are already looking frazzled, carrying bags full of gifts they are not sure anyone will even like? Have you already browsed the ‘3 for 2’ shelves in department stores, wondering who the third, ‘free’ gift might do for? Can you actually remember what you bought people last year anyway?

You wouldn’t be alone. Many people think that the best way to ease anxiety over the ‘Christmas present rush’ is write long lists and get started early. Trouble is – too many others feel the same way…..Many people aren’t present buyers anyway; some feel it is all too commercialised, or have little money to spare and are worried that their presents won’t meet expectations. What a horrible way to celebrate what should be a time for loving and giving – with the emphasis on the loving.

So – think about a Secret Santa. It may remind you of office parties but  it can be great fun, and everyone gets one present of greater value. It also means people have more time to think about what the person they have ‘drawn’ would really like. Or people can circulate a Christmas list from which the gift can be chosen.

If you are worried about the cost, discuss a price limit. When these conversations happen well in advance they can make people feel more relaxed.

How do you cope with present shopping? Is it a trial or is it an opportunity to really show appreciation for those you love? Do you get more enjoyment from buying and giving than getting anything in return?

let’s talk! & The Terrace would love to hear from you!