3 Simple Hacks To Manage Your Holiday Stress
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3 Simple Hacks To Manage Your Holiday StressKeep Your Yuletide Cool With These Tips From Shann Nix Jones
Christmas is one of those times, isn’t it? The fantasies of a perfect family time can explode into the messy chaos of what families are really like. And if you’re on your own, the pleasures of an independent life can suddenly seem tarnished by the idea that everyone else is floating around in some sort of fantastic Christmassy love-bubble. (Trust me – they’re not!)
I love my family. And I love Christmas. But let’s be honest – it can be an incredibly fraught time of year. Domestic violence incidents soar around this time, just for example. Family members who avoid each other through the year may be forced into close proximity for extended periods of time. Alcohol is flowing, which can loosen inhibitions and tongues.
Any time there’s a pervasive ideal of how things should be, it’s going to rub up against the broken edges of how things actually are. And that gap can cause pain and stress.
Stress like this is one of the things that damages your microbiome, as surely as antibiotics, sugar and environmental toxins. When you’re trying to heal your skin, managing your stress is just as important as managing your diet.
So, what can you do to protect your precious inner environment?
Here are a few life hacks that we use on the farm to deal with seasonal stress (and I must admit I double up on my dose of goat’s milk kefir during this time, just to prevent fatigue, depression or anxiety levels from creeping up!).
Draw a big circle on a piece of paper. Around the edges of the circle, write down all the things that are affecting your state, right this minute. For example, the weather, finances, your health, your family, traffic, lack of sleep, your boss. You get the idea – just download every single thing you can think of that’s causing you stress right now. Chances are, you can’t control these things. They just happen to you.
Now imagine a tightrope walker, or a competitive skier. On any given Tuesday, she might be experiencing very similar, unavoidable stresses from her environment. But she can’t afford to let those stresses affect her state, because if she does, she will come crashing down. So, how does a high performer manage her state, under pressure? I’ll show you:
Draw a smaller circle inside the big circle. This is your circle of control. These are the things that you – or our tightrope walker – can control. These are the ways that ballet dancers, race car drivers and Olympic athletes manage their state when they can’t afford to disintegrate under everyday stress.
So what’s inside the smaller circle? What can you control, when everything around you is conspiring to make you crazy?
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, breath is always with you. It’s the quickest, easiest way to shift your state. Fear-breathing is shallow, and will spiral your state down into panic. Instead, consciously take long, slow, deep belly breaths. Fill your belly with air like a balloon, inflating it fully with an in-breath, and then bringing that air up into your lungs. When you breathe out, your belly will flatten again. Practise this a few times. Rest your hand on your belly, and push your hand out with the in-breath, letting it fall back with the out-breath. (Note: this is sometimes hard to do, because we spend so much time holding our stomachs in! Loosen your belt, and really push that stomach out when you breathe in.)
Our brains are like a camera – focusing in on certain elements, and deleting everything else. What is your brain focusing on right now? A healthy brain tends to leeeean towards the negative. That’s not bad – that’s just your ancient reptile brain, trying to keep you alive. The problem is that these days, with the lack of sabre-toothed tigers around, it’s more important to our wellbeing to keep our outlook balanced. Doing this isn’t so easy. Like any muscle, it needs to be exercised – especially as you’re hard-wired to pick out and concentrate on problems in your environment. So, how to change your focus?
Your brain is constantly running an inner dialogue that consists of questions. Often, the answers to these questions leave us in a negative place. Questions such as:
- Why is Christmas so commercial?
- How can I afford all this extra expense?
- Why can’t my family just get along?
- Why does this always happen to me?
- What did I do to deserve this?
- Can I survive this without going crazy?
… will leave you in a negative state. Like a dutiful computer, your brain will go searching for an answer to the question, and the answer it comes up with will always be negative.
So, how to counter that? Ask a better-quality question. A high-quality question is one that has a positive assumption built into it. Your brain will still go scurrying off to answer the question, but the built-in assumption will make it lean to the positive side. High-quality questions include things like:
- What excites me the most about Christmas? (Notice the assumption is that there is something that excites you! If you ask the question, ‘Am I excited about Christmas?’ your hard-wired-to-be-negative brain response may well be: ‘No!’)
- What am I most passionate about sharing?
- What makes me feel the most grateful?
- What’s the best way for me to find meaning in this time of year?
- What personal traditions can I create that make me feel nourished?
- How can I best find the light in the darkness, at this powerful time of year?
The questions you ask yourself, the things on which you choose to focus, and your breath are all inside your circle of control. Concentrate your energies on managing these things, and you’ll find unexpected joy, even in the midst of holiday chaos!
Wishing you a peaceful and calm holiday season (I know, chance would be a fine thing, right?).
Shann + The Goats
Shann Nix Jones is the director of Chuckling Goat and author of the up-coming book The Good Skin Solution: Natural Healing for Eczema, Psoriasis, Rosacea and Acne, due out from Hay House in Feb 2017. You can find more of the science behind the Good Skin Solution on her blog thefarmerswife.wales