The Christmas period is often a time of increased tension, stress or anxiety for many and can result in unpleasant experiences for individuals or families. Spending an extended period of time with friends and family doesn’t happen very often, so it would be beneficial for all if we were able to approach the festive season with a peaceful mind.
What causes stress at Christmas?
Mindfulness shows us that the struggles we go through in life often aren’t external to us (as we believe them to be) but are instead based in our perception and thoughts/beliefs about a situation. Most of us feel the pressure to get the right gifts for the right people, spend enough money but not too much money, make sure everyone has enough food and drink, wear the right outfit, attend the right events or parties, not drink too much,…and inevitably find time to demonstrate the right amount of merriment on social media…
A lot of the pressure we experience during the festive season can be found in our thought patterns or learned responses. Thoughts of how things should be and comparison to ideals or others can be harmful. If we tune into the present moment (no pun intended) and observe our true experience in the moment, we may find that we are able to enjoy the season more than previously. If something does go wrong – the turkey is dry, you couldn’t get that last minute gift because it had sold out – you can use mindfulness techniques to bring yourself back to the moment instead of getting caught in unhelpful negative thought patterns.
Tips to move mindfully through the festive season
A mindful queueing experience: You can’t avoid them, there are queues in shops, in supermarkets and on the roads this time of year. Every year we know it will happen the closer we get the Christmas, but every year we find ourselves frustrated, tense, irritated and sometimes infuriated with the constant waiting. Battling against the flow of life is a great source of stress for us. If we catch ourselves as frustration arises and instead of letting it take hold, we bring ourselves to our immediate experience of the moment. No judgment, no likes or dislikes, just observation. What does impatience feel like? Where is it held in the body? Try to feel it rather than think about it with the usual ‘why is this taking so long?’ ‘I should have joined the other queue’. You will notice almost straight away that tension eases out of your body and impatience gives way to patience naturally.
3 minute breathing space: When things get really testing (either during the build-up to Christmas day or during a family gathering for example) we often say things we regret or experience anger with ourselves or others. When we feel that a situation is getting too difficult, we can take 3 very effective steps to transform the moment mindfully.
- If you feel anger, impatience or frustration arising, catch it as soon as you are able and stop yourself from speaking or acting negatively. If you need to remove yourself from a situation, you can do so.
- Ground yourself in the moment by tuning into your breath. If you are agitated, try taking long slow breaths for a few minutes to give yourself space.
- Pay attention to what you are experiencing. Try to feel it in the body instead of listening to your thoughts about a situation or person. Bring your awareness back to the moment and your direct experience of it. Try to bring awareness to how a situation affects everybody, rather than just you.
Reclaim time: We always run out of time at Christmas. Not enough time to finish the shopping, wrap the gifts, visit friends and family, finish things off at work before the break. The constant rushing and pressure to ‘people please’ often leaves us more tired after the Christmas holiday than before it. This year, make a little time for yourself. The pressure we feel is often self-applied, so take a load off. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, but a little mindful self-care can go a long way. Take a walk outside and take in all that nature has to offer this season. Take a long bath with some essential oils. Read a new book. Find opportunities to bring yourself and your experience back into the present moment as often as possible instead of living in an imagined future or re-living a past event.
Christmas is the perfect time to practice gratitude; not just for the gifts given and received, but for all the fortunate things we experience in life that often get swamped by thoughts of how life should be or what we should have achieved ‘by now’. Take a few moments each day to list the things you are grateful for…I bet that list is much longer than your Christmas wish list.
Mindfulness is the practice of applying awareness to the present moment through sense-based experience rather than thought. In other words, the ability to bring attention to what is happening right now, without imposing judgments on the quality or meaning of the experience. In practicing mindfulness, sportspeople are able to notice thoughts as passing mental events that don’t require action. The ability to observe in this way can lessen the reflex response to a situation and increase the ability to respond in a calmer more objective way.
We often remember the sporting outbursts (John McEnroe, Zinedine Zidane to name but a few) where players are overcome with rage, feelings of injustice or unfair treatment, or respond negatively to crowd interference. With athletes not only needing to consistently turn in their best performance, but also being role models for fans and aspiring young people, changing the way individuals react to thoughts is a growing area of focus in sports.
A Chosen Response
It is not just the one-off outbursts that sportspeople have to contend with; performance anxiety is a large factor whether you are a team player or individual athlete. So how can mindfulness help? Mindfulness can help individuals become aware of their thoughts, bodily sensations and environment. Through noticing as an observer what is happening in the present moment, we can choose to respond in a certain way instead of relying on the reflex, learned response that often isn’t the most helpful.
We can choose to notice the environmental conditions and make adjustments to our play. We can notice how certain scenarios cause tension in the body and we can choose to relax those parts of the body. Or, we can just notice as an observer and watch the feelings or thoughts arise and pass away – they are mental events that don’t necessarily need a reaction; especially where the thoughts are unhelpful or negative or likely to elicit a negative response. Sport can be a very stressful environment. Mindfulness can help individuals to let go of emotional responses and instead help them to act with more balance and wisdom; this could be the difference between winning and losing.
Often in competitive sports (professional and amateur) it’s easy to ruminate on past mistakes or predict an outcome before the performance has even started. Mindfulness brings us back to the present moment – what is happening right now? By focusing only on what is happening in the moment, thoughts of predicted failure or learned reactions to past events start to lose their power. Our minds and bodies find a freedom to perform in the moment.
As an amateur competitive cyclist, I have felt and witnessed performance anxiety and the effects it can have on the enjoyment and outcome for individuals. It’s easy to slip into the mental cycle of berating yourself for not doing well, or having moments of self-doubt. Mindfulness might not stop these moments, but it will teach you how to observe them purely as mental events and not based on the reality of the moment. Bringing yourself back to the present and anchoring attention on your breath is a powerful practice to overcome attachment to negative thought patterns. Trying a simple breathing practice before an event can reset the mind and body to be able to focus productively on the current situation.
Mindfulness is a powerful method for creating space in the mind which can then be used to meditate on positive visualisations. Utilising the senses can affirm visualisations bringing them to life with vividness that can overcome anxiety and negative thought patterns. Creating a positive mental image of a shot, play, race or outcome can help increase confidence and focus making mindfulness an essential practice not only for success, but also for enjoyment.
Practicing mindfulness is mental training that helps refocus awareness so that attention can be redirected purposefully to help you perform to the best of your ability. As with all training, it is a process that requires commitment and repetition. Mindfulness begins with a sitting practice and deliberate times set aside for mindful enquiry. This then moves on to mindful movement and can become a whole of life practice that can be utilised on the court/pitch/field/track before, during and after performances.
The Well Nest could help your sports team to improve performance through the practice of Mindfulness. To learn more about mindfulness, tailor a mindfulness package for your club or team or to register for mindfulness courses in Staffordshire (suitable for everyone, not only athletes) take a look at the Mindfulness pages or contact [email protected]
I visited a primary school in Warwickshire recently and was pleased to see a display promoting wellbeing through 5 practical steps that are now promoted as basic steps to wellbeing all over the world. The ‘5 ways to wellbeing’ outline simple steps that we can all take to improve our wellbeing and are now advocated by the NHS in order to help people actively take control of their wellbeing. Starting small and building to a holistic approach to wellbeing can help us lessen or avoid more long-term conditions such as depression or anxiety that can effect physical and mental health for many years.
But what is wellbeing exactly? What are we trying to improve? Undoubtedly our mental health and states of mind, but wellbeing is a whole of life experience. An improvement in our overall quality of life and experience through practical, active steps to increase our levels of enjoyment, self-worth, physical and mental health and interactions with others.
This sounds like a big challenge, right? Definitely. But luckily the 5 ways to wellbeing really do work and are a great start to improving wellbeing.
The 5 Ways to Wellbeing
- Connect – There is strong evidence that being around others (friends, family, social groups) not only increases our all-round wellbeing, but also increases our longevity. Talking is the best therapy. You don’t have to share everything with others; start small. Make a meaningful connection instead of living in the digital world all the time. When you ask someone how they are, actually listen and pay attention to the answer. Speak to a stranger or make conversation while waiting in a queue. Try car sharing with a colleague; they might even become a friend.
- Be active – We have all read the decades of evidence that shows being physically active improves our mental health…so why do we still doubt it? Because it’s not easy to get active and stay active. But it’s not hard either. There are small changes we can make on the way to becoming more active and improving wellbeing. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Take a class after work with colleagues or organise a new sporting activity for all work colleagues to try. Go for a walk at lunchtime. Get off the bus a stop earlier and walk to your destination. If you feel like more of a challenge, take up a regular class that is proven to aid concentration, inner peace and help sleep…yoga is the obvious.
- Take notice – The basics of mindfulness; notice your surroundings. Be present in the moment and just ‘be’ instead of always ‘doing’. The only moment that exists is right now, so try to pay more attention to what is really going on instead of living in your head thinking about what has already happened or what might happen. Being mindful increases our awareness and knowledge of the self. If we know what we spend our time thinking about, we can start to change our thought patterns for the better. Living mindfully is a difficult task for the novice, but we can all try small steps. Choose a mindfulness cue; a sound or sight that whenever you hear/see it reminds you to take 60 seconds to be mindful and notice what’s going on in the environment.
- Keep learning – Not only is the mind kept active, but there is the chance for social interaction, being mindful and being active all rolled into one here. Continued learning can enhance self-esteem, motivation and can help you to prioritise goals and your own happiness. This doesn’t have to be a formal class to count as learning. You can try learning a new word each day, try reading the news in a foreign language, listen to classical music, join a book club.
- Give – By giving to others we develop our compassion which in turn increases our compassion for ourselves. Engaging in acts of kindness helps us to gain perspective on our own internal struggles and gain an understanding of the greater good. Giving your time, expertise or just random acts of kindness to others can greatly increase your wellbeing and decrease your attachment to seeking happiness through material gain.
I challenge you to try the 5 Winning Ways to Wellbeing for one week and track how you feel in body and mind. Leave a comment below about your experiences and check back to see my review of a week of Winning Ways to Wellbeing.
We’ve all heard that yoga is good for body and mind but isn’t it all just a bit of gentle bending and stretching? What’s all the fuss about…?
The combination of breathing, relaxation, meditation, strength, balance and dynamic movement often found in yoga classes can bring a complete overhaul to our often chaotic lives and busy minds.
Some of the benefits of yoga are more obvious; it builds muscle strength, improves flexibility and stamina, it improves posture, strengthens bones and protects cartilage, it increases heart rate and blood flow and helps drain the lymphatic system. These benefits come from the physical practice, Asana.
It can also help focus and concentration by being mindful of the body and the present moment. The deep and complete relaxation that can come from a yoga practice can fully relax the nervous system. We often spend most of our time in ‘fight or flight’ mode where the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated. This can trigger long-term stress responses and ill health. Yoga is calming and restorative and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering breathing and heart rate and bringing the body back to balance.
Yoga is also very useful in providing relief from chronic conditions. A regular practice utilising the full range of body movement improves mobility, flexibility and self esteem. It also improves mood and motivation; you will be more inclined to be active as progress physically, brings progress mentally.
Join a class with The WellNest to see how yoga can improve your body and mind.
This was my first visit to the Holistic Health Show which is held at the NEC in Birmingham in May each year.
The venue is ideal for this kind of thing so not much needs to be said – lots of space, lots of parking. The parking charge remains scandalous at a £12 flat fee but with free show entry when you pre-register online, you can’t really complain.
Once inside there were goody bags available but it was an immediate bun-fight to grab one before the meagre supplies ran out. As it turns out, it was just a massive paper bag with a cosmetics catalogue inside. I ditched mine as soon as possible as it was a hindrance rather than an help when navigating the very busy show.
The Holistic Health show shares a hall with Hair & Beauty UK. Unfortunately about 80% of the space is hair and beauty with the Holistic Health Show taking up a very small proportion of the event. That said, there were lots of useful stands and exhibitors offering advice, products and workshops. I enjoyed a free meditation session; difficult in the hustle and bustle but worthwhile. There were some great product stands and retailers for aromatherapy in particular.
There was also a free presentation area where speakers delivered sessions throughout the day. I enjoyed a very enlightening session with Cain Leathem of GB Fitness on nutrition and the importance of real ‘personal’ training plan to develop real physical and mental strengths. This appealed to me as I’ve always struggled to gain weight in a health way. I found Cain’s presentation to be genuine and enjoyable.
There was also a large CPD area where sessions could be booked prior to the show and paid for online. A lot of the CPD was very specialised and focused; as a student, I didn’t find this particularly appealing and so didn’t part with my money on this occasion. It might be more worthwhile as a practitioner. Sessions were priced at £15 each but were wide-ranging from therapy for pregnant clients to using essential oils for cancer therapy.
Hair and Beauty UK was an eye-opening experience and was about as far removed from holistic therapy as you could find. I enjoyed looking at some of the bizarre and fantastic treatments in action, but there wasn’t anything that appealed to me in that part of the show.
Unfortunately the holistic side of the show was limited and only took up about 2 hours of my time including the workshop and meditation so it wasn’t a day out. I would go again utilising the free online registration and possibly doing some CPD in the future. It’s not a show that would induce me to part with the £10-£20 on-the-door ticket price however.
The Holistic Health Show is back at the NEC on 20 -21 May 2018
Breathing meditation is the best starting point when you’re new to meditation and also a good place to return to frequently if you’re a more experienced practitioner.
By focusing the attention on the breath, the mind has a single-pointed focus so that distraction is minimized. Once the mind is calmed in this way, we can achieve space and peace in the mind bringing a greater awareness of our selves and our surroundings.
It’s easy to try anywhere and can help reduce stress, tension and anxiety almost immediately.
To try a simple breathing meditation…
Sit in a comfortable position on a cushion on the floor or on a chair. Keeping the back straight but not tense. Allow the eyes to close naturally, allowing a small amount of light in to help stay alert. Place the hands in the lap with the palms facing upward; one hand resting on top of the other.
Start to feel the sensation of the breath entering the nostrils. Cool air enters as we inhale and warm air leaves as we exhale. Focus your attention on the sensations of breathing. In your mind, follow the flow of air to the lungs and back out. Don’t try to adjust the breathing or count the length of the breath; just let it flow naturally.
Thoughts will enter your mind and draw your attention away. When you notice this happening, gently bring the attention back to the breath. Try sitting for 5 minutes a day with breathing meditation and notice how your mind feels.
Scents can be very powerful…triggering memories of people, places and events. They can be very emotive, causing changes in our state of mind as well as impacting on our bodies through the nervous system.
The olfactory nerve that gives us our sense of smell is connected directly to the brain. From here, signals stimulate many different responses throughout the body including being able to trigger physical reactions through working on the autonomic nervous system. Scents can send our body into fight or flight, or they can bring us back to calm.
Essential oils work on the principal of balance; bringing the body mind and spirit back into balance after the stresses and strains of modern life have left us neglecting areas of our wellbeing. Some essential oils have a similar effect on neuroreceptors as many synthetic anti-anxiety medications. On the whole, essential oils work holistically rather than treating a symptom, for a better long-term outlook.
Lavender is one of the most studied essential oils. It calms the nervous system, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, reduces anxiety and promotes sleep. Try adding a few drops of lavender oil to a tissue to inhale throughout the day or add to bath water to gain the full effects.
Bergamot is a symbol of the change from winter to spring as the fruits ripen, making it the ideal scent to try in April. Studies have shown that bergamot is excellent for reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate sending the body into relaxation. It can also reduce chronic pain through its relaxing properties. Try mixing a few drops with water and adding to a burner to fill a room with scent.