Two more days to go. Are you feeling all festive and sparkly or is the goodwill to all men running out? Christmas is increasingly just one long rush, one miserable spendfest of anxiety and stress, followed by a huge anticlimax. However it is possible to relax and enjoy Christmas. There are ways to stop the madness and regain the true spirit of the season. With a jingling of sleigh-bells and a ding dong merrily here are my twelve sure-fire ways to have yourself a merry little Christmas.
1. Let go of expectations. We expect the entire world from the festive period, usually due to childhood memories of seemingly idyllic Christmases. Remind yourself that one duff present or a batch of overcooked sprouts really isn’t the end of the world. Loosen up, delegate, make do. Homeopathy can help anxious perfectionists. If you’re burned out and have been burning the candle at both ends, try Nux vomica. If rabid perfectionism is your problem, try Arsenicum. 30x potency from your chemist – follow the instructions. Still fretting about your table decorations? Bear in mind that perfectionism is bad for your health – perfectionists have a 75 percent higher incidence of illness than their more laid-back friends.
2. March through the snow, deep and crisp and even. No snow? Who cares, pull on a fleece anyway and get walking. It’s easy to forget fitness when you’re up to your ears in shopping, partying and cooking, but researchers at the University of Southern California have concluded that a daily fifteen minute walk is as effective as tranquilizers for reducing anxiety and keeping festive spirits high.
3. Get crafty. Think back to when you were a child – what are your happiest Christmas memories? See if you can recreate them – perhaps making home-made decorations or baking your own cakes, mince pies or biscuits. Baking can be wildly evocative as scent is one of the most powerful memory store-houses we possess. Of course, a large tureen of mulled wine is equally effective.
4. Try the fairy light meditation. A study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has proved that you can actually train yourself to be happy – with meditation. For a suitably seasonal meditation turn on the Christmas tree lights and turn off the main lights. Softly unfocus your eyes so you just see the twinkling lights. Gently allow all other thoughts to drift away as you watch the sparkle, like stars in a night sky. If you find thoughts intruding, don’t beat yourself up: just notice them and let them go. Come to think of it, if it’s a good clear night, wrap up warm and go outside and watch the real stars.
5. Sing your socks off. Singing boosts endorphins (feelgood chemicals) and can shift your mood as quickly as you can sing ‘Away in a Manger….’. Volunteer for carol-singing duty; head for church or belt them out in the bath. Can’t sing, won’t sing? Listen instead. Sound researchers claim that Gregorian chant has the power to soothe the mind and relax the body. It sets a spine-tingling festive mood too. Try the sublime Christmas Chant (sung by Benedictine nuns) or Sanctus, a truly divine combination of birdsong, tolling bells and gentle Gregorian chant. Sit back, breathe deeply, and float away. www.newworldmusic.com
6. Do a good deed. A study by Essex University found that what really makes people happy is doing something for others. Perhaps one of the nicest things to do around Christmas is to volunteer to help people in an even tougher place than you are. Working with the homeless, helping out at a local hospital or hospice, can really put life into perspective. It can also be great fun.
Small deeds count too. Spare a smile; pass on a parking ticket; let someone in front of you at the supermarket checkout; offer to babysit so a stressed-out mum can prepare in peace.
7. Put on your party hat. Go on with you, get out there and party. Meeting up with your mates isn’t just great fun, it actually good for your health. Amazing research from the Carnegie Mellon University in the USA found that having a wide variety of friends and work colleagues makes you four times less likely to catch a cold. The theory is that a diverse social life gives more opportunity for stress relief and hence greater resistance to bugs. Not convinced? Well how about the fact that ten minutes of laughter creates the same euphoric effect as ten minutes of hard aerobics (according to research from the American Association for Therapeutic Humor). Curious but true (and a great excuse for guilt-free festive partying).
8. Choose vibrant feel-good colours for your festive wardrobe. Colour researchers say that red boosts energy, orange makes you feel sociable, yellow fosters optimism and pink brings a smile to your face. Can’t face that much colour? Go for some wild jewellery, attention-grabbing nail-varnish or a stunning scarf. Don’t limit colour therapy to clothes either – deck your home with a dose of searing colour in the form of cushions, throws, candles – and decorations of course!
9. Stretch it out. Yoga refreshes your body while calming your mind so make time for a class or home session. Or just try simple stretches. Slowly and carefully roll your head round, letting it drop as far as possible forwards, to your right shoulder, backwards and to your left shoulder. Then do the same in the opposite direction. Now clasp your hands behind your back and try to pull your hands away from your back with your arms straight. Hold for a few moments. Next round your shoulders and bring your arms in front of you and clasp your hands.
10. Make like the magi. For the authentic Christmas mood, follow the wise men and burn some essential oil of Frankincense. The London School of Aromatherapy found it has the “ability to slow down and deepen the breath…which is very conducive to prayer and meditation.” Make time for that prayer and meditation if you can. If not, relax in the knowledge that it’s brilliant for helping everyone feel calm, happy and peaceful in general so stock up and sniff.
11. Make your world sparkle – in the most literal sense. Research shows that a little glitter and sparkle makes us perceive our world as brighter and lighter (see earlier post on Christmas sparkle!). So put up the fairy lights, dot your home with candles, maybe even invest in a fibre-optic starry sky for your living room. Oh, and sprinkle a liberal dusting of glittery fairy-dust over your face, hair and body too – it’s bound to boost your mood.
12. Take time before the New Year to think about what you really want from life. Put some thought into which resolutions would make the most real difference to your life. Maybe not giving something up but taking up something new instead. For a real boost, write down 100 things you’d like to do in the coming year – from small details (get a haircut, explore aromatherapy) to the big issues (go on a mind-blowing trip abroad, learn a new skill, change your career).
I hope you all have a holiday filled with laughter, love and kindness. Merry Christmas, Joyful Yule and a Happy New Year!
A version of this feature first appeared in the Irish Daily Mail