Soothe your Christmas stress

A photo of a woman doing yoga in a santa hat

Follow our experts’ advice and don’t let festive stress get the better of you

Between buying and wrapping gifts, playing Santa and prepping and cooking a meal for 15, the joy of Christmas can quickly dissolve into stress. Here are some natural ways to feel a little calmer during the festive season.

Nutritional know-how

Shani Shaker, a registered nutritional therapist (www.superradiance.co.uk) explains how to eat your way to yuletide calm.

Never skip breakfast: People get more anxious and irritable when they are hungry. If you have long spaces between meals and suffer anxiety attacks, it may be a result of your blood sugar levels dropping. Eat a savoury, protein-rich breakfast. Eggs are great as they’re rich in protein and high in choline so you stay fuller longer. Low levels of choline are associated with increased anxiety levels.

Don’t cut too many carbs: It can be tempting to reduce carbs in order to lose a few pounds before the Christmas party. However, carbohydrates increase the amount of serotonin, a chemical that promotes calmness, in your brain. Cut out processed carbohydrates, but make sure you swap them with complex sources, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits and peanut butter on whole grain bread for nutrients and blood sugar control.

Foods to increase: The amino acid tryptophan, prevalent in dairy products, soy, fish, meats, nuts and seeds, helps your brain use serotonin properly. Eat a wholefoods, plant-based diet with good quality meat and seafood, plenty of leafy greens for folate as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. The best sources of fatty acids include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines as well as flax seeds and walnuts.

Foods to reduce: Caffeine from coffee and fizzy drinks can cause or worsen stress and although alcohol may seem calming initially, as your body processes it, it can make you feel edgy. For improved blood sugar control, limit refined foods, such as white bread, sweets, fizzy drinks and low-fibre cereals.

Soothing yoga

Yoga teacher Kirsty Gallagher (www.kirstygallagher.com) suggests some relaxing yoga poses to help with Christmas stress.

Child’s pose: If you’re feeling the need to hide away, child’s pose is the perfect place in which to rest, recover and surrender.

How to do it: Stand up on the knees and then gently start to sink the buttocks back towards the heels and rest your torso forwards over the thighs. The forehead will either rest on the floor or you can make fists with the hands and rest the forehead on the fists. Keep the knees together or wider apart, the arms out in front or behind you by the sides – find your most comfortable place.

Viparita Karani (Legs up the wall): This deeply restorative pose will help calm the mind, relieve anxiety and relax the entire nervous system.

How to do it: Sit next to a wall with one of your hips resting next to the wall. Gently swing your legs around until they are up the wall with the backs of the thighs resting on it. Then slowly lower yourself down to lie on your back. Make sure your buttocks are as close to the wall as possible and rest your arms down by your sides with the palms facing up.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose): This beautiful pose has a deeply relaxing effect on the emotions.

How to do it: Lie down on your back and bring the soles of your feet together, allowing the knees to drop out to either side. (You can bring the soles of the feet together from a seated position and then gently lie down if that’s easier.) Take the heels as far away from the body as you need to be comfortable and allow the arms to fall down by the sides with the palms facing up.

Calming breaths

Try this breathing technique from Eve Menezes Cunningham, a counsellor and integrative coach-therapist (www.feelbettereveryday.co.uk).

First, notice your natural breathing and, if it helps, mentally note, inhale, exhale. Begin to notice if you’re breathing from the top of the lungs, the middle of the lungs or the lower lungs. It’s natural to breathe from the top, more shallowly, when we’re stressed and it’s something we can usually do quite easily, just consciously bringing the breath down as if we were breathing from the belly. If this is not possible in this moment, don’t worry about it, just keep noticing your breath and connecting with it.

Begin to notice if the inhalation is longer than the exhalation or the other way round or if they’re even. If not already having a longer exhalation, play with this and see how it feels to breathe in for one and out for two, or in for two and out for four.

We don’t normally have to think about how we’re breathing. But by making it conscious, just for a minute or so at a time, we not only get out of our heads and into our breath, body and present moment, but by adapting it, we can send calming signals to the brain.

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