It’s the end of the year and that means summer holidays, late nights, family gatherings — you know the drill. And it can all feel pretty overwhelming, right? Know first, that you’re not alone. Per Harvard Medical School, 62% of survey respondents felt somewhat stressed or experienced elevated stress levels over the festive season.
Noa Belling, somatic psychologist and best-selling author of has simple, smart strategies to help you make it through festive season stress, emotionally and physically unscathed.
Scenario: The Office Party
You feel: Overwhelmed.
It’s loud. It’s crowded. You’re tired and overwhelmed. Belling suggests you go for a brief mindful walk. “The movement can be calming and will help you reconnect with yourself. This works because when you drop attention down into your body and away from your thoughts of being overwhelmed, you ground and centre yourself,” she explains.
As you walk, take a few deep breaths and let go of thoughts of the party and people. Massage any tense areas in your body and do a few stretches to loosen up. “Dropping attention into our bodies in a supportive, nurturing kind of way can promote feel-good hormones to help you feel more comfortable. It can also free your brain to think more clearly,” says Noa.
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Scenario: A Family Gathering
You feel: Defensive.
Family gatherings can be stressful, especially when there’s unresolved tension, but remember compassion: to yourself and your family. “Pause to use self-supportive touch, such as placing a hand or even just a couple of fingers on your chest or over your heart. This can be a tangible reminder of compassion that you can direct as you choose. Assisted by the release of oxytocin through touch, which ignites feelings of nurturing and care, you can be reminded to take care of yourself. You might even feel inclined to extend kindness and care to others too because oxytocin also inspires this,” explains Belling.
Scenario: You Over-Indulged
You feel: Guilty.
There’s food everywhere!? It’s hard not to overindulge. And if you did, you need to let the feelings of guilt and shame go. “Feelings of shame, self-criticism, inadequacy and guilt can have the same effect on us as trauma. They can cause us to freeze up inside. This can make us really anxious or we can succumb to feeling down, helpless and hopeless. The effect on our brains is to cut us off from our ability to see a bigger picture and to access higher-level thinking like rationality, creativity and insight,” says Belling.
Basically, you start to feel stuck when you dwell on the negative. Best way to get past this? Exercise. “Moving our bodies gets oxygen and blood flowing to wake up and energise body and mind,” says Belling. “Make time for a walk, run, swim, cycle, yoga class or whatever you prefer. This can build your sense of personal strength with a boost of feel-good motivation. Reaching out to someone who cares for support and to talk some sense into you can also help.”
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Scenario: There’s Activity Overload
You feel: Exhausted.
With festive season stress, you might feel run down and out of touch with yourself from all the socialising and attending to others’ needs. To combat this, take some time out for yourself. “Focus on doing something you love and something your body needs, whether that’s activity or rest,” says Belling. “Make a priority of going to the gym, a yoga class, reading in your favourite quiet place, meditating, gardening, being creative in your own way or whatever feeds you.”