Tis the season to be jolly, or so the song says. But for many, the holiday season can be high time for stress and anxiety.
Many feel huge amounts of pressure around the festive season that can manifest itself in feelings of depression and loneliness, as well as heightened levels of anxiety.
“Christmas is a time when we are bombarded with images presenting the stereotypical happy family Christmas; a fancy house, a Christmas tree, lights in the front yard, kids happy and getting along and a table full of food. Of course the Australian stereotyped alternative is to line up early at the fish markets, then off to the beach, and then home to throw a shrimp on the barbeque. Either way, the expectation is that you will be a happy social butterfly,” explains Steve Stokes, Program Director at South Pacific Private.
This prevailing stereotype often leads to high expectations that are very rarely met. For some this is acceptable, for others, it can be incredibly stressful.
“The time of year usually means we cannot hide or avoid the many expectations placed upon us. As a result, many medicate themselves with food/alcohol/cigarettes/being busy and shopping,” says Steve. “We put on a happy front so as to fit in with the expectations of us and how we are to behave at this time of year.”
“Indeed, if you suffer from depression, anxiety or seasonal anxiety disorder, then this time of year can be a nightmare and is full of triggers. It’s really important to have a clear plan of how you will support yourself during this time.”
So what can we do to quiet our minds and avoid seasonal stress? These four easy steps can make a huge difference in how we approach the silly season this time around.
1. Get Crafty
Giving the creative side of your brain a boost this holiday season can significantly reduce stress and anxiety, with almost an immediate effect. Committing to a project like colouring in, creating homemade Christmas gifts or simply sitting down with kids for an art and craft afternoon, encourages the sympathetic (right) brain and can reduce levels of cortisol in your body.
2. Get Active
Regularly committing to exercise, whether it be a calming stroll in the park or pounding the pavement on a morning run, can be a proven mood booster, guaranteed to get your serotonin and endorphins flowing. Studies have shown that after just five minutes of exercise, the mood-enhancement effect starts to kick in.
3. Get Baking
Baking is also hugely advantageous for improving mental health, with benefits that include increased mindfulness, satisfaction and sensory pleasure. By using baking as a form of behavioural activation, bakers that struggle with depression or other mood disorders can escape into a focused activity, occupying the whole mind/body spectrum. This redirection of thoughts is a subconscious form of therapy.
More and more adults are turning to baking to relieve stress and anxiety, with many finding the practice enlightening and a perfect way to re-focus on something other than what is troubling them.
4. Have Fun
Don’t forget to let your hair down this festive season and allow some time for fun activities.
“If you’re doing something that’s playful, your heartbeat will go down, you’ll be in a calm state, you’re going to breathe long deep breathes,” says Steve Macari, a holistic health practitioner.