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How to stay calm at Christmas

Make Christmas a rejuvenating experience with our expert guide to enjoying a stress-free festive break

Around half of us find Christmas stressful, so rather than pretend otherwise, it might be useful to give ourselves tools to manage that stress. Try one of these science-backed options…

Cook your way into the chilled zone

‘Flow is a predominantly cognitive state of deep concentration and task-absorption that makes a person feel at one with an activity,’ says Dr Giovanni B Moneta, positive psychologist with a specialism in flow and creativity. And, according to Moneta, there’s one surefire way to get to that blissful state. ‘People experience flow in cooking more frequently than other common activities.’

So what is the impact of being ‘in the zone’ while you decorate gingerbread biscuits? ‘When in a deep flow, one feels virtually nothing,’ explains Moneta. ‘After re-emerging, people report a positive mood and sense of meaningfulness.’

The greater the cooking challenge (think young vegan relative), the more enhanced the flow. ‘When you embark on delivering a new recipe, the challenge of the task increases, creating potential for a deeper flow experience.’ And there’s a tangible reward, which can only be a good thing.

Indulge in a news blackout

Graham CL Davey, professor of psychology and author of The Anxiety Epidemic, has researched the impact watching news has on us. His findings show we should all be relieved Christmas gives us a natural break. ‘Negative, emotionally relevant news lowers mood, increases anxieties, and in extreme cases can even generate symptoms typical of acute stress and PTSD,’ he explains. So take the opportunity to step back. ‘Set a short time each day to catch up and switch off alerts. If you feel better for it, take it into the new year with a resolution to consume news in a controlled, limited way.’

Take your time

Use the Christmas break to slip into a lower gear and practise savouring. Rather than seeing a pile of gifts to be wrapped as a source of stress, stick on a movie, get the fairy lights twinkling and savour the experience of wrapping each one beautifully. At the end of a long day, savour a long hot bath, or read a book snuggled on the sofa. Aim to fully feel, enjoy and extend any positive experience. When you feel that joy, pay attention to all your senses so you can mentally hold on to it.

Don’t try to store all this advice in your head. Make notes so you have suggestions ready to turn to when Christmas stress kicks in.

And if you feel a full festive melt-down coming on, try one of these quick stress-busting tips:

1. Use scents

Research has shown that certain scents can alter brainwave activity and decrease stress hormones in the body. Lavender, rose, lemongrass and sandalwood have been linked to significant stress reduction after just 10 minutes, so stock up.

2. Get outside

Just 20 minutes of contact with nature lowers stress hormones, so if you’re blowing a gasket, fake a last-minute trip to the post box, take the dog out, or say you need air.

3. Stroke your pets

It’s become so well-established as a stress relieving technique that universities have installed ‘Pet Your Stress Away’ programmes, so students can interact with cats and/or dogs. Just 10 minutes can have a significant impact.

4. Sniff your partner’s clothes

It sounds mad, but US research found that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.

5. Strike up the band

Research has found music can be a powerful tool for reducing anxiety in hospital patients. Tempo is key; slow, flowing music with 60-80 beats per minute had the most positive outcomes on relaxation. Choose non-lyrical tunes with mainly low tones and lots of strings.

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Written by:  Laura Potter

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