For all the joys and fun of the festive season, it can also be incredibly stressful, mamas. In the second part of this series (click here for Part 1), family therapist Anoushka Beh weighs in with key tips on how to look after yourself, both physically and mentally. From belly breathing to positive self-pep talks (don’t be shy!), these easy exercises will keep you positive and happy in the holiday moment!
To cultivate more connection between the moment and gratitude, try simple mindfulness exercises like really paying attention to everything around you (sights, smells, textures and sounds) as you ride home from work or as you eat your favourite meal. As you come to the end of the day, reflecting on one thing you feel grateful for will help remind you of the positives that exist in your life right now, reinforcing a shift away from focusing on what your life lacks. In the long term, this helps cultivate more of a positivity-bias where you are more readily able to focus on the strengths and successes in your life on any given day.
Connect with Your Breath
Doing simple breathing exercises can be very useful if you find your mind racing in uncomfortable directions or you’re overly stressed or anxious. Belly breathing in particular has been shown to be very effective in calming down the whole nervous and muscular system while sending your brain the message that you are ‘safe’ in this moment. This can be done through placing one hand over your belly, the other on your chest and breathing in and out to the count of 8. Close your eyes to stay focused on the breath. As you breathe in, gently allow your belly to expand into your hand and chest to rise (in that sequence), and as you breathe out your chest will fall and belly contract. Even just a couple of minutes of this should result in a calming shift, but there’s obviously no harm in continuing for longer if it feels appropriate!
Be Kind to Yourself
While many of us fall into the trap of regular self-criticism, it’s rare to see someone who is generous with self-praise. I think we are raised to believe that complimenting ourselves is arrogant, or may even lead to complacency or a lack of drive in future — that we need “the stick” to drive us to achieve our goals.
Starting this festive season, I challenge you to try something different: don’t just cut yourself some slack if you feel you haven’t done something 100% perfectly. Try to encourage yourself with positive self-talk (just like a friend would) when you meet challenges, and consciously give yourself the credit and praise you deserve for all accomplishments, big or small, just like a friend would.
My point is that we seem much more able to be positive with others than with ourselves, and there is in fact no reason why we shouldn’t be able to draw from this, and apply it to ourselves so that we, too, can reap the benefits of some self-compassion and kindness.
“It’s ok that you didn’t manage to finish everything in time today…” , “Don’t worry that you haven’t resolved things with your brother fully; it’s a work in progress”, “You did a really great job with balancing everything today” — these are just a few examples of little kindnesses you can extend to yourself on a daily basis.
Setting expectations that are grounded within your current context (not lofty and unrealistic stereotypes of how/what you should experience at Christmas) is another way that you can be kind to yourself during this time. For more on extending self-compassion to yourself and the science behind why this works, check out this article that I’ve written previously on the subject.
Follow Your Bliss
This tip is about remembering to be present specifically with what moves, inspires and uplifts you – what you’re passionate about and brings you joy – and to continue to do those things. With kids to look after, family in town, and events to attend and prepare for, it’s easy to leave making time for ourselves and what makes us happy as a last priority. This could be just meeting with friends for a coffee, going to a yoga class or going out to watch a musical.
Whatever your “bliss” is (and I can’t take credit for the phrase here – a friend of mine is known for saying it and I love it so much I’ve adopted it here for all of you as well), the key here is to keep making the time and space to do it. Not only is it another concrete way in which you can practice kindness towards yourself, but it will bring you balance, perspective and energise you through the festive season which should not only be about giving but also receiving.
We’d like to wish all mamas much warmth and many blessings this holiday season! However stressful things might get, remember to cut yourself some slack, consider all you have to be grateful for, and find positivity in the present moment.