I’ve got friends who LOVE Christmas. Lucky them. Christmas has always been a struggle for me. Growing up in the UK, Christmas was a time of conflict and I spent many Christmas Day afternoons in bed with one of my mystery tummy aches – a toxic combination of sugar and anxiety.
Volatile at the best of times, my family wasn't at its best when faced with the large quantities of alcohol, close physical proximity and ridiculously high expectations that seemed to be part and parcel of the festive season. I developed stomach cramps by mid morning, tears by lunchtime and retreated to bed some time in the early afternoon.
As an adult, the anxiety and claustrophobia that I experienced as a child came flooding back each year when I returned home for Christmas. The feeling was so uncomfortable that I stopped going back altogether, escaping every December to somewhere sunny and tinsel-free.
When I moved to Sydney, I was delighted to discover Christmas Day on the beach. All of a sudden, the dark, pressurized environment that had been my childhood experience of Christmas evaporated. And then I had children. There’s no ignoring Christmas once you have kids. Well, we tried to ignore it for the first couple of years, but by the time she was two, Ruby had Christmas all worked out and we were plunged into the rituals of the season.
I still don’t love Christmas. But I’ve learned some skills over the years that help me to keep functioning when it all seems overwhelming. If Christmas is a challenging time for you, you might find some of these ideas might be helpful.
Swap Perfection for Contentment
I pretend I don’t care about getting it ‘right’ at Christmas. But deep down, I really, REALLY care. I’m not a good cook. I don’t enjoy it. But I still feel that I should put together something special for Christmas Day. But I’ve noticed that the best Christmas’s have been the ones where we bought a selection of stuff from the Deli counter on Christmas Eve, then ate it out of the containers on the beach the next day. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali talks about Samtosha – Contentment. However hard I try, I can never make things ‘perfect.’ But I can always find contentment in whatever the day brings. Make it do-able, not perfect.
The Power of Sound
Sound is an important part of yoga. One of the reasons I LOVE Adore Yoga's annual trips to India is because of all the wonderful chanting that surrounds us at our retreat centre. Chanting is powerful way to calm the mind and fortify the soul. But don’t worry about getting your head around Sanskrit mantras. At Christmas time, there are plenty of opportunities to belt out your favourite carols. Community singing is a healing practice that yogis have prized for centuries and modern medicine is just beginning to understand why. If you can’t find a group to sing with (there are lots of community choirs around, plus all the carol concerts at this time of year), download some Christmas tunes and sing along in the car or the kitchen. Alternatively, you can try this chant for peace and happiness.
Rest. And then have a nap.
Ramping up into a Christmas frenzy is not the best way to deal with the heat and exhaustion we often feel as the year draws to a close. Between family obligations, work events and Christmas Day preparations, there are not many breathing spaces. So you have to create them. After a stunning meltdown one Christmas, my partner packed me off into a darkened room with a guided meditation. Now, I self medicate with a guided meditation before the meltdown arrives (mostly). I have to schedule relaxation into my day because there’s always something important that needs doing before I can allow myself the luxury of relaxation. But that’s the mindset that leads to the meltdowns. Find a Guided Meditation recording that you like, schedule in 10-20 minutes per day for a rest and you’ll be very surprised at the difference this simple strategy makes. Here’s a 5 minute mindfulness meditation recording to get you started.
These simple strategies will help you manage your mental health over Christmas so that you can start the New Year with joyful optimism. Wishing you a happy, calm and heartfelt Christmas.
Lots of love
Have you booked in for Summer School? Classes, Courses and Day-Retreats from 8-20 January in Mosman, NSW.
Nikola Ellis is the founder of Adore Yoga, yoga therapist, counsellor and teacher trainer. She conducts regular trainings that help people of all ages, shapes and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga and meditation, including Meditation Facilitator Certificate Trainings; Level 1 200hr Teacher Training and Post Graduate Yoga Teacher Training in Mental Health, Adaptive Asana and the Foundations of Yoga Therapy and a highly regarded professional 650hr Graduate Certificate of Yoga Therapy.