Whilst it really can be a magical time, Christmas could easily top the list for stressful times of the year too. From financial pressures to adverts insisting on the ‘perfect Christmas’, not to mention the pressure of being a festive social butterfly whilst also balancing difficult relatives, excited kids or actually feeling like you have nobody at all. We’re made to feel bad if we don’t spend enough (but made to feel equally awful if we spend too much), we can feel isolated, lonely and even guilty for not ‘getting into the spirit’ of things – when all we really might feel up to is crawling into bed.
And if we are in a position to enjoy the festive season, we can often overindulge; a little too much alcohol, one too many late nights and so much party food that we can feel stuffed for weeks. Whilst I’d always champion relaxing one’s lifestyle and loosening up a little over the festive season (often restricting ourselves can do more harm than a few extra calories), it can still leave us feeling sluggish, lethargic and unmotivated.
‘But come January 1st, we’re pressured in another way…’
It’s enough to make stress levels soar – and they often do. So much pressure is imposed on us that it’s near impossible for our bodies and minds to not feel the effects, and our three major stress hormones can really ramp up. But come January 1st, we’re pressured in another way; “new year, new me”, new resolutions, new goals, new body, new this, that and – ugh, I’m stressed just thinking about it. We’re supposed to somehow instantly drop any baggage or residue from the previous year and skip, hop and jump into January with all the pizazz of a perky cheerleader.
Except – it’s still the middle of Winter, we’re still in a season of hibernation and internal reflection. That morning run you swore you’d take every day seems so much more difficult when it still looks like the dead of night outside. That resolution to hit the gym feels more like a punishment than a chance to improve, and all those business goals you swore you’d have smashed by the end of the month? Hmm, can we get back to you on those?
Stress, pressure and more stress is not the way to start a new year, if you ask me.
So, how would I suggest you enter into this brand new month, year and decade? S-l-o-w-l-y! Getting clear on what you want doesn’t happen overnight – and it especially doesn’t happen between 31st December and 1st January. There’s no flick of a switch that will change your mindset and suddenly relieve you of all stress.
‘What lessons did you learn?’
Go easy on yourself; move slowly, move mindfully, reflect on the previous year. What lessons did you learn? What were you proud of? What are you ready to leave behind and what are you determined to move forward with? At this stage, reflecting and questioning ought to be top of your to-do list (with very little below it). Don’t sign up for the gym, open a savings account and change your diet overnight; you’re highly unlikely to stick to it all leaving you feeling like a failure before we’ve even hit February. And yep, you’ve guessed it; even more stressed. And that stress can stop you from getting the clarity of mind you need to focus upon the year ahead and reaching your goals – whatever they may be.
If you’re looking to increase your activity levels, why not try yoga, swimming or even a simple walk in nature? Wrap up warm, grab the dog’s lead and get into the great outdoors. Fresh air and simple reflection can do so much more good than a stuffy gym you don’t really want to be in. Perhaps consider introducing meditation into your daily routine. It’s a great way to start the day, setting a tone and intention that can be carried throughout the day, week, month and beyond – all without adding too much stress on the body and mind.
‘Don’t try to eradicate every bit of salt and sugar overnight…’
Diet is often a big priority for us in the new year too but, again, take it slowly. Don’t try to eradicate every bit of salt and sugar overnight – but perhaps reduce the amounts you’re using, cut down on your caffeine intake or try to lower your nicotine consumption. If you are ready to take on more of a commitment, why not opt for a campaign like Dry January or Veganuary? The nationwide support and the sheer number of people taking on the challenge will help you to feel less isolated and more empowered.
Finally, start to consider the year ahead; what do you want to achieve? What small steps can you begin to put in place that will help you to get there without your body and mind suffering as a result? Remember, slow and steady really does win the race.