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3 gifts to give yourself at Christmas

Discover three simple ways to stay calm, centred and in control


This time of year can feel quite pressured. Not only are there deadlines at work but there's a host of things to get done in our personal lives, as we prepare for the holiday.


And whilst Christmas can be a time of joy and laughter, they can also bring unresolved family issues and unspoken expectations.


For this reason, we've been exploring ways to remain centred and cope well in recent drop-in meditation sessions.


We have discovered how many breaths we take in 90 seconds, to be able to respond rather than react, and learned the power of an ABC Check-in. I share them both here together with how to create a Recharge Plan.


A young woman holding a christmas present close to her chest

Image Kira Auf Der Heide, Unsplash

1. A 90-second pause

When I was young I was told to count to 10 before I blurted something out or lost my temper. Perhaps you were too.


My parents knew that this pause would save me from saying something I might regret and, save them from dealing with a full on meltdown or arguement. What they probably didn’t know was why it worked.


If we can pause when we sense ourselves becoming annoyed, frustrated or upset, we can ride out the flood of hormones surging through the blood stream, keep the rational thinking part of the brain on and choose the best way to respond.

How?

According to neuro-anatomist Jill Bolte-Taylor the chemical rush associated with an emotion lasts around a minute and a half.

For 90 seconds you can watch the process happening, you can feel it happening, and then you can watch it go away.

But how do we know when 90 seconds has passed? The answer is to substitute your breath for a timer.


If you know how many breaths you take in 90 seconds, you can pause, breathe and allow this emotional wave to rise and fall without getting swept away by it.


I take on average 18 breaths in the space of a minute and a half.


Action: Take a moment now to count how many breaths you take in a minute and add half as much again so that you are ready when you feel an emotional surge.


When to use it

You want to use the 90-second pause, as soon as you notice you're becoming unsettled inside.


We all can sense internal changes that indicate a change in emotional state. What do you notice when frustration or annoyance strikes? What are your personal signs that it’s time to ride the wave.


Frustration for me creates a tightness in my chest, my throat might constrict, my jaw clamps, I get hot and I have an urge to raise my voice.


Tip! Practice the 90 second pause in situations of minor frustration to begin with. If it helps, leave things in prominent places to remind you to do it. Soon you'll have developed the habit of pausing when you notice yourself getting wound up with yourself, others or situations.


Note: Sometimes the wave takes longer than 90 seconds to pass through, this is when the ABC check-in becomes useful.

The ABC check-in

As this time of year has a different rhythm to the rest of the year life can feel full-on as we squeeze gift buying, guest preparations and going out into our already busy daily lives.

Racing from one thing to another, we might not notice a dip in mood and, therefore, miss opportunities to help ourselves regain a sense of balance.

The ABC check-in offers a way to review how we're doing and then consciously choose how to be or what to do next.

How?

Step 1. Acknowledge

Take a few moments to turn inwards and note your current experience. Allowing it all to be, just as it is, no need for judgement or analysis.


Observe how things are with you. Noting and describing what’s on your mind, any body sensations, how you are feeling or general mood.


  • "Judging, judging"

  • "Stomach glenching"

  • "Frustration is here"


We are not looking to change our experience. We are not doing anything, other than noticing how things are for us. Simply being with and being curious about our current experience.


Step 2. Breathe

Next, deliberately drop the attention out of the head (where mental talk is) and into the body. If you are comfortable doing so find where the breath can be sensed.


You might notice the touch of the breath in and around the nose, the chest and shoulders rising with an inhale and falling with an exhale or, you might feel the lower abdomen expanding with the in-breath and contracting with the out-breath.


Locate the breath and anchor your attention there.


Rest with the breath for 12 inhale-exhale cycles.


An alternative to your breath is feeling where the feet make contact with the floor.


Step 3. Choose

The final step prepares us to focus outward again.


Consider and choose how you wish to reconnect with your day.


If what has triggered an ABC check-in is an uncomfortable emotion then it's likely that a need is not being met or a boundary is being crossed. Ask yourself what you need or what useful/supportive action you might take next.


When to use it

The ABC check-in can be done in as little as 30 seconds or as long as 30 minutes, expanding the mindful breathing section to suit.


I punctuate my day with this practice. I do an ABC check-in every time I wash my hands and at times of transition. For example, when I switch my computer on in the morning, when I stop for food or drink, when I complete a task, end my working day and before I go through the front door of a workplace or when I come home.


I know others who do it between meetings, when they get in a lift, cross thresholds or get in and out of their car.


You can make it something you do throughout your day and you can use it to pause and gather your thoughts, if someone/something unsettles you or if things start to feel frantic/overwhelming,


A recharge plan

Our usual routine gets disrupted during December as we tend to socialise more, sleep less and eat differently. Without planned recharge and rest points, we can soon start to feel out of sorts.


REST is a mnemonic I teach in my mental wealth management course to remind people how to balance their mental, emotional and physical energy during busy periods.


Review your outgoings, your commitments over the period

Evaluate pinch-points or over-commitment

Schedule activities that will recharge you

Take care not to give time away


It can be applied to both our work and personal lives.


How?

To do all that we wish to during the festive period, we have to proactively balance the outputs with inputs.


It all starts with an intention to maintain a sense of balance. A way to do this is to not agree to do anything until you have given yourself a chance to consider how it will impact your energy and what you are already committed to.


One thing I tend to say a lot during this period is “that sounds good. I’ll have a look at the diary and get back to you,” which gives me the opportunity to reflect on whether it fits with my balance plan.


Next identify what you must do and what you would like to do for yourself or others. Then consider how these activities fit in the time available and how they might impact your energy.


Now decide what’s realistically achievable and what might need to become a could-do rather than a must-do.


Tip! The time that isn't allocated is not spare time! It is valuable rest and recharge time.


Think of ways to use unallocated time in a restorative way. Then plan recharge actions into your schedule. In other words, ring fence that time!


Below are things I do to relax and recharge.

  • Cooking (alone)

  • Eating simply

  • Going to bed early

  • Getting some fresh air

  • Having a bath

  • Listening to music

  • Meditating

  • Not driving

  • Not drinking alcohol

  • Reading a book

  • Staying away from tech

  • Stretching exercises

  • Taking a nap

  • Taking a walk

  • Tidying a drawer

  • Watching a film/TV show


It is good practice to have a variety of things to choose from, some things that energise you, some that boost your mood and others that help you relax.


Action: Jot down 7 activities you know help you relax or recharge in a place you can refer to over the Christmas break.


When to use it

If you know the festive period is going to be demanding, now is the time to start thinking about how you can support yourself.


The earlier you review what’s coming up, the sooner you can schedule recharge and rest points, as well as begin to boundary your time.


We can give ourselves these three gifts at any time but they are likely to be especially beneficial at this time of year.


Take care of you.


This article was originally written in 2018. It was updated December 2023.

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