Mindful body tips to ease the festive season stress

Noa Belling
Noa Belling

Somatic psychologist and author of “The Mindful Body” Noa Belling gives readers a few quick and easy “matter over mind” tips to get on top of the festive season stresses.

Noa points out that the connection between mind and body is open and two-way. Using simple physical techniques, we can shift our minds into better states that help us to be more emotionally resilient, present and positively connected to others.

1. I’m at the office party; it’s crowded and loud, busy and demanding. I’m feeling tired and overwhelmed

Noa says: “Take a quick break and go for a brief, mindful walk. The movement can be calming and will help you reconnect with yourself. This works because when you drop attention down into your body and away from your thoughts of being overwhelmed, you ground and centre yourself.

“As you walk, think only of being in your body, taking a few deep breaths and notice your feet making contact with the ground. Let go any thoughts about the party and the people. Perhaps, have a bit of a stretch or briefly massage any tense areas you become aware of in your body.

“Actively let go thoughts, so that you can ease the stress and social anxiety that is perpetuated in our minds. Dropping attention into our bodies in a supportive, nurturing kind of way can promote feel-good hormones to help you feel more comfortable. It can also free your brain to think more clearly.

“When consumed by feelings like anxiety, stress or annoyance, our brains become hijacked by these feelings, limiting our access to the mature, intelligent parts of our brain. So when we return to the party we can be calmer, clearer and more ready to connect.”

2. It’s one of those mandatory family festive gatherings and I am feeling defensive and hostile because I have unresolved tension with a family member

Noa says: “Pause to use self-supportive touch such as placing a hand or even just a couple of fingers on your chest or over your heart. This can be a tangible reminder of compassion that you can direct as you choose. Assisted by the release of oxytocin through touch, which ignites feelings of nurturing and care, you will be reminded to take care of yourself.

“You might even feel inclined to extend kindness and care to others too because oxytocin also inspires this.

“All tensions can ease to some extent given a little time. You may not feel like you have enough time in the moment, but just a pause to centre back in your heart, perhaps with a few good deep breaths, can also give you more resources to decide how to respond. You might find the patience to wait out a heated moment.

“It can also soften and open your mind to think beyond the fight, flight or freeze animalistic survival modes to choose whether it is wiser to confront or back away in this situation.”

3. I have over-indulged. I am feeling guilty and downhearted. I didn’t stick to my health commitments and my holiday plan. I am ashamed of myself and feeling like I just can’t get this right.

Noa says: “Feelings of shame, self-criticism, inadequacy and guilt can have the same effect on us as trauma. They can cause us to freeze up inside. Then when we succumb to feeling down, helplessness and hopelessness descend.

“The effect on our brains is to cut us off from our ability to see a bigger picture and to access higher level thinking like rationality, creativity and insight. The effect on our bodies is to keep us in a state of energy depletion, perhaps lethargy that can be demotivating. So in one word, you are stuck, and what you need to get unstuck.

“One effective way to do this in the short term is through physical movement or exercise. Moving our bodies gets oxygen and blood flowing to wake up and energise body and mind. Make time for a walk, run, swim, cycle, yoga class or whatever you prefer.

“Any of these options can build your sense of personal strength with a boost of feel-good motivation too. It reminds you that you can make it through this time and if you have slipped up with your healthy habits, it can motivate you to simply get back on track.”

4. I am feeling mentally and physically exhausted due to the demands of holiday activities. I am out of touch with myself because of all the socialising and attending to others' needs.

“Set aside even a small amount of time each day for you to do something that feeds your body and soul. Even half an hour or an hour a day can do the trick.

“Focus on doing something you love and something your body needs, whether that is activity or rest.

“Make a priority of going to the gym, yoga class, reading in your favorite quiet place, meditating, gardening or being creative in your own favourite way. Go with whatever feeds you.

“We all need this kind of time, no matter the season. Sometimes busy and demanding times cause us to disconnect from ourselves, our feelings and our needs, which is what can cause exhaustion every bit as much as late nights and social over-exertion.”

Noa also advises that in times of festive season stress we reach out to trusted friend or loved one who will be able to talk sense and remind us of our worth.

“Humans are social animals, hardwired to respond favourably to genuine care from others that can open our hearts and help us think more calmly and clearly. For this we need to be willing to reach out to our special people when we may need to. Make the call or set up a visit or a walk together for support to get back on track.”

These practical strategies for managing festive season stress are adapted from “The Mindful Body” by Noa Belling, which is published by Penguin Random House SA and Rockpool Publishing internationally.

“ The Mindful Body”, a book about building emotional strength and managing stress with body mindfulness, is available in bookstores and online.