Hibernating and over-indulging have their place in the winter timetable, but, if you want to boost your wellbeing, so does doing something. Abi Jackson rounds up five festive spirit-lifters.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a ‘buzz’ word in the world of wellbeing lately. From yoga gurus to mediation masters, all the experts are evangelising about how to improve your mental and physical state and lower stress by learning to be more present and in the moment and to fully engage your senses; that is, to be more ‘mindful’.
It might sound a little too New Age to some but, fancy words aside, mindfulness is really very simple. It’s all about really embracing the opportunities around you. Slowing down, switching off the ‘distracted’ button, and allowing yourself the chance to savour something.
Despite the added stress Christmas can bring, the festive season is actually a great time to practice this mindfulness, and boost your wellbeing in the process.
“Being more mindful is almost too easy,” says Steven Tromans, a hypnotherapy and NLP expert and founder of Justbewell (www.justbewell.com). “All you need to do is become aware of what is going on through your senses. So when you’re really engaged in the activity, allow your mind to go a little quieter and then really use your eyes to see what’s going on around you.
“Notice the colours, the shapes, the 3D-ness of the environment. Do this for a while and then switch awareness to another sense. Really take in the smell of your environment, whether it’s the lavender in an oil-burner, the warm smell of baking, the freshness of the air when you’re ice-skating.
“Do this for a while, then listen to what’s going on - the sound of wrapping paper being folded between your fingers, children laughing on the skating rink...
“Any activity can become more enjoyable when you’re in the moment. The pathway to this is not through ‘thinking’; it’s through becoming as fully absorbed as possible in your sensory experience of the here and now, and it’s much easier than you think.
“Treat it as a game; it may well be a lot more fun than you imagine...”
There’s something magically movie-like about winter ice-rinks. Just picture yourself gracefully gliding around the rink, hand in hand with your friend or beloved, laughing merrily at the sheer joy of it, warming up with a steaming mulled wine afterwards... Now go and do it! Ok, so in reality it’s probably going to be a far clumsier scene, but it’s a great chance to reconnect with your inner child and have some festive fun. Even if you do come home with a few bruises, you’ll hopefully be glowing with endorphins too. In addition to leaving you high on the feel-good factor, as personal trainer George Coote (www.coote-fitness.co.uk) points out, ice-skating is also a good form of exercise and can help improve co-ordination and balance.
“You’ll notice ice-rinks popping up all over the place [in winter],” he says. “Take the opportunity to try something new, and it’s a great work-out, toning your legs, bum and abdominals due to the instability of being on the ice.”
“If the snow comes down, don’t just send the kids off to play - get out there and do some sledging as well,” suggests Coote. “You’d be amazed at how much energy you use up running up a snowy hillside and sliding down on an old dinner tray. No one said that exercise can’t be fun.”
Indeed; great fun - and cheap! Plastic sledges aren’t too pricey, or just improvise with a large cooking tray or sturdy bin liner. Of course, it goes without saying that you should only sledge in a suitable spot; a safe, open area which doesn’t run into any roads, fences or walls.
But a memorable family day out - that’ll get all your hearts pumping - needn’t cost lots of money. All you need is a little imagination, a sense of adventure, some warm gloves and boots, and off you go.
When the temperatures plummet, it’s easy to moan and groan about the weather, with that spot on the sofa becoming ever more tempting. Granted, we had a great summer and Britain in bloom looked glorious. But the great outdoors is a thing of beauty during winter too - you just have to get out there and appreciate it. When the nights draw in early, trudging to the gym might be very unappealing, but an afternoon walk is a great way of factoring in some daily exercise and getting some oxygen into your lungs. Whether you live in the town or countryside, there’s always a route nearby (check out www.ramblers.org.uk and walkit.com), and the great thing about walking is that it can be as strenuous or moderate as your fitness levels allow. “Don’t let the winter blues interrupt your ability to stay fit; make your winter activities count,” says Coote. “Why not go for a walk over the Christmas period with the family? Add short bursts of jogging every minute, to raise the heart rate and get the blood flowing. It’s great for the heart and lungs and will burn the few extra calories you may have consumed over the festive season.”
Even a gentle 15-minute stroll could significantly reduce stress levels in the run-up to Christmas.
The Great British Bake Off effect is still in full swing, with baking officially enjoying an ongoing revival. It’s no surprise really - fans of baking have long sung its praises as a rewarding and stress-relieving pastime, and in today’s ‘hectic’ world, retreating to the peaceful haven of the kitchen, pummelling your frustrations into a ball of dough or batter has never been so appealing. If you’re a baking beginner, the festive season is the perfect opportunity to get involved; mince pies and Christmas cake taste much better made with love.
While Mary Berry and co might make it look easy, banish thoughts of being a domestic goddess and leave the competition for TV contestants. In real life, the joy is in the doing, not the winning. Just savour the opportunity to forget whatever else is going on in the world and engage your senses in the process - this is what mindfulness is all about. Hopefully, as your sponge rises, so too will your spirits. (If your flans fall flat though, remember that’s still something to laugh about!)
:: Gift wrapping
Wrapping that mound of presents is often a dreaded chore. But, approached in the right way, there’s no reason it can’t be turned into an enjoyable event and a chance to unwind. It’s all about making an occasion of it.
First of all - STOP worrying about whether you’ve spent enough/too much. Nobody ‘needs’ to spend a fortune at Christmas, and nobody ‘needs’ the ‘best’ gifts. A gift is just that - a gift! And the giving and receiving, if you cut the other stress we’re coerced into creating around it, should be a positive thing. Once that’s done, why not set aside an afternoon or evening for your wrapping? Light a scented candle, put some music on (festive or otherwise), pour yourself a glass of wine or a mug of hot chocolate, and give the job in hand your full attention. Even an hour or two of your undivided attention could turn this annoying task into something far more rewarding.