Despite it being a holiday, Christmas often brings increased stress due to the weight of expectation placed upon it. We want Christmas to be a happy time and when it falls short of our ideals we end up frustrated, sad or full of self doubt. If you find yourself succumbing to Christmas anxiety, try the simplest calming technique: breathing.
Our breathing is deeply connected to our mental, emotional and physiological states. When we’re stressed, our breathing becomes shallower and more rapid. When we consciously slow our breathing, we can start to reduce our stress. We send a message to our body that we’re okay, that it can stop releasing stress hormones. Taking control of our breathing also sends a message to the mind that you’re in control of the situation, rather than the situation being in control of you.
If we slow our breathing down, we will feel calmer.
If we speed our breathing up, we will feel more exhausted and edgy.
When not stressed, most people breathe in for around two seconds, and out for about the same.
Step One: Breathe in for four seconds.
Step Two: Breathe out for four seconds.
That’s it! If you continue to breathe this way, you will start to feel calmer. If this feels too slow, then try for three seconds to begin with. If four seconds doesn’t feel much different to normal, try six seconds in and six seconds out. Counting the seconds in your mind is most helpful, as doing this also temporarily stops you from continuing to stress out – your attention is redirected to the present by counting. The stress caused by an unwanted situation is usually made much more intense by what we tell ourselves about the moment – continuing to think about how angry that comment made you long after it was said, planning responses you’ll never actually use, rehashing the moment in our memory, having mental rants about how ungrateful people are, et cetera. Focussing on your breathing helps you connect to what’s actually happening rather than your mental dialogue about the situation.
The focus of attention on the present moment means that slowing your breathing down is actually a great way of appreciating lovely situations too. No counting here, it’s just about acknowledging ‘hey I’m in a good place!’ and exploring the feeling of just how nice it is, rather than thinking about getting the camera/ who else needs to hear about this/ wishing for more situations like this one.
When you first start to practice slowing down your breathing, it is easiest to be somewhere quiet, so you can concentrate. Once you’ve done it a few times, you’ll be able slow your breathing anywhere. You can slow your breathing whenever you are in situations that cause you distress of any kind and it will help you to manage your distress. Slowing our breathing is a completely portable calming technique that can be used anytime, anywhere.
Wishing you a relaxed Christmas!
Lana Hall, Psychologist. Helping you to live your best life, using the power of psychology.