We all look forward to the Christmas break as a time to relax and re-charge before facing the challenges of a New Year. However, we often start January in anything but a relaxed frame of mind, feeling shattered after the festivities. Here are some ideas to ensure that you really relax this Christmas.
It's cold. It's dark. We're tired from a long year of working and looking after our homes and families. What we all need at this time of year is a great deal of time on the sofa, watching some seasonal rubbish on the television whilst demolishing a large bag of crisps. We'll sleep until noon and then lounge about the house in our pyjamas eating chocolates for the rest of the day. That will help. That will make us feel better, rested, like we've had a break. Right?
It might seem like a tempting scenario, but giving in to your inner sloth over Christmas, far from giving you a good rest, is likely to leave you feeling more tired, as well as listless and generally dissatisfied with your life. Relaxation is not as simple as turning into a couch potato.
Here are some ideas that should help you to greet the New Year in a relaxed, re-charged state of mind:
Take a walk
Moderate exercise will help to give you more energy, help you sleep better, and boost your mood. Note the word moderate. You don't have to train for hours a day. You don't even have to stick to your usual fitness regime. Just don't go comatose over the holiday period! A brisk walk can do wonders, so don't just save it up for Boxing Day. Try to get outside for half an hour a day and your mind and body will thank you for it. If the weather is too grim to contemplate going outside, what about a swim at your local pool, perhaps with a session in the sauna or steamroom afterwards?
Early to bed
It's tempting to stay up late every night over the Christmas period, whether you're going out to parties or staying in with the telly, and to make up for it with long lie-ins the following morning. But even over as short a time period as a week, this could leave you feeling drained. We don't tend to sleep as well in the late morning as earlier in the night, so lie-ins don't really make up for late nights, and most of us can relate to the experience of feeling completely dopey when we don't get up until noon. Of course you can't avoid late nights altogether, but try to pace them. Plan some early nights and try, if you can, to get up at your usual time. If you're lacking in sleep, a short nap mid-afternoon is probably your best option for catching up.
Switch it off!
Have you noticed just how much time we, as a society, spend in front of a screen of one description or another? Whether it's a phone, television, Nintendo or computer, it's unlikely to be helping you to unwind and re-charge. The bright light from electronic screens has been shown to interfere with the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. And although it might feel like vegging out in front of “It's a Wonderful Life” or engaging in a mammoth session on your Xbox is the ultimate relaxing experience, in reality your mind will still be buzzing and chances are you'll find it hard to switch off and go to sleep. The obvious solution is to limit your screen time, and perhaps consider banning all electronic screens an hour or so before bedtime. It may also help to develop a more effective way of switching off your buzzing mind – see below.
Learn to relax properly
Relaxation is an art, as anyone who has ever been told to “just relax” and failed will attest. It's worth spending some time learning how to relax properly. There are lots of techniques and props out there: Meditation to reduce stress, relaxing CDs to listen to, progressive muscle relaxation... If that seems like too much effort, there's plenty of evidence that pleasurable activities like a massage, reading a book and talking to friends (ideally face-to-face) help to relax the brain as well as the body.
Learn to savour the moment
Many of us live life on autopilot most of the time, and Christmas is no exception. We're so busy multi-tasking, so preoccupied with planning tomorrow and mulling over yesterday, that we hardly notice what's happening right now. Trying to live more in the present moment can help us to feel more attuned to our mind and body, to experience our lives more intensely, and to switch off when we need to. How do you cultivate that sort of experience? It's a matter of noticing little moments and trying to minimise distractions. As far as you can, focus on just one thing. If you're listening to Christmas carols, try to really listen to just one song, without doing something else at the same time. If you're indulging party nibbles, pause and focus your attention on really enjoying the taste and texture. If you can concentrate on living your life more consciously while you're awake, chances are you'll sleep better at night.
Having a relaxing Christmas is not something that will come about automatically. Make a bit of an effort to plan your relaxation and you will reap the rewards at the end of the festive season.