Pre-Festive Anxiety, and how to stay calm

christmas anxietyBudgets, finding the ‘perfect’ gifts, feeding the family, and making sure everybody is happy. Does anyone else feel short of breath yet?

Yes, the festive season can be magical. But when you are carrying the responsibility of bringing that magic for others, it can be nothing short of nerve-wracking.

It’s okay for Mrs Claus; she has the other 11 months of the year to recover from the last one, and get prepared for the next one. But for the rest of us, we are already pretty maxed out from the normal, day-to-day responsibilities. Christmas can be the glitter-covered straw that breaks the wise man’s camel’s back.

So let’s take a look at what you can realistically do to keep calm and stay on track. Hey, perhaps we can even get you enjoying the seasonal magic for yourself once again!

From conversations with clients and some other coaching colleagues of mine, here are a few of the best practical tips I have.

  1. Delegate

The number 1 thing I notice in overwhelmed people, mothers especially, is that they are in the habit of doing everything themselves. Sometimes this is because they feel that they have to. And other times this is a perfectionism-based behaviour.

You know that old saying, “If a job is worth doing, do it yourself.”
Well, I personally think that saying is out of date and needs to be left in the past.

It is not realistic to try and do everything yourself. So your challenge here is to let go a little and ask for some help. Your partner, friend, brother, sister, or even your kids can be on your ‘Christmas Team’, and help you with some little jobs here and there.

Let some things go. It doesn’t all have to be perfect!

  1. Start as you mean to go on

Okay, this is another old saying. But I’m on board with this one, and here’s why. This is all about how you start each day – and especially the days that are going to be busy and full of jobs to be done.

When you wake up and instantly start fretting about everything you have to do, you set yourself up for a day of anxiety and exhaustion. You fill up on coffee and sugar, bowl into your to-do list, and feel tired and emotional by lunchtime. Is this sounding familiar?

So, how can you ‘start as you mean to go on’? My top tip here is to address your own needs before touching your to-do list. Rather like how the safety instructions on a flight are to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others, because you can’t help others if you are starved of oxygen.

So, wake up, hydrate, eat something ‘proper’, and get ready for your day before you start Christmas shopping or Google-searching festive recipes etc.

  1. Locate your ‘off switch’ and use it daily

At the end of your very busy day, when you climb into bed, you deserve a good sleep. However, knowing how the human mind works, this is likely to be the time when your anxious brain starts writing virtual to-do lists and overthinking.

There is a very simple hack for this, and it’s called the ‘brain dump’. I know it doesn’t sound very attractive, but I promise it is effective.

All you need is a notepad next to your bed. As you settle in for the night and your mind starts chattering away, note it all down in your pad.

The reason this works is very simple science. Your working memory is where you store things that you need to do very soon. For example, if you go grocery shopping without a physical list, your working memory is the place you go to mentally for remembering what you need.

Research shows that the average adult can hold around 7 items in their working memory at any one time. So it’s no surprise that space gets full – and then what happens? We forget stuff, and we get anxious about forgetting stuff.

The notepad ‘brain dump’ works by taking the pressure off your working memory. You no longer have to hold onto these things mentally. So your mind can relax! This makes getting to sleep so much easier, knowing that your paper notes will be there when you wake up. Time to flick that ‘off switch’ and sleep soundly.

I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped my clients and colleagues. Please remember that you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below!

Where are you right now?

presenceWe tend to think of the millennials as having smart phone addictions and a lack of presence. But last week I had an experience that surprised me.

I went to see a band play at a venue in Brighton. Hearing songs from my youth took me back in time, and I had a wonderful evening just being in the moment.

Now bear in mind that most of the crowd are my age and older, I had expected most people to be enjoying the vibe in the same way that I was. But I was surprised to see hundreds of faces buried in their smart phones. And this was constant – not just during the gap between the support band coming off and the main band coming on. The band were playing, right there in front of us, and most people seemed to be missing it!

So perhaps this cultural obsession with the online world isn’t as generational as I had thought. I started wondering what was going on…

I think that some of this is about the instant feedback we get from social media. We go somewhere interesting, and we post our selfies on Instagram or Facebook. Within seconds, friends are liking and commenting. This instant feedback is a modern form of validation – a psychologist would call this an ‘ego stroke’.

I’m not saying that this is good or bad really, it’s just a human thing that most of us do. But I think there is much more going on here than simply ‘ego stroke seeking’. I think that our smart phone habits have a darker under-belly to them.

My mind wandered back to one of Brene Brown’s books, Daring Greatly, and how she talks about the excessive use of numbing activities. From over-eating to binge-watching TV, many of us prefer a numbing activity or distraction to really being in our lives.

Because the stress in our lives is often dealt with by avoiding, distracting and numbing – perhaps this has spread and infected our happier times too? After all, the more you repeat an action, the more of a habit it becomes. Just like how smoking starts as something you only do with a beer, and then gradually it creeps into your daily routine – perhaps it’s worth taking a moment to consider our smart phone habits from the same angle?

Whether you are reading this on your laptop, tablet, or phone – wherever you are, could you humour me and just pause for a moment? Look up; take a deep breath and notice where you are….

There, that wasn’t so bad, was it? The point I’m making is simply to remember to put your devices down and enjoy the real world once in a while. I completely get the appeal of numbing the bad stuff with an Instagram binge, I really do. But please don’t let it take over your whole world and numb you from the good stuff too.

I want you to enjoy the bands you go to see, smell the roses, and all those good things. Smart phones are useful, and social media can be fun, but it doesn’t need to be your whole world. There is more out there!