The silly season is upon us once again.

What a mixed bag this time of year can be!

Sometimes no matter how hard we work to create a Christmas free of stress and conflict, the pressure and tension can get the better of us. The past couple of years have been challenging in more ways than we could have possibly imagined, so as you move towards the end of the year you might notice big feelings like grief, fear and anger bubbling to the surface. If you’ve lost someone you love or had a relationship end, Christmas can be a sad and lonely time, and a time of reflecting. If you’re experiencing symptoms of mental illness, this time of year can be particularly unsettling and triggering. All sorts of painful and uncomfortable feelings can bubble up, especially when there are complicated family dynamics involved.

Finding ways to take care of yourself is always important, but particularly so around this time of year. By coming up with a concrete plan you’re taking a preventative approach to looking after yourself.

We’ve come up with a few ideas below to get you started.

Create boundaries

If you’re feeling anxious about spending time with particular people what are some ways that you can create boundaries to protect yourself? Maybe you could limit the amount of time you spend with certain people? Or perhaps plan ahead to take time-out before you reach a point where you feel suffocated, overwhelmed or angry by the people around you. What are your red flags to take a breather and step back?

If you have a pattern of self-sacrificing, it might be worth thinking about how much you’re willing to sacrifice your own needs to take care of other people. Putting limits around taking care of others can bring up feelings of guilt, but not protecting yourself in this way can lead to resentment, burn-out and passive-aggressive feelings. Are there a few small things you schedule in to make sure your needs or preferences don’t fall to the bottom of the list?

Stay connected to what matters most to you

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of end-of-year functions, shopping, food and logistics as we prepare for Christmas Day. As you work your way through your to-do-list consider ways that you can stay connected to the bigger picture. Take time to reflect on what really matters to you. Being with people you love and care about? Slowing down and really giving yourself a proper break? Having a laugh and letting go a bit? Easing up on yourself?

Create space for yourself

This time of year often involves spending extended time with other people. If you’re someone who needs to recuperate by having time on your own, give some thought to ways that you can consciously create space for yourself. Getting outside and connecting with nature can be an effective way of re-energising. Or perhaps you can get the break you need by curling up with a novel, listening to music, heading to a local park or having an afternoon nap.

Use your five senses to bring yourself into the present moment

During hectic periods like Christmas we tend to spend a large portion of our time up in our heads worrying about the future and rehashing the past. When we get swept up by our minds we miss the beauty and simplicity of everyday things like having a good chat or spending time in the sunshine.

One of the most effective ways to anchor yourself in the here-and-now is to tune into your five senses. So when you notice yourself getting carried off by thoughts, bring yourself back to the present moment by deliberately focusing your attention on what you can see, hear, taste, smell and touch. For example, as you’re eating lunch try to notice all of the colours in the room around you, the smell of the food on your plate, the texture and taste of the food as you eat it, the feeling of your body making contact with the chair, the sounds of conversations around you. Soak it all up.

At first, the idea of tuning into your five sense might seem a little strange. Give it a shot though. You’ll experience the world around you in a different, less frantic way. Plus there’s the added bonus of getting a break from the chatter of your mind (and who doesn’t want that?!)!

Have a mindful conversation

How satisfying does it feel when you’re chatting away to someone and you’re both genuinely listening to each other? Try to consciously create mindful conversations with the people around you. Family, friends, colleagues, a stranger in line, the person on the checkout at Kmart. Take the time to slow down and really be there with them as they speak. Be fully present. Notice how it feels to simply listen, without offering advice, or an opinion, or thinking about what you’ll say next.

Calm your mind by calming your breathing

If you notice your buttons being pushed by a particular situation or person, or you just need to pause for a moment, one of the most effective ways to put the breaks on is to focusing on your breathing.

When you become overwhelmed by strong thoughts or emotions your breathing changes. Typically your breathing becomes shallow (you breath from your chest rather than your stomach) and rapid. Some people even hold their breath slightly. These changes disrupt the balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the body. This imbalance then fuels the fight-flight-freeze response and can leave you feeling dizzy, light-headed, confused, tingly, breathless, tense, flushed and nauseous. It becomes hard to think in a rational way – because the part of your brain responsible for thinking clearly has effectively frozen.

There are a number of different techniques you can use to calm your breathing. We’ve created some short audio exercises to walk you through these different methods. Give each of them a shot to see which ones work best for you:

It’s always more effective to learn any new skill under ideal rather than stressful circumstances, so when you first start practising breathing exercises it’s best to do it when you feel relatively calm. To really build your confidence with this skill it’s recommended that you practice for five minutes, 1-2 times daily.

Options for support during the Christmas and New Year period

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, in need of support or just wanting to chat during the Christmas or New Year period, Beyondblue and Lifeline have experienced people ready to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Beyondblue: Ph: 1300 22 46 36

Lifeline: 13 11 14