Zoryna O’Donnell writes about taking care of yourself this festive season.

Christmas and New Year festivities are upon us again. We are looking forward to this time of the year with a lot of excitement and possibly some dread? Yes, you read it right the first time – dread. Despite all the joy of time off, celebrations and presents, we are also aware of all the stress and pressures associated with it, particularly now, when we have our second festive season under the black cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many, December is the busiest time of the year. Financial pressures and work load can pile up. The calendar gets filled with social commitments, the routines that normally keep us healthy and happy (gym or yoga class, morning runs, healthy home-cooked meals, a meditation practice) are usually the first things to be abandoned.

YOU have the power!

In addition to increased pressure, eating poorly and drinking excessively can also exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety and depression. In fact, almost everyone is stressed out during the holiday season, there is even some scientific evidence that it can literally give you a heart attack.

YOU have the power to take care of yourself so that your festive season is even more enjoyable and relaxing. I offer you my top tips: 

Be realistic and let go of SHOULDs

The holidays don’t have to be perfect or ‘just like other years’. As families change and grow, traditions and rituals often change as well. Choose a few to hold on to, and be open to creating new ones. Learn to say ‘No’ – Taking on too much, creating endless ‘To Do’ lists and filling up your diary will only stress you out.

Ask for help when needed!

Despite what you may think, people can’t yet read your mind and volunteer their help when you need it. Don’t wait until you are exhausted and seething inside – ask for help from the start and notice what a difference it will make.

Identify your triggers

Learn to become more aware of your stressors by taking time to reflect on them. If you are aware of what stresses you out in the first place, you can pause and respond mindfully rather than just react and let the triggers take over. For example, if you know that somebody is going to make an unkind comment about your cooking skills (or anything else) have some options in your toolkit for how to handle it. This does not mean triggers won’t affect you, but you will be in a better position to deal with them.

Control negative thinking

When you notice yourself saying something negative in your mind, you can stop your thought by saying ‘Stop!’ Note every instance of negative self-talk. Replace with positive words. Say “I am enough”. “I give myself permission to relax’ ‘It IS good enough’ etc.

Shake it off / move

Often the anticipation of stress is worse than the stress itself. If you are already worried about the end of the year deadlines or creating perfect holidays for your loved ones, chances are you have unknowingly created patterns of stress in your nervous system. This makes you more reactive and tense. Take a walk, go dancing, get to the gym or a yoga class. Exercise helps relieve tension in the body, which in turn helps to reduce your overall stress response – both physically and mentally.

Keep good posture and strike a power pose

A power pose is simply a good posture;. Stand with your shoulders back and open, as opposed to forward and down. Put your hands on your hips and puff your chest. Chin up! Think Superman or Wonder Woman! Striking a pose is not just pretending, it actually changes your hormones. It decreases the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone in your brain.

Don’t abandon healthy habits

Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. Over-indulgence only adds to your stress and guilt.


Laughter is scientifically proven to improve your response to stress. Short-term, it enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.

Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress. Long-term, laughter helps to strengthen your immune system, relieve pain and improve mood. So, make sure you have a great comedy film or a funny book handy this holiday season.

Reach out

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events in your local area. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others also is a good way to lift your spirits, broaden your social network and create new friendships.

Make room for grief during the holidays if you are missing loved ones

Consider making a place at the table or a shelf with photos, having a moment of silence, or sharing favourite memories of loved ones who are missed during the holiday season. Talk about them. Joy and sadness can coexist in the same time, so leave room for both as much as you need.

Focus on yourself

Spending just 15 minutes alone, without distractions, may refresh you enough to handle everything you need to do. Find something that reduces stress by clearing your mind, slowing your breathing and restoring inner calm.

Check in with yourself right now ! You may find that you are shallow breathing. Take some really deep breaths, breathe in pushing your stomach out, hold for 3 seconds then breathe out and hold for 3 seconds. Tell yourself: “I breathe calm in. I breathe stress out.”  Repeat 3-5 times. Can you feel your shoulders dropping? It feels good, doesn’t it?  Make sure that you check in with yourself at least twice a day between now and 1st January and breathe: calm in, stress out.

You’ll become a personification of calmness in preparation for the New Year!

Practice gratitude

The year end is a good time to reflect back on the past 12 months and be grateful for all the achievements and good things in your life.

There is a growing body of evidence that people who regularly practice gratitude by taking time to notice and reflect upon the things they are thankful for experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems.

There are so many different ways how you can practice gratitude every day. For example, you can start a gratitude journal and add to it every day.

At the end of the year, or any time when you feel low, you can read your journal to remind you about all the good things in your life. You can also tell someone you love them and how much you appreciate them. You can make gratitude a part of family life and share it with each other during meal time. Possibilities are endless!

You may be interested in further reading with expert advice on how to stay COVID-safe during the festive season. Check out The Royal Society of Medicine website or the Seven ways to make your Christmas more COVID-19-safe article on the Which? Magazine website.

Resilience with The Change Maker Group all year!

Regular readers will know that resilience is an integral part of everything we at The Change Maker Group

Without personal resilience. business resilience will be compromised. You are not a different person in and out of working life.

Our resilience guru Vanda North wrote about business resilience in her article Building Business Resilience.

Remember: Gifts are not just for special occasions

That’s right. Both giving and receiving gifts brings us pleasure and creates that warm feeling inside. Gift does not have to be expensive. It could be a smile, a few kind words to other people and yourself, some quality time spent with your family and friends or volunteering for your local charity. It could be a book or an article that you wanted to read for some time, or skills that you always wanted to develop. Whatever it is – enjoy it!

What if…… you gave yourself the gift of resilience not just for this festive season but ALL year as a way of life, adopting  new habits into 2022 and beyond?

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