7 tips for creating a ‘mental breakout space’ this Christmas

With the big day just over a week away, now’s the time to plan a mental breakout space for yourself, writes Anna Bartter.     

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to have a house full of people this Christmas. I love to host, and with little ones racing around excitedly and everyone needing a drink refill every five minutes, it’s going to be hectic. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but as a highly sensitive person, I know that I’ll need time out, both mentally and physically. With this in mind, we’ve been asking the experts for their tips on carving out some mental and physical space for yourself this festive season. 

Why is time out important?

“Carving out some space for yourself is so important, especially at times when you are in the midst of many people and things that can drain your mental, physical and emotional energy,” explains chartered psychologist and author Kate Oliver. “If you don’t make the time and space to take care of yourself and replenish your energy, you will start to experience signs of strain. And when we are under strain, we become less tolerant, less emotionally resilient and less able to connect with those around us.”

We all know how easy it is for family members to become short-tempered over the holidays, especially after a couple of pretty miserable Covid Christmases, so this year the stakes feel particularly high, and emotions tend to follow.“When we’re feeling stressed, our relationships suffer,” explains Oliver, “which, in turn, puts us under more stress – and it can become a vicious cycle until we are exhausted and/or ill. We’re then prevented from enjoying the holidays we have so looked forward to.”

So, when life is more hectic and challenging we need to find ways to chill out – fast. 

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How can we carve out time for ourselves?

“When things are busy, it’s even more important for us to make time and space to do the things that enable us to access feelings of calm, peace and contentment,” advises Oliver.

But over Christmas, this can feel impossible. The good news is you don’t have to set aside a chunk of time to be able to do this. “Carving out small pockets of time each day can actually be more helpful for regulating your nervous system and [leave you] feeling more relaxed than a whole day off can,” advises Navit Schechter, therapist and founder of Conscious & Calm. “It can often be easier to achieve as well. Planning this for first thing in the morning and/or last thing at night can make it easier to remember to take this time for yourself, and you’ll feel calmer for it.”

Try a morning practice

Oliver agrees that some morning planning can go a long way towards setting your day up right. “A great way to channel some inner calm is through integrating some morning practices into your day,” she says. “These are things you do when you first wake up, before you are pulled into all the demands of the day. Start by allowing yourself 15 minutes just for yourself to do some things to care for yourself at the start of your day.”

This can be as simple as taking a couple of minutes to sit calmly when you first wake up and simply focus on your breathing (just ignore the kids tearing into their stockings).

“Scheduling in five minutes in the morning or evening, to do something that you find relaxing – carrying out a short meditation, writing in your journal or doing a short breathing exercise – can all help you to feel calmer,” says Schechter. “Think of it as charging your relaxation battery; it can be easier to reconnect with feelings of calm when you need to if you’ve been regularly taking these short pockets of time out for yourself, so you can access them next time you’re feeling overwhelmed.”

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Set your intentions

Once you’ve practised some breathwork, think about your day and set some positive intentions. “Think about what would make the day really great for you,” suggests Oliver. “What is most important to you about the day ahead? It’s a good idea to write these intentions down, as we know that people who write down their intentions are more likely to see them through. Finally, reflect on what you can do to take care of yourself and rebalance your energy during the day.”

I know that I’m far more productive and calmer when I have scheduled breaks, so I know I’ll need to plan some mental breaks in – particularly when hosting. Everyone has their own way of accessing a moment of calm, from taking a short nap to spending 10 minutes quietly reading or even doing an activity such as sewing.

“Choose to make time for whatever you know works for you and helps you feel calmer and at peace,” advises Oliver. “Remember that self-care is actually a social act. By spending a few minutes on yourself, you will be better able to show up again as the person you want to be for those around you.” 

Get outside

It may not seem like much, but just stepping outside for even just a few moments can help you to reset. “Getting out for a walk is a great way of creating physical and mental space,” says Schechter. “Walking anywhere in the fresh air can be helpful, but spending time in nature can be even more invigorating, whether that’s a walk at the beach, in the woods or local park.”

The simple act of walking can be incredibly beneficial, as psychotherapist Fiona Yassin explains.“Walking can be really good to bring you back into the moment,” she says. “When we walk and put one foot in front of the other, we are stimulating both sides of the brain in a process called bilateral stimulation (BLS), which can feel soothing for some. Many people find repetitive activities such as cross stitch or crochet to be calming, while others find being in motion by sitting on a swing or rocking can help bring them into the present moment.”

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Take a breather

This is something you can do almost anywhere, from peeling the vegetables to while you’re in the shower. “Try to breathe softly, slowly and gently, allowing your breath to flow down into your stomach and then out again,” recommends Oliver. “You might find it helpful to count to four as you breathe in and count to four as you breathe out. You can also use this breathing exercise at various points in the day, to help calm and steady your body and mind, whenever you are starting to feel a little stressed.”

Be mindful

If all else fails and you’re on sprout duty all day, try weaving some mindfulness into the food prep. Think about how the vegetables feel in your hands, how warm the water is as you wash up, and really notice the taste of that mince pie in your mouth. Small, snatched moments of calm might be all you need to be able to enjoy and be fully present this Christmas. 

Images: Getty

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