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How to be kind to your brain at Christmas

Keep Calm and enjoy Christmas

Stress and Frazzle are common this time of year. Linda Ray shares her top ten tips for surviving and thriving this Christmas to ensure you have a Merry Brain-Friendly Christmas.

Be kind to your brain this Christmas and avoid stress and frazzle.

As Christmas approaches and the year draws to a close, many of us will be getting ready to have a breather, top up our energy bank and spend time with family and friends.

The reality though, is this period can often be filled with pressure, dread and stress.

From shopping malls jammed with people with shopper rage, to juggling school holidays with children asking ‘what are we doing today, who are we going to see’, to planning your getaway or that family get together. You somehow become lured into becoming a social convenor, often having to manage an increasing number of challenging situations on top of your already hectic work/life demands.

From flight delays caused by erupting volcanos or snow storms to those sometimes challenging storms of spending time with family members – your dream of holiday ‘fun’ can quickly feel like it is being stolen from you!

So, we thought we would share our brain-friendly festive season tips to help you thrive and survive this Christmas Season.

#1 Make a list before you go to the shops and prioritise your list. This plan will save vital brain power as you try to recall what you went to the shops for and finding you get home and have forgotten to buy that critical present or ingredient for the Christmas dinner.

#2 Find everyday moments of mindfulness. It is easy to be ‘mindless’ in this age of information overwhelm and constant distraction. Research about the benefits of mindfulness consistently demonstrates improvements in concentration, cognitive capacity, health, and wellbeing. As little as 5 minutes a day has shown measurable benefits. It’s important to remember though, that mindfulness isn’t about trying to ‘tune-out’. According to Dr Craig Hassad, it’s about ‘tuning-in’.

#3 Get back to nature. Research suggests that getting into natural environments can be an easy and almost immediate way to improve your mood. I’ll be at the beach and taking time to do some bushwalking. Plan nature sessions as part of your holiday rejuvenation strategy. and aim to continue it into the following year.

#4 Don’t get caught in the trap of future self-predicting. You will never have as much time as your future self-predicts. When you’re trying to decide whether you should do something in the future, attempt to think of yourself doing it now. For example, if you promise to help a friend move house over the holidays or you’re going to do a renovation on your house, imagine it is happening this weekend. Do you have the resources to be able to do it now? If not, chances are you may not have those resources available to your future self. So think hard before committing yourself to things you might regret in the future.

#5 When the family conversation turns to politics, religion or other divisive subjects and the tone turns nasty – have a bunch of topic changes at the ready. Agree to disagree which might be tough because biologically we have a need to be right. Ask yourself is it worth the effort considering we can’t ‘change’ other people; we can only change the way we deal with things ourselves.

#6 Switch-off your devices. Come on you need a break! Put your out-of-office notice on and resist the temptation to keep checking your phone. Don’t take it to bed with you as blue light interferes with your sleep. If you must check emails limit yourself to a specific time and stick to it.

#7 Positively prime your brain. –If you prime yourself that things are going to be awful, then that is where your brain will focus your attention. Confirmation bias kicks in and you will start looking for everything to confirm your prediction that it will be a bad Christmas. On the other hand, be realistic about your expectations, so you don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

#8 Enjoy time with yourself. Research is showing people are uncomfortable being alone for as little as 6 minutes and yet the time we are alone and free from digital devices is where you might have your best idea. Kickass insights often come when we are least expecting them!

# 9 Create certainty – the brain is a prediction organ – let people know the plan beforehand, e.g when the meal will start, the plan for presents, what people need to bring. This will create a calmer atmosphere all-round.

#10 Remember to breathe! When things don’t go as planned and you feel panic or stress starting to set in, take a deep breath (a few if it is a big panic). Breathing has been found to change the state of mind and will calm you down in the moment. When we feel panicked or stressed we tend to hold our breath or breathe shallowly. When you feel the stress rising take a deep breath in and exhale.

Have a merry brain-friendly Christmas everyone!

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