It’s no secret that the final months of the year are stressful. Our calendars are often filled with social events, our bank accounts take a serious hit from an abundance of gift-giving, our workload often increases as we try to wrap things up before the year’s end, and it can be tempting to lose patience with meddling relatives and loved ones. Rather than finishing up the year feeling stressed, tired, burnt out and irritated, here are 5 Tips to Cultivate Calm in the Midst of Chaos.
1. Be mindful of your time
When your to-do list is never-ending it’s really easy to fall into the trap of multi-tasking in an attempt to be more ‘efficient’. Although it might seem counter-productive, you will actually achieve more by working on one task at a time. Personally, I find this easiest using the Pomodoro Technique, a time management philosophy created in the 1980s by Francesco Crillo. The process is really simple; for each task on your to-do list, set yourself a period of 25-minutes to work with 100% focus on the project at hand and then treat yourself to a 5-minute break. After working through four 25-minute blocks, allow yourself a 15-20-minute break to reset – this is the perfect time to squeeze in a quick meditation practice. After practising single-tasking, you’ll start to notice that you are more productive, the quality of your work will improve and you’ll feel less frenetic in general.
2. Breathe deeply and do it often
Did you know that the simple act of taking a few long, deep, full breaths helps to re-engage your parasympathetic nervous system (your “rest and digest” setting), thus reducing stress? In contrast, when we’re frenetic and busy, our breath generally becomes shorter and shallower which can fuel our feelings of panic. Whenever you find yourself feeling particularly overwhelmed, rushed or stressed, take a moment to stop and take five mindful breaths. Simply inhale through your nostrils, filling up your lungs and expanding your belly, and then part your lips to gently release.
3. Connect with nature
Natural scents and sights have a calming effect on your state of mind. Even though you’re busy, and it might be overly cold or hot outside depending on which hemisphere you live, make it a priority to get outside at least once a day. This could be taking the dog for a walk in the morning, enjoying your coffee in the sunshine, eating your lunch on a park bench instead of at your desk or practising earthing by taking off your shoes and feeling the grass beneath your toes at the end of a hectic day.
4. Be grateful and focus on the positives
Did you know that it’s physically impossible to be stressed and grateful at the same time? This is because our minds don’t actually have the ability to focus on the positive and negative both at once. It can be really easy to forget to be grateful and appreciative, particularly when we’re faced with challenges and stress. Instead, we must work to flex our gratitude muscle regularly to retrain our mind to stop operating from its usual negative bias. Personally, I like to use a technique created by Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology. Before you go to sleep each night, ask yourself, “what went well today and why?”. Record your answers in a journal and notice the instant shift in your mindset. This can also be a great exercise to practice with your partner, children or housemates at the end of each day.
Even just 5-10 minutes of meditation practice each day will help to reduce your stress levels and help you stay calm during one of the busiest times of the year. There are plenty of amazing options online to help you implement a daily meditation practice. My personal favourite is the free Insight Timer app, which offers over 7,000 guided meditations from a wide range of amazing teachers from all around the world (including some of my own of course). Or if you need help with accountability, you might find it useful to attend a weekly class at a local yoga or meditation studio.