While Christmas is regarded as a time for relaxation, fun and festivities, few escape the stress involved in the run up – either at home or work.
In the workplace, many projects are scheduled to complete at the turn of the calendar year, and are just reaching fever pitch.
And at the same time, we ramp up the pressure on our working life with invites to work parties, visits to school shows and extra requests for annual leave.
Then of course there are the strains at home: the planning, the present buying – and the family politics. Phew!
Manage Christmas stress with mindfulness
It’s easy in stressful situations to react in negative ways. But there are other strategies you can use to manage these effects and one of them is by practising mindfulness.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) was first developed by the godfather of modern mindfulness Dr Jon Kabat- Zinn in the 1970s. He defines mindfulness meditation techniques as “paying attention, on purpose, in the moment and non-judgmentally”. Then in the 1990s his ideas were developed by Zindel Segal, John Teasdale and Mark Williams into mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
Its practices have been proven to help train the brain to deal with real modern-day issues – by large corporations such as Google, eBay, Apple, Virgin, IKEA, Sony and Transport for London.
We can all train our brains to be more “in the present” and therefore sharper, more alert, calm under pressure. The principles allow us to be much more aware of ourselves and our reactions, whilst the practices literally strengthen the brain, enabling it to be less reactive to stressors – such as Christmas.
The science behind the techniques
Under pressure, we unconsciously activate the fight/flight/freeze response. This was fantastic ten thousand years ago, when we often needed to escape from real, physical danger. Unfortunately we still activate it now as a result of psychological pressure e.g. when a deadline is looming, or if we think we are about to lose a contract.
Brain scans of people who have been under pressure and working long hours for a period of years are very revealing. They show enlarged amygdalae (the parts of the brain that react to stress) and weak connections between areas in the prefrontal cortex that soothe the amygdala response.
Stress chemicals take over the higher brain, responsible for strategic thinking, future planning and decision-making. It can affect the body in other ways too by suppressing the digestive system, disturbing sleep patterns and affecting the immune system. If we continue to operate at high stress levels without coping strategies, then we become increasingly reactive to stressors.
The ABC of mindfulness
Science has shown that just 30 hours of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) practice dampens the activity of the amygdala by up to 50%, meaning the brain is less reactive to stress.
Luckily, navigating the heavy workloads around this season can be really helped by following the ABC principles!
A – stands for acceptance and awareness and has to be number one.
Awareness – how are you feeling about the workload? Does it tire or energise you? What thoughts are you running about it – positive or negative?
Accept – that you have a period of intense work to do. If you can’t change it, don’t waste energy railing against it.
B – stands for being in the moment and balance.
Being – are you focused on your tasks, or distracted? Work on one task at a time to improve focus.
Balance – being aware of your needs, and acting to ensure they are met, means you can stay in balance. Remember you can choose your state. No one can make you feel, or do anything unless you let them. So decide how you want to be and decide what you want to do. Be quietly, calmly assertive. Take charge of yourself, your state and your decisions.
C – stands for choosing compassion, kindness and curiosity.
Choose – how you handle pressurised situations, and manage your staff effectively.
Be compassionate and kind – recognise that during periods of intense work, you need to take regular breaks in order to maintain peak performance. It is about working smarter, not harder. Take the time to ask “What do I (or my staff) need to do to rebalance, and get back to top performance?” Pushing through DOES NOT work!
Follow your ABC and you might find yourself enjoying a calmer Christmas this year. And if you have any mindfulness tips that you use, do share them below.
The mindfulness programmes we run at BiteSize include short courses with downloadable resources and email follow ups. Find out more about our courses here and if you’d like to know more about our six part mindfulness at work series we’re developing, please drop us a line.