Keep Calm, It’s Only Christmas!

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It’s not exactly news that Christmas (or the ever-expanding Festive Season) can be one of the most fun but one of most stressful times of the year. The media has created an insta-perfect image of what Christmas ‘should’ look like.  Think along the lines of a White Company catalogue- decorated tree and table, which is of course heaving with a perfectly-cooked array of Christmas treats, surrounded by happy, smiling families, all wearing ironic Christmas jumpers. Oh and don’t forget the handmade gingerbread house, complete with stained glass windows!

Really? Is that what Christmas is?

And what if your Christmas isn’t?

I’ve already heard people stressing out about Christmas. About having everything ready, and how they’ll cope on the day, what to buy, what to cook. And how on Earth they’ll pay for it all.

It seems to me that it’s all such a long way from the true spirit of Christmas.  So if you’re feeling the pressure of conforming to the ludicrously high expectations we seem to have about Christmas, it’s worth stopping to think, now, about how you could turn the stress dials down.

Last year I was pretty much bed-bound for most of December. I was devastated that I couldn’t even lie on the sofa and watch the kids decorate the tree, let alone get involved. CFS had my nervous system so revved up and my body so exhausted, that the excitement, noise and lights were such an assault on my senses that I lasted about two minutes before I had to take myself back up to lie quietly on my bed. My mum had to help me wrap presents and my husband did all the cooking on Christmas Day.

As someone who absolutely loves everything about Christmas (including the home-made gingerbread house) I had to completely lower my expectations. And guess what, we all had a lovely Christmas. We spent the morning opening pressies on my bed, and I had to leave the table before everyone else to go and lie down, but it was the most relaxed Christmas I’ve had in years. Yes I missed out on the parties and days out. But there’s other years.

And I’m so grateful that this year I’m far better, and, touch wood, hope to be back decorating the tree (if the kids will let me!).  I’m still not likely to be up to the parties, or going with the hubby and kids to London to see the lights – I wish I was, because as much as it’s all a bit far removed from the ‘real’ spirit of Christmas, I’m a sucker for all things glittery and sparkly.   But I can honestly say I’m fine with the fact that I can’t go.   That’s the way it is right now and I can let it upset me or I can choose to be happy about what I CAN do. Which is plenty. I mean, not being able to go to a Christmas party or see a few lights is a seriously 1st World problem, right?

SO HERE ARE MY TOP ‘CALM CHRISTMAS’ TIPS…

These are my three top tips for a calm and happy Christmas – and they’re not your usual ‘make lists’ and ‘be organised’. They basically all boil down to not giving a crap what everyone else thinks:

– VALUES: think about your values and how Christmas fits into those. Depending on how religious or spiritual you are, this might be thinking about the true meaning of Christmas or what this time of year means to you. What’s really important? Is it the perfectly-roasted potatoes and insta-worthy tree? The big pile of presents? Or is it about love, kindness and celebrating life?  Once you’ve worked out what YOU really think is important then keep that in mind with whatever you do. Because if Christmas is really just about love, does it matter if the turkey’s dry or you forget the cranberry sauce?  Do you really care if your table isn’t big enough to fit Great Auntie Pat and all her children around? Can you get some rugs on the floor and have a Christmas picnic?

– GRATITUDE: be grateful for what you have, however little, because there will ALWAYS be someone who would love to have what you have.  I think Christmas has become far too much about the presents. I mean even Jesus only got three!  And was born in a barn… no perfectly decorated house for him with matching plates and serviettes.

See if you can truly just accept and be happy with what you can do and what you can’t – and let the latter go.

– STOP COMPARING: Drop the perfectionist!  (This has been a biggie for me!) Something I’ve really understood recently (from some fantastic people including Faith Canter and her new book Loving Yourself Inside & Out, and Toby Morrison who runs CFS Health) is that we’re all busy comparing ourselves and trying to be like each other!  But it’s pointless – none of us are the same or on the same journey. We have no idea what’s going on behind other people’s facade. The reality is we all aspire to be these perfect people – but they don’t exist. They’re all trying to be like someone else too.  I’ve spent my life comparing myself (unfavourably) to other people and trying to be perfect. It’s exhausting and it’s fake. I’m a million times happier now I’ve decided that I just want to be me.

Keeping it simple, letting go of expectations, consciously enjoying each moment and remembering that, for me, it’s all about feeling the love – that’s the plan I choose for Christmas this year 🎄 💕

Hazel x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do your life choices make your heart sing? What our holidays can teach us…

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Aren’t holidays just the best?  A change of scene, a chance to get away from the usual  busyness of life.  I’m currently feeling blissed out lounging on a swingy chair by the pool in a beautiful spot in South West France on a family holiday.  Hubby and kids are off on a bike ride through the pine forests – which I’d desperately like to join them on but CFS of course has other ideas.  But I can’t complain, I’m having a wonderful week of rest and rejuvenation in the sunshine. Yoga, meditation, floating in the sea and the pool, lying in the sun, relaxing. I’m using my sunbathing time to really rest and recuperate – using things like breathing techniques, meditation, positive affirmations and visualisation to help switch off my brain’s sympathetic response, that fight or flight response that floods the body with stress hormones creating that feeling of stress and anxiety, and instead training my brain to switch on its parasympathetic response – the rest and relax response.  Chronic stress and anxiety keep the brain stuck in a circle of stress response because those stress hormones create a stressed state, which tells the brain that there’s a reason to be anxious, which further causes it to release more stress hormones. So using techniques to help interrupt this cycle is really important.

I’m also finding ways to do something each day that I really want to do, whilst resisting the temptation to do all the other things I also want to do but I know would be to much. So a few strokes in the pool rather than the gliding up and down the pool that I really want to do (and am visualising being able to do in the future!). It’s all about balance.

It’s got me thinking about why it is we love holidays so much. Ok it’s probably fairly obvious for Brits like me – sunshine and warmth on our bodies! The chance to swim in the sea, feel the sand between our toes, slow down and not have our days dictated by the clock. No alarm to wake us up, no work to go to. A change of scene, maybe different activities and sports to try. And time. Life slows down. We can do what we want, when we want.  We wander around with bare feet. No suits and ties constricting us. We spend more time outside. We do things we just wouldn’t normally do at home – like suddenly decide to drive to the beach to watch the sun go down and a storm come in, like we did a couple of nights ago. Not something we do when there’s school and work the next day.

But then the holiday ends. And we go back to ‘real life’. But what if we had a life we didn’t need a holiday from?  What can we learn from our holidays about ourselves and the life we’d really like to be living?  And could we be better at incorporating more of that holiday feeling into our everyday?  I’m not suggesting we then wouldn’t bother with holidays – I think they’re an important part of life as they give us the time and space that can be difficult to find every day. But we can definitely learn from what it is we love about them and do more of it. Which brings me back to the balance I mentioned earlier.

What I’ve realised is that I crave change. I don’t like being in the same place for too long. It can make me feel stagnant. I love being at home but I also know I want to experience as much of this world, and what it has to offer, as I can.  I also am happiest when I’m outside a lot. I love feeling the air on my skin, the sun (even the rain) on my face and the ground under my bare feet. I love being near water. And whilst some routine is good, I also need a break from routine, a chance to be spontaneous and feel free from routine’s shackles.  These are all things I can take home and find ways to include more in my life.  Could I get up early one morning and watch the sun rise? Of course I can!

I also read a beautiful, heartbreaking but inspiring poem this week, which I’ve already shared on my Facebook page (if you haven’t seen it you can find it at –  https://m.facebook.com/myfriendanxiety.blog). It’s about how we take that wonderful wild, free spirit we have as children and mould it into what we believe is ‘acceptable’ and ‘civilised’ behaviour.  We teach children how to pass exams so they can get a ‘good’ job. We make them wear the right clothes (school uniform, polished shoes, later maybe a suit and tie, or high heels to make their legs look longer). We even employ tutors so when they’re not in school we can make sure they don’t get behind or they get into the right school.  We taxi them to this activity and that club – so they have no time to just play and we have no time to play with them.  Is it any wonder that stress, anxiety and chronic illness are so on the increase?

And yes, I’m as guilty of the above as anyone. Which I’m pretty sure has contributed to my CFS. But I’ve been questioning it all for quite some time and am doing so more and more. While I test my seven year old daughter on her times tables in the car on the drive to France (so she ‘doesn’t get behind’) I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing.  Part of me craves upping and moving to somewhere completely different, where my children can learn about their planet through being immersed in it. Where they can run free, make mistakes, learn about life by living it, not by Googling it.

Until then, I’m going to work on bringing more of these things into our lives at home. I’m going to learn how to bring the holiday pace into our daym

So our ‘holidays’ won’t be breaks from ‘real life’ but a part of our lives that we choose to do just to get to experience different places.

Hazel x

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Do more of what brings you joy – why happiness isn’t something you ‘find’, it’s something you create.

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It sounds almost too simple really doesn’t it.  If you want to be happier, do more of what you love!  But when you’re doing something that brings you joy, that you’re so passionate about doing, there’s just no room for anxiety or negative thoughts. Joy and fear just can’t occupy the same space.

There’s no getting away from the reality that anxiety is pretty crap. Yep that’s putting it mildly!  It’s scary, frustrating and can affect your whole life. But I truly believe it’s possible to take charge of anxiety and not let it rule you.  The more I find out about how the brain works, the more I realise that it can be re-trained if it’s fed the right things. And joyful thoughts and feelings are seriously nutritious food for the brain.

In fact, think for a moment about the physical feelings of anxiety – racing heart, shallow breathing, the feeling of adrenalin racing through your body. Now think about how passion and excitement feel – racing heart, shallow breathing, adrenalin coursing through your body. Same physical feelings, very different emotional feelings.  You know how if you want to do something badly enough you can somehow find the courage to do it, even if it scares the hell out of you? That’s because passion can always triumph over fear if it burns bright enough.

Certain types of activity create an almost meditative quality, a quieter joy rather than a fierce burning joy. It’s called being in ‘flow’. It’s no less powerful. Your mind doesn’t wander off, you’re completely absorbed in what you’re doing.  Obvious examples are things like yoga, Tai Chi or even running.  I’ve been doing some painting recently and it’s the same feeling. I always use colours and images that bring me joy – so for me that’s lots of purples, pinks, turquoise, vibrant sunsets, birds, flowers.  Now, if I’m not in a great mood, painting’s one of the things I turn to.

What are your passions? What do you love doing – things that sweep you up and get you so absorbed there’s no room to think about anything else?

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the day to day stuff that ‘needs’ to get done. But what’s really important in life?  Yes, bills need paying, kids need taking to school, dinner needs to be made, but if you really want to do something you can – you have to – create a way.  Because it won’t just happen.  You can search for happiness as long as you like, reading books about how to be happy etc, but I’ve finally come to realise it’s way more simple than I thought.  Create a life you love.  Actually I do take that back, it’s not always simple when you have commitments, but there is always a way.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I heard a story recently about a guy that had an accident and ended up paralysed from the neck down. He couldn’t do anything for himself and relied completely on his wife. She ended up sinking into depression. This wasn’t how she’d envisaged their life. So eventually the husband realised he had to do something – his wife needed him and she needed a life she loved. They ended up travelling the world.

You don’t have to be that drastic of course.  But you can create a life where you do more of what you love. Don’t hold yourself back or wait until something drastic happens to give you that wake up call.  Get up early and watch the sun rise. Start that hobby you’ve always wanted to do.  Whatever it is that ignites that fire of passion in you.

Last weekend I was camping with the hubby, kids and another family – one of my wonderful crazy best mates from Uni days who I’m lucky enough to live just a few minutes from. I knew it’d be a big ask for my still-fragile CFS body but I was so excited and we had an absolute blast.  I love waking up to the fresh crisp air, cooking outside around a fire, letting the kids run wild and getting filthy. There’s an absolute feeling of freedom that brings me huge joy.  Since we got back (I’m writing this four days later) I’ve been physically and emotionally exhausted from doing so much more, even though I thought I was being careful, and I’ve been mostly back in bed, recuperating. And I’ve questioned whether perhaps I shouldn’t have gone as I’d been progressing so well and it feels like a smack in the face to be back feeling crappy again. The anxious thoughts creep back in – what if this time I don’t get better?  But then I look back at the photos of us so happy, chilled out and laughing and I know that I wouldn’t take it back. We need those times of joy. They’re what life’s about.  I’ll never forget that weekend, it’ll always make me laugh thinking about it.  And the more we feed ourselves with those feelings, the more the brain chills out and gets used to that way of responding. It sends messages to our brain that everything is ok.

And my husband will roll his eyes when he reads this blog. It’s only something he’s been telling me for about five years. It took a while – and a huge wake up call – for the penny to drop for me.

I’ll stop blabbering on now and finish with a fab quote a friend shared recently that made me smile:

“The diem ain’t gonna carpé itself.”

What are you waiting for? Go and seize the day, in whatever shape or form you can.

Hazel x