It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but if you’re feeling more frazzled than festive, sophrology could be a lifesaver
With their sparkling lights and garish colours, the Christmas displays in shops have been a not-so-subtle reminder of what’s to come – the holidays are upon us. ’Tis the season to be jolly, but many of us feel more stressed than ever. Regardless of how much time off you’ve managed to negotiate, there are work projects to finish before everyone switches on their out-of-office, plans to make and presents to buy. And if you’re hosting, the pressure to achieve the perfect Christmas can be overwhelming. It’s not surprising that most of us approach the festive season with mixed feelings.
While spending time with extended family is something most of us look forward to, in a poll from last year by the Royal Society for Public Health, 76 percent of 2000 respondents reported that family arguments have the most negative impact on their mental wellbeing during the festive season. Driving long distances, spending more money than usual and negotiating crowds are other common causes of anxiety.
So, how can we minimise our stress levels at this time of year? Sometimes it’s only when our body gives us major signs, such as a panic attack, that we realise we are stressed or have been under stress for a while, but ideally it shouldn’t come to that. Dominique Antiglio, the founder of the BeSophro clinic in London and author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophrology, says that monitoring our breath is key to understanding if we are seriously stressed.
“Three times a day, while sitting down, focus on your breath for one minute, with one hand on your chest and the other hand on your lower tummy. Inhale and exhale normally, and carefully observe the movements under your hands. If you are relaxed, the abdominal hand should be the one that moves. If it is the hand placed on your chest that is moving, you are not ‘belly breathing’, meaning you are probably in a state of stress,” she explains.
Sophrology, a self-help method for stress management that’s popular in southern Europe, offers many tools and strategies to prevent or alleviate tension and anxiety. While it’s still an emerging wellness trend here in the UK, in France, Spain, Belgium and Antiglio’s native Switzerland it is often prescribed by GPs, and many sportsmen and women use the technique to help them overcome nerves and perform better.
Through a series of simple exercises that can be done anywhere, sophrology is an easy and effective way of reconnecting to your breath and clearing your mind of any worries. It has an instant calming effect, making it a great tool to help manage stress levels during the busy festive period so that you don’t lose your sparkle.
“This time of year can be stressful for many reasons,” says Antiglio. “December is a time when we tend to look back on the past year and may feel that we haven’t achieved everything we set out to do. The pace at which we’re living these days makes it feel as if the world is going to end on the 31st of December, and we’re all in this crazy rush to get everything done by the end of the year.
“Then there’s the pressure of having a magical Christmas. We’re reconnecting with family members we may have unresolved issues with and can find ourselves struggling with certain dynamics. So it’s a case of setting your intention – how are you going to manage your experience and how will you make time for self-care? Just setting aside 10 minutes a day to practise a few simple but powerful exercises to bring you back into the present can really change the way you perceive things. Over time, your practice builds up your inner resources and helps you cope with whatever life throws at you.”
In terms of self-care, Antiglio says that in addition to sophrology one of the best ways to feel less stressed and more joyful is to prioritise our wellbeing daily. “During the Christmas break we should allow ourselves to have some downtime – take some days off to engage in a fun activity. In Switzerland, we always go skiing and enjoy some fresh air during the holidays, but whatever it is that helps you recharge, do that.”
Try these simple sophrology exercises at home or on the go
If you’re feeling stressed try… The tratac
Sit on a chair in a relaxed posture, with your eyes open. Raise one of your arms straight out in front of you so that your hand is clenched with your thumb up and level with your forehead. Focus your gaze on your thumbnail, inhale and hold your breath while slowly bringing the thumb towards your third eye. Because both eyes are fixed on the thumbnail, your eyes will cross, which increases the interaction between the left and right brain hemispheres. When your thumb meets your forehead, close your eyes and exhale, relaxing your arms.
If you’re feeling angry or frustrated try… The bag
Imagine putting your negative thoughts in a bag, then use your arms to symbolically crush it, releasing the tension.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed try… The bubble
This follows on from the tratac. While breathing calmly, visualise a bubble around you – think about its size, colour and feel. All the stressors are outside of the bubble and can’t touch you. Feel how peaceful and light you are in this safe space and remain there for as long as you need.
If you’re feeling anxious try… The clearing breath
Close your eyes, unclench your jaw, relax your shoulders, breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, letting the tensions flow away. You can do this exercise sitting or lying down or standing up.
To find out more about sophrology, visit be-sophro.co.uk
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