7 ways to relax and unwind over the holidays

No matter how you celebrate, the holidays can be a stressful time filled with responsibilities, juggling family and friend expectations, all while making sure you still have the time to enjoy the moment yourself. It can be easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress of Christmas and the New Year, but wouldn’t you like to feel a little more present this year?

a hand holds a wrapped gift with a minecone decoration, a cup of hot chocolate to one side

Whether you are looking for a way to relax ahead of the holidays, treat yourself for being one step ahead of the crowds, or are fighting off a seasonal bug and want to start putting your own well-being first, make this December all about presence, not presents. We share seven ways you can relax, unwind, and enjoy the little moments this holiday season. 

Keeping active – during the cold, wet winter months, it can be tempting to stay curled up indoors under a heavy blanket with a big mug of hot chocolate. We know we should keep being active year-round, but it can be tough to keep our motivation going strong. Staying active isn’t just good for our physical health, it can also have a big impact on our mental well-being. The NHS says physical exercise can help those with mild depression, protect against anxiety, increase our sense of self-esteem, and positively impact our moods.

Each of us should do at least 190 minutes of exercise per week. If you’re worried about fitting in a trip to the gym or your regular fitness classes are cancelled over the holidays, try switching things up and making it a family affair. Go for a brisk walk together with your loved ones, or if you’d rather escape from the chaos at home, extend your regular walk with your dog. Try ditching the car and walking to the local shops or work where possible, or start parking further away to get in a little extra exercise where you can.

Seasonal aromatherapyaromatherapy can be a simple way to de-stress and promote calm at home or as part of your self-care routine. Used through skin absorption or smell, seasonal fragrances can be a good way to stay in the holiday spirit whilst increasing your overall sense of well-being and decreasing stress levels.

Essential oils used in aromatherapy can help assist your body’s natural ability to rest, recover, and heal from seasonal illnesses and stress. Try using peppermint oil to promote relaxation, boost energy, and spread the seasonal scent of candy canes. For a metabolism boost, pine scent can help, or frankincense has therapeutic properties that can help decrease anxiety and stress.

Making me-moments – the holidays may be a time to celebrate with friends and family, but that doesn’t mean you should allow your self-care routine to suffer. Take a look at what you have planned over the festive period and block in some regular ‘me-time’. Going at things full-tilt during every day off you have in the lead up to the holiday may leave you feeling overwhelmed by stress, and underwhelmed by your own sense of holiday cheer and satisfaction.

Find what works for you. Maybe that’s making time for reading, meditating each morning before you start the day, reflecting each evening through a journal entry, or taking half an hour out to try an energising yoga routine. If you’re feeling worn out, don’t push through – take that nap. Instead of giving in and putting on seasonal cartoons, take back the remote and put on your own favourite movie. Don’t wait to find time to take care of yourself – make time for it. When we don’t prioritise our need to relax and unwind, we risk becoming even more stressed, overwhelmed, or starting down the path to burnout.  

Therapeutic laughter – even science agrees that sometimes laughter can be the best medicine. Laughter can go a long way towards helping you feel calmer, more balanced, and back on track. Not only can a good laugh help release endorphins and increase brain connectivity, but it can also help foster feelings of safety and togetherness if we are feeling particularly down or anxious.

Research also suggests laughter can help protect our hearts, providing an anti-inflammatory effect that can protect our blood vessels and heart muscles from the damaging effects of cardiovascular disease. What better excuse do you need to switch over from the seasonal tear-jerks and heartwarming movies to a comedy film or two?

Practising mindfulness – take some time out to pay attention to the moment, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Mindfulness can bring small moments of calm and focus to our daily lives, helping us to feel more present and connected within ourselves and with the world around us.

a hand colours a delicate santa pattern with colouring pencils

If you aren’t sure where to start, we’ve created a list of 10 apps to help you relax and be more mindful to help you get going. Offering a wide range of features from sleep stories and breathing exercises, to guided meditations and advice, there is something for beginners and experienced practitioners alike.

If you’d rather find a tech-free way to get the whole family involved, mindful colouring can be a great way help children and adults alike feel calmer and less anxious. Fun, cheap, and accessible, mindful colouring can help you increase your awareness of the world around you as well as your place in it as you move carefully from colouring one pattern to the next. If you’re looking for some free resources to get you started, Happiful have a range of free mindful colouring resources and mindful activities to help kids, teens and adults feel less stressed, anxious and worried.

Calming cuppa – having a sit down with a cup of tea can be surprisingly beneficial if you opt for a herbal blend. Chamomile has been used for centuries as a remedy for illnesses including colds, fevers, and stomach troubles. Known for its relaxing properties and calming effects, having a cup of chamomile tea can be a soothing way to settle any physical ailments you may be experiencing whilst giving you a moment to be more mindful, focus on the warmth of your mug, and forget future worries and past stresses.

Taking your relaxing cuppa in the early morning sun can be an extra way to boost your feelings of wellbeing. A lack of daylight exposure during the winter months can be a contributing factor to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Grabbing a few extra rays in the morning or over lunchtime can help combat this.

Going tech-free – just hear us out on this one. Put down your phone, switch off from social media, and declare some downtime free from gadgets, the internet, and outside influences. Take the time to bask in the moment, catch up with friends and family, and ditch the FOMO (fear of missing out) and urge to document every moment on Instagram or Facebook. Constant alerts and checking our messages can be exhausting.

A 2017 study estimated us Brits check our phones more than 28 times a day – that’s over 10,000 over the course of the year – while a 2018 study revealed we spend an average of 24 hours each week online. Take a stand this December and declare an evening phone-free. If that sounds a bit daunting, try starting off small with an hour of device-free while you do something together with your loved ones. You might be surprised at how different you feel when you stop focusing on what’s going on elsewhere, and start enjoying each moment as it comes.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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