The silly season is here! This time of year can be a busy and stressful time in a creative business. Here are some useful tips on what you can do to survive the season and come out the other side feeling healthy, refreshed and energised, from Sally Cumming, director at Engage Health, a provider of mental health, resilience and injury prevention programs.
Being organised in the busiest of times can make you more efficient and less stressed. Planning and organising the tasks in advance will leave you time to concentrate on what you need to complete at that time.
Mindfulness meditation is very effective in reducing stress levels and changing pathways to improve thought patterns. It also activates the right side of the brain, which enhances creativity—something that can benefit you all year round.
You can learn how to do this by listening to guided mindfulness recordings. (We love the free Smiling Mind guided meditation app.) Try practicing mindfulness meditation during everyday routine activities, such as cleaning, cooking, shopping, brushing your teeth and showering. Notice when your mind wanders away from what you are doing and gently bring it back. Over time, this will create new neural pathways in the brain, enabling you to remain more focused, calmer and less likely to react when the tension rises.
With practice, you can learn to recognise and identify your stress triggers, helping you stay in control when the pressure builds. Like any skill, mindfulness takes self-exploration, discipline and regular practice. We all have the ability to remain calm and to avoid burnout if we learn how to recognise the early signs of stress and how it affects us.
The first step is becoming aware of our triggers. How does stress manifest itself in your body? Do your neck and shoulders appear tighter? Does your mind race, your heart beat faster or your stomach feel like it is in knots? These are all common physical sensations associated with the stress response and are different for each person. Paying close attention to these early signs of stress will allow you to stamp it out early.
Come to your senses
It is important to recognise that the body’s ‘fight, flight, freeze’ state is a hard-wired physiological response to a perceived threat. The body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as work pressures, traffic jams, and so on. The good news is you can outsmart this overactive physiological stress response by engaging the five senses. The practice of using your senses immediately sends a signal to the brain’s limbic system to let the body know it is safe from harm and danger. This rapidly stabilises your emotions and will calm and ground you in the present moment.
Learn to relax
We all need to find balance. It is not always easy to remember that taking the time for relaxation and/or exercise is just as important as getting work done. Each morning when you wake up, try staying in bed for five minutes and doing gentle breathing to allow the mind to become still. This will elicit the relaxation response, lower your blood pressure and release any muscle tension.
To de-stress at any time, try this simple relaxation exercise: breathe in through your nose for a slow count of three, allowing your belly to fully expand with air. Breathe out through your mouth for a slow count of five. Continue for five minutes. Follow the breath as it comes into and leaves the body. Be mindful of any unhelpful thoughts and let them pass through the mind.
Try to do some exercise every day. A brisk walk, light jog, bike ride or swim will do wonders for your mind and body. Being active will also relieve stress, improve sleep and increase your energy levels. Aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week. If you are already doing this, increase it to 45 minutes. If you exercise three times a week, move it up to five times a week. Studies have proven aerobic exercise suppresses the stress hormone cortisol, which has also been linked to excessive weight storage around the midsection, so suppressing it could benefit you both ways.
Slowing down and being mindful will also protect your body from harm. If you are at markets packing boxes for delivery or lifting heavy objects, always ensure your spine and body are in the correct position. Before lifting, make sure there is an obvious ‘S’ shape in the spine and avoid undesirable ‘C’ shaped curvatures. Maintaining a lumbar curve is extremely important to ensure the lower back does not take unnecessary load or strain. To do this, widen your stance and stick out your bottom (similar to sitting down onto a chair or a weightlifter’s squat). Always brace your abdominal muscles and use your glutes and leg muscles to lift the load. Regular stretching and flexibility exercises will ensure your spine stays in a healthy position.
Remember to laugh
Laughter is one of the best ways to reduce stress, so don’t forget your sense of humour. The times when we start to lose it are the times we need it most! Try to enjoy this busy season and plan effective strategies to help you stay in control and stay safe.
Happy Festive Season!
Sally Cumming is the director and lead corporate wellness consultant for Engage Health. She is a certified mindfulness practitioner with the Mindfulness Training Institute of Australia as well as an ESSA-accredited exercise physiologist. Follow Sally on Instagram (@engage_health) or LinkedIn.
Jes Egan is a ‘practical creative,’ doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist and an university lecturer. Follow Jes on Instagram (@paper_chap).