08/12/2011 18:52 GMT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 GMT

How Can We Avoid the Stress of Christmas Present?

As that famous song goes - "'Tis the season to be jolly".

Really? For many people Christmas and the run up to it can be a really stressful time. There are presents to be bought, the kids are on holiday and need to be entertained, huge meals are to be cooked, finances juggled to pay for it all, and to top it off we are expected to have lots and lots of FUN!

Do you ever feel as if there just aren't enough hours in the day to get it all done and to stay sane? I see many clients in my cognitive hypnotherapy practice who have become burnt out through putting everything and everyone in their lives, except themselves, first. During the run up to the holidays this can really be exacerbated by all the expectations of family, friends and work colleagues. It's no joke that as relationships become stretched, some legal firms even cynically cash in on this at Christmas time by offering 'divorce' gift vouchers.

I work with my client's unconscious mind, which studies have shown, controls around 90% of our behaviour. For more information on how this affects us please feel free to browse my website, but to put it simply, if your unconscious has an idea that conflicts with what our conscious mind is trying to achieve, it will be a real uphill struggle. The unconscious part of your brain might be metaphorically screaming at you to slow down and take things easy, whilst your conscious mind is trying so hard to do the shopping, wrap the gifts etc. It all sounds exhausting doesn't it?

So how can we avoid becoming more and more frazzled and stressed out? It is really important to look after ourselves and to take time out to work with our minds (and bodies), not against them. Often this can be much simpler than you might think. Here are five tips to help you sail through into the new year with a positive frame of mind:

1. Make a plan. It might seem simple, but it can be easy to forget that a list really helps when you've got lots on your mind. I even suggest to some of my clients to keep a notebook by their bed so that they can scribble their thoughts in it during a restless night. It's so much better on paper than in your head and can allow then your mind to be free to rest when it most needs it.

2. Take care of yourself. We all know how to do this don't we - eat well, get enough sleep, exercise, drink plenty of water - but it can be easy to forget, especially in the party season. You might be surprised how in just a few moments a day to be still and check in with yourself, you can really begin to notice a difference in how you feel. Just stopping long enough to let your conscious mind rest to allow the unconscious mind to tell you what it needs, is all it takes. Some people choose to learn self-hypnosis or to listen to a hypnosis CD to make this more effective. A cognitive hypnotherapist in your area could help you with this.

3. Set a budget and stick to it. Financial issues are one of the biggest causes of stress in this country. If money is tight then Christmas can be the time of year where you start to feel it the most. We live in a consumerist society where more, more, more is becoming the norm at Christmas. However, gift giving in itself is a lovely thing to do, no matter how much the gift costs. You might be surprised how one well thought out, or even homemade gift can have the greatest impact.

4. Feel the Christmas love (whenever you can). Did you know that showing kindness to people is actually good for your health? The bonding hormone, oxytocin, is released through warm emotional contact, which we can all create in everyday social situations. Some studies show that this has an effect on the vegus nerve which in turn reduces inflammation in the body, making you all round healthier. So by smiling lots and being kind to others you are actually improving your own wellbeing. How good is that! For more information on this have a look at Dr David Hamilton's website at

5. And finally - breathe. It might sound obvious, but when we feel anxious or are stressed, the fight or flight mechanism that kicks in causes us to breathe shallowly, taking in too much oxygen. Counteracting this means that we confuse the body into relaxing as it's physiologically impossible to feel stressed and relaxed at the same time. Give this simple technique of 7/11 breathing a go and see what a difference it can make.

7/11 Breathing

Step 1

Get comfortable and sit down if possible.

Step 2

Breathe in through your nose to a count of seven. Imagine the air is reaching all the way down to your diaphragm so your stomach pushes outwards with the breath.

Step 3

Breathe out through your mouth for a count of 11.

Repeat as many times as is necessary for you to feel better and enjoy the relaxed feeling that it brings.

Give these suggestions a go and perhaps think of some other ways to begin to listen to the messages from your unconscious mind. It might just make the difference that makes the difference and lead to a happier, more relaxed, best possible you for 2012.