Have your happiest holiday ever!
Does the annual escape leave you feeling more ‘argh!’ than ‘ahhh’? Here’s how to have your calmest summer on record with a little help from the experts
How to keep calm and enjoy your break this summer.
With long, balmy days and beautiful, sunny destinations begging to be explored, summer seems the perfect time to recharge your batteries. However, this time of year can actually leave us feeling more frazzled than ever, thanks to an endless (and expensive) social calendar, packing woes, travel chaos and a house full of children, to name but a few reasons. In fact, in a survey by sterilising experts Milton, one in four parents admit to not even booking a holiday due to the stress of travelling with the kids.
While a certain level of holiday-related stress is inevitable, it can have an impact on your wellbeing if you can’t keep it under control. So, whether the root of your anxiety is dealing with the never-ending school holidays, a fear of travel or a lack of much-needed shut-eye, read on for the latest, expert tips to help take the hassle out of summer, allowing you to have a well-earned, rejuvenating break from your normal routine…
If you feel generally overwhelmed and stressed, try mindfulness. It has been the go-to wellbeing trend for the past few years, and with good reason. ‘Mindfulness now has a good deal of research support for its efficacy,’ explains Dr Meg Arroll, psychologist and author (drmegarroll.com). ‘When practised regularly, it can help people cope with stress and feel more in control of an ever hectic and demanding environment.’ And contrary to belief, you don’t need buckets of time in order to practise. In fact, you can be mindful in as little as one minute a day. But what is it and how do you do
it? Kaia Roman, author of The Joy Plan: How I took 30 Days to Stop Worrying, Quit Complaining, and
Find Ridiculous Happiness (Sourcebooks, £25.99) says that mindfulness is simply the act of bringing your attention to the present moment. ‘Even one minute of deep breaths a day can make a profound difference,’ she says. ‘You don’t have to be in yoga clothes, perched on a round cushion in a silent room to practise mindfulness either – you don’t even have to be sitting down or have your eyes closed!’
Beautiful holiday surroundings allow you a perfect opportunity to embrace mindfulness. ‘A summer holiday in the great outdoors is the perfect time to unplug, leave your electronic devices in a drawer, and immerse your senses in your natural surroundings,’ says Roman. When you’re out in nature, focus in on each of your senses (smell, taste, sound, touch and sight) one at a time. This helps you connect with your body, notice sensations that are happening at that moment, and take a mental break. ‘You might notice a whiff of the salty sea in the air, or the delicious sensation of breeze on your cheeks,’ she says.
Whether you opt for 30 minutes of meditation or a five-minute podcast by the pool, the wonderful thing about mindfulness is its flexibility.
Do you have a calendar so full of summer events you’re feeling the financial pinch? According to research**, just under half of mums feel moneyrelated pressure in the summer months. Not to mention summer weddings – which, on average, cost a guest £432 each time, reveals American Express. But there are easy steps to keep things in control and beat the anxiety. ‘Have a budget,’ says
‘You don’t have to be in yoga clothes, on a cushion in a silent room to practise mindfulness. You don’t even have to sit down or close your eyes’
Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and author of The Anxiety Solution: A Quieter
Mind, A Calmer You (Michael Joseph, £12.99). ‘It can be easy to want to bury your head in the sand when it comes to financial worries but, by knowing exactly what your ingoings and outgoings are, you can make a plan and get back in control.’ She also recommends avoiding imagining the worst-case scenario. Get clear about exactly what it is you’re most afraid of, then try to see it from the perspective of a rational friend. ‘How would they reassure you? What kind words of advice would they have? Chances are the worst case scenario is very unlikely, and you’d handle it better than your anxious mind makes out.’
WE LOVE: Cleo app (meetcleo.com) is like Siri for your money. It uses artificial intelligence to monitor your money habits.
As anyone who’s spent a restless night will know, stress and lack of sleep are intrinsically linked. Pre-holiday stress, warmer evenings and difficulty sleeping in a new bed (or ‘the first night effect’*) can make sleeping even harder. ‘Disturbances in the natural rise and fall of [stress hormone] cortisol can affect your sleep, and in turn, lack of sleep has been linked not only with poorer performance but also obesity, diabetes and the health consequences of these conditions. Not to mention dips in mood and libido!
Brotheridge suggests keeping your bedroom strictly for sleep and sex and making sure it’s cool and dark. According to the Sleep Council, for the perfect holiday slumber, you should set the temperature of your hotel room to 16-18°C. It also advises packing your own pillow, some earplugs and an eye mask for some home comfort and to block out any outside distractions.
Making the most of the summer weather and getting outside in the daylight will also benefit your sleep, says Dr Guy Meadows, sleep expert at Bensons for Beds (bensonsforbeds.co.uk). ‘A long walk in the morning sun is not only good for your health, but will boost your serotonin levels, promoting greater relaxation and deeper sleep for the night to come.’ On top of getting outside, Meadows recommends making sure your bedroom is spotless and dust-free. ‘After a long winter, it can be a good idea to give your bedroom a deep clean,’ he says. ‘Excessive dust such as is commonly found under the bed can disturb sleep quality, especially if you have allergies.’ A clean bedroom is also associated with a quiet mind, which helps to promote deep, refreshing sleep, says Meadows. Lastly, slow down and treat yourself to a delicious, healthy breakfast in bed. ‘Having the odd lazy morning like this can help reset the balance between work and recovery, recharging you mentally, emotionally and physically.’ That’s something we can get on board with...
QUASH YOUR TRAVEL TROUBLES
The opportunity to travel and make memories is definitely a summer highlight. Unfortunately, for many, travelling throws up a range of anxieties including the fear of flying (aerophobia) which affects around one in 10 people. The key here is not to let your travel fears get in the way of holiday plans and avoid travelling or it could exacerbate any existing stress, says Brotheridge. ‘The best thing to do is to learn some relaxation techniques such as
3, 5 breathing (breathing in for a count of 3 and out for 5, expanding your belly on the in breath) and then step-by-step, facing your fear.’ For example, if trains make you anxious, try going for a short train ride before your planned trip; take deep breaths and try to just ‘allow’ the anxious feelings to be there without fighting them. ‘By doing the thing that makes you anxious, you teach your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for the fight or flight response) that trains are not, in fact, dangerous, and slowly your amygdala calms down,’ explains Brotheridge. ‘Before you travel, visualise the trip going well – imagining yourself feeling relaxed and confident and enjoying arriving at your destination.’ If you suffer badly from aerophobia, Anxiety UK recommends the Stress Free Flying CD (£10.95; anxietyuk.org.uk), which you can listen to for the duration of the flight. If your fear stops you from travelling, why not try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)?
HAVE SOME YOU-TIME
Sure, it’s fun to have family and children around in summer, but it can also be stressful! Financial pressures, finding constant activities to keep young minds occupied and sibling bickering can be a common source of tension. This is why you should always take some time for yourself, says Brotheridge. ‘Try to build in some time for you; even if it’s just 10 minutes,’ she says. ‘We all need time and space to recharge, so ask for support from those around you. It’s not selfish to do this – everyone else in the family will benefit from you being in a calmer, happier state of mind.’ How you spend your time is up to you, but Brotheridge recommends exercise. ‘For many people, exercise is an essential part of their anxiety management,’ she explains. ‘If you can combine it with something sociable such as a walking or running club, that’s even better.’ Talking to people about how you’re feeling can be hugely helpful, she adds. ‘Taking a break for a walk or yoga class is a brilliant idea as short breaks are essential for managing stress.’ Brotheridge also recommends training your brain to be positive by spending a minute or two identifying the good things that happened that day. ‘This is a nice activity to do with your partner, housemate or children over dinner in the evening,’ she says.
Why not get your children involved? ‘As parents, we constantly wonder if we’re making the right choices for our kids, but remember we teach them more by our actions than with our words,’ says Roman. She recommends regularly doing breathing practice with your children – even just for a minute. ‘Taking the time to breathe with our kids shows them that we’re just as dedicated to being calm and peaceful as we’d like them to be.’
MINDFULNESS ZAPPER: Mobile phone use can aggravate anxiety and stress. ‘Try putting your mobile on aeroplane mode after 7pm,’ says Brotheridge.
‘Try to build in some time for you; even if it’s just 10 minutes. It’s not selfish to do this – the whole family will benefit from you being calmer’