Aaah Christmas, the season of goodwill and cosiness, a time to be snuggled up in jammies in front of an open fire, serene and safe with loved ones, with the smell of mulled wine wafting through the air, a batch of mince pies being lifted from the oven.
Or perhaps not.
While Christmas is the time for giving, it’s sometimes the bearer of unwelcome gifts: the horror of bumper-to-bumper frenzied shopathons; the pressures of creating a picture-perfect home. If the run-up to the 25th is making you want to hide in a cave, this advice from wellness expert Miriam Kerins-Hussey might be just the pre-Christmas present you need.
Kerins-Hussey is a pharmacist who believes that creating calm in the home is more important than ever at this time of the year, as the festive season approaches its climax.
“Around Christmas we have a particular capacity to absorb the drama of our environment. Creating calm externally, will create calm internally.”
What’s the number one culprit for an unsettled mind and tense body as we fill our homes to the brim with the de rigueur decorations and food and gifts? A cluttered home creates a cluttered mind. Solution: let go of things that no longer serve us. De-clutter. Help you and yours avoid that sense of claustrophobia that can take hold in this season of abundance. Create more groundedness and less stress by looking at the physical environment of your home.
As a starting point, Kerins-Hussey recommends bringing more of a sense of nature into the home. “When we’re disconnected from nature, we’re out of harmony. It might be chilly outside, but open the windows daily, even for just five minutes.”
Our sense of smell is a powerful sensory tool, she says. If a real Christmas tree is at the centre of your decorative choices it will, of course, give off its own particularly festive aroma, but burning essential oils can also be very useful when it comes to filling your home with calming aromas that will rein in the atmosphere of rushing and racing. Using old traditional tribal oils can create a wonderful atmosphere. Palo Santo (‘sacred wood’) oil, for example, is known for its calming properties. Other essential oil recommendations for the home at Christmas time: white sage, lavender and orange.
Remembering that “what makes a house a home is not just mortar and bricks,” is a message Kerins-Hussey is keen to impart. Start with the self, she says. We’re all a bit obsessed with cleaning the house in preparation for the festivities, but equally important is the task of mentally and emotionally cleansing yourself. A calmer, more grounded and centred you is less likely to create drama in the home and to react and respond in negative ways. Slow down. Make time for the most important things.
So, is one of the most important things the decor of the house? Christmas, she says is a time when people want to make their homes beautiful. In the Kerins-Hussey home, a real tree will be the focal point.
“For me, less is more on the tree. I like simplicity. Other things I’m very much into having are red and cream pillar candles. I even have one outside, a battery-operated one, which is very handy.”
Ultimately, it’s about creating festive cheer in line with your own taste. So, figure out what makes you and your family feel good. In terms of lighting, for example, ask yourself if yours is a family who want the bells and whistles of full-colour flashing strings of lights in every corner of the house, or do you prefer understated warm white Christmas lights, or even candlelight?
The thing to remember is that full-on sparkle and flashing lights cause stimulation. If you’re trying to create an atmosphere of calm, you might prefer to dim the lights and wind it all down a bit, in a way that’s not so busy for the nervous system. Ultimately, it’s down to personal choice. As long as you love it, that’s the main thing.
Time for reflection
In the Kerins-Hussey household, the run up to Christmas is a time for reflection. Having just returned from a week-long retreat at the Dzogchen Beara centre in west Cork, Kerins-Hussey highly recommends taking time out for closing off one year, acknowledge what has gone well, letting go of things that maybe didn’t go so well and getting ready for the coming year.
The last pillar around this Christmas period, she says, is a sense of spirituality. Not necessarily a religious spirituality, but a sense of coming back to the essence of what Christmas is about – creating an atmosphere and spirit of peace and contentment. In the home space, it’s about creating balance. While Christmas, we are told, is about giving as well as receiving, in relation to the home space, it’s good to figure out how far you want to go.
“Ask yourself some questions around this. Do I want the neighbours in for Christmas drinks? Are the thoughts of that causing me stress? Am I doing this to please others, or because I want to?”
If you’re a person who loves entertaining and catering for numbers, Christmas is a time to shine. But opening your home to visitors, when you’re already under pressure trying to keep up with meeting the needs of your nearest and dearest, can be stressful. You don’t have to be everywhere, Kerins-Hussey says. Christmas is about slowing down and that’s something we deserve to do for ourselves.
“It comes down to each individual’s capacity in terms of space and time and finding the balance between connecting with the people you love, but also being able to say no if it doesn’t suit you. You don’t want to be depleted or exhausted. Find what works for you and unapologetically look at your own health and wellbeing and self-care. Keep it simple.
“Take the pressure off, without losing the joy of it all.”
Miriam Kerins-Hussey’s seven-point guide to creating a calmer home
1. Having fresh plants and flowers in the home can really help create a fresh, inspiring and nurturing feeling. Open windows and doors to let fresh clean air into the home to circulate the house – great for mind as well as body.
2. Essential oils are a wonderful way to create a restful and peaceful ambiance within the home. Lavender, rose and jasmine are beautiful oils to diffuse in a bedroom to unwind and calm down the nervous system. For a more uplifting aroma, try using lemon, peppermint or rosemary.
3. Reduce stress by reducing stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and processed foods/sugars which can wire up the nervous system and stimulate anxiety and tension. Allow time to rest and recover – get to bed on time, create night-time routines and morning routines to set up and close down the day in a more peaceful and productive way. Incorporate some mindful moments within the home – deep breathing, prayer, meditation. As adults, what you permit you promote.
4. Christmas can be a time for excess; excess food, presents, stuff in general! To create a more spacious restful environment give away unwanted or unnecessary food, give presents to charity or to organisations who help people in need.
5. Create some ‘house rules’ that will help prioritise health, wellness and peacefulness within the home. For example; unplugging – no technology at meal times, no phones in the bedroom; set the alarm for 10 minutes earlier and practice some meditation or deep breathing. At the TV ad breaks play games, do squats – come off the screens!
6. Have fun – Give time, permission and space to play, laughter and fun. Go back to basics – play board games, charades, cards etc. Communication, fun and connection are key to better health and vital for creating more ease within a home.
7. Don’t spend so much on presents, but be present. It’s the ultimate present we can give to our loved ones and families. Create memories.
Irish Times December 2019