After Christmas and before New Year, there’s that brief pause in activity. It’s just long enough to run the vacuum over yet more pine needles, and those tiny scraps of wrapping paper you missed the first time around. It’s a gap just wide enough to wipe over the surfaces, panic over the dwindling tinfoil situation and rummage around for a gift for that distant relative you weren’t expecting for dinner. If you have young children or grandchildren, by 9am each morning it will feel like you’ve already done a full day’s work. You’re still smiling, but wasn’t this supposed to be a holiday?
Often Christmas brings all the promise of a ‘festive break’, but doesn’t always deliver. From Christmas card scenes of snowy hillsides and ruddy-faced children playing happily on sledges, to the perennial hits that remind us that this really is supposed to be “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year”, the festive period is idealised to the point of unhelpfulness. Whilst we might find rest and replenishment at this time of year, Christmas can also be a time of broad-stroke stress, financial strain, loneliness and isolation – a time of remembered grief, of intense busyness, social pressure, and sensory overload. Indeed, the real hallmark of Christmas these days might well be its complex invocation of both impending dread and anticipatory joy.
What then is the solution? In this heady time of good cheer and latent frustration, one of the most generous and kind things you can do for yourself and others might be to plan-for, make space-for and cherish the free gift of outdoor time. Whilst, green spaces are becoming precariously slippery and mucky at this time of year, now is an ideal time to let your local ‘blue space’ work its calming magic.
There is much evidence to suggest that time spent near water is good for us. Being near canals and rivers has been shown to increase perceived wellbeing – lowering our stress levels, helping us sleep better, revitalising our energy sources, decreasing depression, increasing our alertness and improving pro-social behaviours. Scanning that list again it’s possible to see that being near water might be an essential part of not only surviving, but thriving in the challenges of December. It’s no wonder that a recent survey by the Canal & River Trust discovered that 1.4m people come to our waterways simply to be close to the water, such is the sense of wellbeing they get from being near to water.
Taking time out during the packed seasonal schedule to visit your local river or canal, and quietly observe the perpetual flow of water might be a welcome antidote to the hectic pace of normal life. Moving gently at the water’s edge is a chance to slow down, sooth your nervous system and breathe deeply again. The sensory input at Christmas can be enriching, but also overwhelming, and so taking time out to soft-gaze upon the natural beauty and tones of a river bank is a way of resetting your system and bringing down sensory stress that you might not even realise you’re feeling.
Making ‘blue space’ this festive period is an opportunity to reclaim the promise of a break, to actively press pause on the consumer scrum, and use some natural time out to re-evaluate the year gone before the new one begins. In the season’s rush of business, it’s easy to forget that winter is a time to hunker down, take stock and restore ourselves. Whilst you may not have as much time outdoors as you do in the summer, making the most of small chunks of time outside is a vital way of replenishing your reserves.
Walking beside a river or running along the towpath is something you can enjoy as time out just for you, but it’s also a valuable chance to connect with others if you’re alone at Christmas, or get family or friends involved. Connectivity is a vital part of wellbeing, so why not make an event of it, and commit to setting time aside for everyone to be away from the TV, toys and smartphones for a few hours.
The Easter egg hunt is a well-established springtime tradition for the whole family, so why not create a new festive ritual that will boost your wellbeing and generate new memories? Alternatively, have an amble along a stretch of waterway that’s new to you, whilst considering your desires and resolutions for the year ahead. You might be surprised and enlivened by what a difference it makes to consider them in the presence of unfamiliar but calm flowing water.
Whether you love, loathe or feel ‘middling’ about the festive period, time out to enjoy nature for its own sake and to observe the continuation of life at the water’s edge is a valuable reminder that taking time to pause is important all the year round. Imagine wowing your nearest and dearest with the gift of zen this Christmas Day.