Sunday Edit: Self-love in December
December is lovely – and hectic. The last month of the year often brings expectations for how the holiday season should unfold, and how you should enjoy it. However, your everyday routines don't stop – you just add gift shopping, decorating, family time, baking, holiday events... Your day-to-day life is wild, and the world outside is even wilder.
We spoke with psychotherapist and owner of Nyhavns Psychotherapy, Dorthe Iversen, and yoga instructor Malene Bak Sko about how to check in with yourself, catch your breath, and look after yourself a crazy time.
In our head – with the Psychotherapist
What can we do when life – and the world around us, become overwhelming?
“That is such a big question and very individual – because what do you do, when life feels too much? Firstly, you need to learn how to tune in with yourself and find out whether what you're facing feels good or bad. Then, you need to sort through these things you are experiencing feel too much in your life – and say yes or no to it. It is also about realizing and accepting that you can't save all people or the entire world, no matter how much you wish you could,” says Dorthe Iversen.
“Many of us experience racing thoughts – and it can be uncomfortable when it overwhelms you. That is of course something you should work on, either through therapy, or by finding tools that work for you.”
How can a good old-fashioned calendar help create an overview and clear our minds?
– Use a calendar with one page for each day, so you can write down everything you need to do. It could be meetings, cleaning, shopping – or time for yourself. Use your imagination and make the calendar enjoyable to look at.
– Ask yourself whether the commitments you have are good for you. If not, make sure to cancel them well in advance.
– Remember to tune in with yourself when you look at your calendar. Are the commitments you have something you look forward to? Some of the appointments may just need to be completed and worked through, and if they are important, you inherently need to attend them. Perhaps mark these kinds of appointments with a red pen? However, if the appointments are not important and feel wrong at the same time, make sure to cancel them.
Why can we become quite restless?
“If you go back in time a bit, there wasn't the same occurrence of having to be- and do it all. There wasn't as much information as there is today, and it wasn't as easy to shake our 'inner world' – because everything wasn't as accessible. Today, we are much more externally driven, and quickly become overexposed to all the things we want to do and be. When our brains work seven times faster than our bodies, it's not surprising that we become stressed and overstimulated. We need to remember that less is more, so our bodies and brains have time to work together.”
“When we’re constantly consuming information, our brains can easily get shaken. The world moves fast – both the digital development we need to keep up with, and social media images of 'the good life.' However, when what you see on social media isn't comparable to your own life – it can be extremely disheartening. Remember, you’re not living anyone’s life but your own; and what brings happiness to others may not necessarily bring happiness to you.”
How can we shift our focus to ourselves?
“Surround yourself with people you love – and activities you enjoy. Do something different than usual and remember to also appreciate what you have. When you look inwards and let go of the things you can't control, everything that others have becomes secondary.”
“At the same time, we need to learn to separate things, breathe calmly – all the way down our stomach, and stop comparing ourselves. Take responsibility for what is good for you. And it's important to remember that only you can change an unsustainable behavior – if you want to. But believe that everything will be fine – and talk openly about how you feel. The role of handling everything to perfection is just an illusion because what is perfection anyway?”
In our bodies – with the Yoga Instructor
How can we use our bodies to give our thoughts a break – and why does it work?
“Our head and body is connected – we often forget that. Everything we do with our body is registered by our brain – and when we move our bodies, it opens our nerve pathways, allowing waste to be flushed out and fresh, oxygenated blood reaches the brain. This optimizes our brain's chemistry, making it function better, so you can think calmer and clearer."
“Yoga exercises that open your body are therefore beneficial. Check in on your body if there is unsettlement or tension. Breathe in deeply and notice how the air fills you. Exhale while stretching the unsettled area. It's on the exhale that your body lets go and oxygen is released. By focusing on breathing and opening your body's paths, you put other thoughts on hold – while being aware of knowing where to loosen up on your exhale.”
There are two specific yoga exercises that can help a racing mind:
1. Stand firmly on your feet, hip-width apart. Take a deep breath and bend your knees while letting your upper body fall forward toward the floor.
2. Grip your elbows and let your upper body dangle in small movements up and down while breathing deeply. Especially on the exhale, let go of your neck and just dangle.
3. After at least 5 deep breaths, slowly roll up to a standing position while inhaling. This is crucial to avoid dizziness.
4. When you're standing upright again, tense your leg muscles so you stand strong. Breathe deeply and efficiently a few times before standing relaxed – and feeling how your mind is freer.
1. Lie on your back on the floor. Let your body naturally straighten out.
2. Set an alarm for 3-7 minutes so you don't have to think about time.
3. Let your feet fall to the sides, relax your arms a bit away from your body so the shoulder blades are as flat as possible on the floor, with palms facing upward and outstretched. Tilt your chin slightly towards your chest so the neck is as long and straight as possible – and let your head rest heavily on the floor.
4. Focus on your lower stomach – below the navel. Take 3 deep, conscious breaths.
5. Then let go completely – and notice how your stomach rises as your body automatically breathes in – and lowers as the body exhales and releases what it doesn't need.
6. When your thoughts come ‘rushing in’, see them as small cars that you park in the parking lot – and tell them that you'll think about them later as you bring your awareness back to your stomach.
7. After 3-7 minutes, roll onto your side and inhale yourself up to a sitting position – followed by an inhale to stand yourself up. You are now effectively recharged like an electric car that also needs to stand still when recharging.
How do you ground yourself?
“Breathing is the key to everything – in my yogic perspective. Think about it; we can go weeks without food, days without water, but only about two minutes without breathing. And your breath is a tool you always have with you – and the key to your mind. In any situation that may seem stressful or overwhelming, you can always pause and become extra aware of your breathing.”
"In yoga, you ground yourself through 'yoga breath,' which takes place deep in your core. Direct your awareness to the lower part of the abdomen – below your bellybutton, and breathe in by inflating your stomach. Then release the stomach on your exhale. This way of breathing requires that you automatically straighten your back to make room for your stomach – and it brings you into what yoga calls the Root Chakra. This provides grounding and calmness in body and mind. Use this breathing technique when you're in line at the supermarket, sitting in a meeting, and when your patience is tested by your children. Try breathing this way three times and feel the difference."