Oh the holidays…it’s funny how this time of merriment has become synonymous with STRESS!
The to-do list tends to get out of hand, we’re thrown out of our normal daily routines, our calendars fill up with events, and we’re usually eating and drinking a LOT of sugary things.
I was talking with a patient today who said, “you know, you’re not doing anything, then all of a sudden for two straight weeks you have something on the calendar every night – NO MORE PARTIES!”
If all of this craziness is making you feel like your inner stress monster is controlling your life, then try out a few of these de-stress tips:
1) JUST BREATHE
Have you ever taken a deep breath at the end of a busy day and realized you had been taking shallow breaths all day? Taking a moment to inhale and exhale deeply will increase the oxygen supply to your brain, lower blood pressure, and stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of fight or flight). This will lead to less stress and anxiety, and increased focus and feelings of calm…which we could all use this time of year.
The trick is remembering to do it! One way to do this is by making mindful breathing a habit. I like to start with ten deep breaths when I first wake up, ten deep breaths midday, and again before bed. Once I started thinking of breathing as part of my routine (like brushing my teeth, or taking my vitamins), it became easier and easier to incorporate it into my day. Sometimes if I know I will be extra busy, I’ll set a reminder on my phone that literally just says “BREATHE!”
There are lots of ways to take deep breaths, but this is my favorite method:
· Place 1 hand on your stomach and 1 hand on your chest. With each inhale feel your stomach fill with air followed by your chest, and with each exhale feel your chest sink followed by your stomach.
· Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds, pause at the top of your breath
· Exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds and pause at the bottom of your breath
· Repeat 10 times
The more you do this the greater the effect, so next time you feel you’re feeling stressed find a quiet place and get to breathing!
2) Move Your Body!
We all know that exercise is good for us. It increases endorphins, improves focus, and helps relieve tensions built up throughout the day, but when we’re busy it can be really hard to fit in a workout.
Luckily, even short amounts of movement can help decrease stress. For example, just ten minutes of walking after eating a meal can help speed up digestion and even lower blood sugar.
Can’t get outside to walk? One of my favorite YouTube channels, Jessica Smith TV, has several free 10-20 minute videos that take you through 1 mile indoor walking routines.
3) Invest in a Time Emergency Fund
Spend some time with your calendar. As you carefully plan out your holiday events, be sure to include some wiggle room for unplanned occurrences. Think of this as your “time emergency fund” – you don’t think you’ll need it, until you really need it! We know to do this with our financial budget, so why not our time?
If every moment of the day is planned down to the hour, our anxiety and stress can double if something comes up that interferes with those plans.
It’s also really important to be realistic when making your plans, and to specifically carve out some down time. How do you do this when you’re expected to make an appearance at a million different places? This leads us to #4…
4) Keep Boundaries
Keeping boundaries…*sigh…this could easily be its own blog post.
It’s so important to maintain healthy boundaries and practice saying no, especially this time of year. I have a patient who began holding stronger boundaries with family this season, and mentioned that already she has felt less anxiety and stress.
If you’re a patient of mine, it’s likely you’ve heard me quote Brene Brown. In her book Rising Strong she says, “Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”
If you find yourself feeling resentful or taken for granted this time of year, it may be time to practice saying ‘no thank you’ to certain invitations.
5) Use Acupressure
Bring the power of acupuncture home with acupressure! Massaging specific points with gentle pressure can instantly decrease stress and anxiety:
Located on the upper border of the triangular fossa of the ear, this point is used to calm the nervous system and reduce inflammation which can help treat anxiety, apprehension, and pain.
Great Surge (Liver 3)
This point is located on the top of the foot in the angle between the first and second metatarsal bones. It’s great for treating tension headaches and reducing stress.
Gushing Spring (Kidney 1)
Located on the sole of the foot, this is the lowest acupuncture point on the body and therefore has descending and calming properties. If you’re feeling anxious and agitated massage this point.
The temples are also a good place for a mini massage. For an extra de-stress boost, massage these points with a calming essential oil like lavender.
6) Drink Your Tea
The chemical make-up of chamomile tea has been proven to treat anxiety and insomnia. If
all of the hubbub of the holidays makes it difficult to turn your mind off at night, brew a cup of chamomile. I like to mix in freshly squeezed lemon juice and a teaspoon of local honey.
7) Play Sleepy Tunes
Getting quality sleep is vital to keeping stress levels low throughout the day. With the business of the holiday, our night time routines often get the axe. One thing you can do to foster deep sleep is to listen to relaxing music as you’re going to bed.
There are many types of relaxing music available on free music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify, but there are also videos available on YouTube. I know many of our patients like the music we play in the clinic, which is simply a “spa and relaxation” playlist on Spotify.
8) Remember Everything in Balance
Remember that sugar, alcohol, and many yummy holiday foods can make us feel weighed down and bloated, which can interrupt sleep and leave us feeling irritable.
Know that you will likely indulge a little, and let go of any guilty feelings that may present themselves later for not ‘sticking to a diet.” That being said, practicing a little portion control can keep you from feeling so full and bloated that you can’t move!
It’s also beneficial to chew slowly, savor every flavor, and wait a full 30 minutes before having seconds.
I find it’s helpful to enjoy holiday treats while repeating the mantra “everything in balance”.
Studies show that laughing has a marked effect on decreasing stress. If you’re feeling extra tense, watch an episode of your favorite comedy or a funny video on the internet. This is best done with a loved one - there’s a reason why it’s said laughter is contagious!
10) Practice Gratitude
Coming in hot with another Brene Brown quote!
“There is no joy without gratitude”
I recently asked a patient of mine to begin carrying a small notebook in her purse to write down one thing she is grateful for about her health any time she starts to feel down about her healing progress. This got me thinking about the importance of practicing gratitude in every aspect of our lives.
Expressing gratitude, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed, can help us to remember what’s most important this holiday season. Once we focus in on that gratitude, our stress starts to melt away.
I hope these tips help you all to enjoy the holidays to the fullest, and keep your stress monsters in the backseat instead of driving the car 😉
This list is by no means definitive. What are some ways that you keep your stress levels low? Comment below!
-Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. (2018, March 8). Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469.
-Heid, M. (2018, September 26). The Case For Taking a Walk After You Eat. Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://time.com/5405778/walking-after-eating-good-for-you/.
-Leatherman, N. (2019, July 29). How Music Relieves Stress and Helps You Relax. Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://chopra.com/articles/how-music-relieves-stress-and-helps-you-relax.
-Marksberry, K. (2017, January 4). Take a Deep Breath. Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://www.stress.org/take-a-deep-breath.
-Norris, C. J., Creem, D., Hendler, R., & Kober, H. (2018, July 17). Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315/full.
-Srivastava, J. K., Shankar, E., & Gupta, S. (2010, November 1). Chamomile: A herbal medicine of the past with bright future. Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2995283/.
-Stress relief from laughter? It's no joke. (2019, April 5). Retrieved December 22, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456.