The holidays bring Christmas cheer, new year’s resolutions, home-cooked meals and time off work. They also bring travel, traffic, shopping, cooking, a week of no school, and trying to wrap up work projects before the new year.
As much love and joy the holidays bring, they also bring their own level of stress. But there are 8 simple ways you can de-stress so you can make the most out of your holiday season.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Stress continues to be one of the leading causes of insomnia. The link between stress and sleep is well documented and it’s a safe bet to say you’ve experienced a bad sleep due to stress. Stress increases cortisol, your ‘fight or flight’ response which keeps your mind and body in a heightened state of activity.
The tricky part about the stress-sleep relationship is that each one causes the other. If you are in a constant state of stress, your sleep gets disrupted. If you struggle with sleep and are consistently not getting enough, this can cause stress (among many other mood disrupting issues).
So how can you combat your stress and get a good night’s sleep?
If you find yourself stressed at the end of the night, once you’re in bed, try doing progressive relaxation to help power down your mind and body.
Progressive relaxation is the process of taking each muscle in your body, tensing it, then relaxing it. This simple process allows your body to recognize the tension in your body and help put a physical feeling to relaxation as you untense your muscles. Start with your feet and work your way up the body.
2. Eat the Right Foods
The holidays have become synonymous with tins of cookies and trays of desserts. Sweets are impossible to escape this time of year. However, the relationship between your gut and your mind is a strong one and that phrase “garbage in, garbage out” holds more weight than you might think.
“The connection between the gut and brain is huge — called the ‘gut-brain axis’ — and lots of interesting data supports the idea that the gut is a major mediator of the stress response,” Dr. Drew Ramsey, an assistant clinical professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and the author of The Happiness Diet told The Huffington Post earlier this year. “After all, stress is a brain and immune system mediated phenomena, and your gut is the largest organ in your immune system.”
Before heading to the dessert table or grabbing seconds or thirds, take a moment to think about your food choices. Allow your body to catch up to your brain and determine if you are still hungry.
Eating seasonally fresh foods can also have positive impacts on your mood and stress levels. Take advantage of winter crop to create filling, well-rounded meals. Some in-season foods are:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Winter Squash
- Dark, leafy greens
3. Set the Mood with Essential Oils
Essential oils are used in aromatherapy as an alternative medicine often dispersed through a room by a diffuser or applied directly to your skin. Essential oils are compound extracts from various plants and herbs and can be used individually or combined.
Aromatherapy works because “inhaling the aromas from essential oils can stimulate areas of your limbic system, which is a part of your brain that plays a role in emotions, behaviors, sense of smell, and long-term memory.”
There are dozens of essential oils, but there are a few that are best for combating stress:
4. Practice Mindful Meditation
In the rush that is the holiday season, it might seem unrealistic to find time for meditation. But you don’t need hours of time to feel the positive effects of meditation, you only need 5-10 minutes a day to practice meditation.
Meditation is a way of slowing down your brain bringing your body to a peaceful state. Mindful meditation is an easy way to get started.
Start by finding a quiet spot inside (or outside) your home where you will have little distraction. You’ll want to sit comfortably and straight, but not stiff. Focus on your breathing and feel your breath enter and leave your body.
The biggest part about mindful meditation is to recognize when your mind starts to wander and bring it back to focus on your breathing. There are a lot of good guides on how to practice mindful meditation, you can find one here.
5. Visit an Acupuncturist
Somewhat similar to meditation, acupuncture is a way of resetting your body’s energy to bring you back to a balanced state. Acupuncture is an Ancient Chinese Medicine practice that believes every body has “Qi” or an energy flow to it. When an energy flow gets disrupted or blocked, this manifests as sickness, stress, digestive issues, and a whole host of other symptoms.
By taking very small, hairlike needles, an acupuncturist identifies pressure points on the body that are restricting your flow of energy. By tapping the needles into these spots on your body, it removes energy blockages and gets works to eliminate your ailments.
Stress not only disrupts and blocks energy in your body, but it also creates muscle tension. A trip to an acupuncturist can help get you feeling relaxed both mentally and physically.
6. Reduce Technology Time
The constant use of computers and uninterrupted screen time has been shown to increase depression, stress, and sleeplessness. Staring at your computer for eight hours is often unavoidable during the work week, however, you should work to reduce your screen time at home and on the weekends.
Setting your phone aside when you walk in the door and thinking of it as a “landline” will make it harder to check social media and prevent you from opening your email.
The holidays are often spent with family and friends for long durations of the day. Which is a great and wonderful thing. But we all have that aunt or cousin who can’t help but bring up politics to get everyone’s blood pumping at the dinner table. And as much as we love our family, they can be a lot to handle. The last thing you need to add is additional drama from social media comments or work emails.
7. Hit the Gym
Between cooking, cleaning, wrapping presents, and travel, it can be hard to make time to hit the gym. But even a brisk walk around the neighborhood can greatly reduce your stress.
When you work out, your body releases endorphins which help boost your mood. Often the activity doesn’t need to be powerlifting or running at race pace, you can feel these effects through a quick 15 minute at home workout session, or that walk around the block.
Getting yourself outside and reconnecting with nature is also a great added bonus. “Nature presents scenes that gently capture your attention instead of suddenly snatching it, calming your nerves instead of frazzling them.”
8. Listen to Your Favorite Songs
That’s right when you’re feeling stressed you should crank up the tunes. Classical music has shown to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease stress. But any music you love, classical or not, will cause a rush of dopamine giving you a quick mood boost. Got a favorite Christmas song? Don’t be shy about turning it up.
Preparing for the holidays involves a myriad of tasks, like cleaning, cooking, shopping, traveling, gift wrapping, writing holiday cards, and so much more. Every one of these activities can be done with music in the background. You don’t have to stop your day to listen to music, although not a bad idea, isn’t always practical. But listening to music even as you do other tasks will still have a positive impact on your mood.