Ways to combat Stress during the Holidays or Any day!
The shopping and crowds. The back-to-back diet-busting parties. The holiday season often brings unwelcome guests — stress and depression. And it's no wonder. The holidays present a dizzying array of demands — parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining, to name just a few. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year. Stress is not a bad nor good thing, it just IS. The way we react, handle, manifest, and manage stress is where the typical trouble associated with stress will occur. Stress impacts our health and bodies in a multitude of ways including:
· nervous system reactions
· changes in weight and sleep,
· poor digestion
· cardiovascular disease
· lowered immunity
· reproductive system challenges
· chronic fatigue syndrome
So how do you manage stress in order to live your healthiest lifestyle? Below are the things I’ve learned to do in order to manage stress. As well as ways to help dodge the seasonal blues and stay happy, healthy, and energized.
1. Exercise is one of best ways to battle stress. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who don't exercise. For example: Stress hormones: Exercise lowers your body's stress hormones, cortisol, in the long run. It also helps release endorphins, the chemicals that improve mood. Sleep: Exercise can also improve the quality of sleep, which can be negatively affected by stress and anxiety. Confidence: Exercising regularly may make one feel more confident in their own skin, which in turn promotes mental well-being. Activities such as walking or jogging — that involve repetitive movements of large muscle groups can be particularly stress relieving, has a tranquilizing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and improves sleep.
2. Take a Yoga Class. Yoga is a popular method of stress relief among all age groups. Yoga styles do differ, with the same common theme- join the body and mind. Yoga does this by increasing body and breath awareness. Some studies have examined yoga's effect on mental health. Overall, research has found that yoga may enhance mood and may be as effective as antidepressant drugs at treating anxiety. The benefit of yoga for stress seems to be related to its effect on your nervous system and stress response. It may help lower cortisol levels, blood pressure and heart rate and increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that is lowered in mood disorders.
3. Practice Mindfulness. Means maintaining every moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. Mindfulness involves acceptance, pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment instead of the past or day dreaming about the future. It may help anxiety effects of negative thinking.
4. Do Less, Enjoy more. We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event. Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more.
5. Meditate. Meditation is a way to help de-stress. Meditation doesn’t have to be ritualistic instead it can just be walking meditation outside or maybe even in your car while driving. You can meditate anywhere that you can find the space and time to breathe deeply and allow your thoughts to dissolve. The goal is not about “not thinking” because thoughts will come. Instead, the challenge is allowing those thoughts to float away like bubbles and not give them the power to take you away from the present moment.
This meditation exercise is a simple introduction to meditation techniques.
1. Sit comfortably
2. Close your eyes
3. Breath naturally
4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.
5. Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.
If you want more guidance try out the Calm app to support your meditation. Guided meditation is a great way to get started, and you’ll start to see benefits as soon as you start practicing.
6. Practice gratitude. Check in with yourself daily about things you’re grateful for. The best way to reap the benefits of gratitude is to notice new things you’re grateful for every day. Gratitude journaling works because it slowly changes the way we perceive situations by adjusting what we focus on. While you might always be thankful for your great family, just writing “I’m grateful for my family” week after week doesn’t keep your brain on alert for fresh grateful moments. Get specific by writing “Today my husband gave me a shoulder rub when he knew I was really stressed” Don’t have a journal? No worries! It can be as simple as writing a list of 5 things you’re grateful for in the morning. Try it out and see if you notice a mental shift away from stress and towards positivity and gratitude.
7. Breathe. Next time you’re feeling the stress, take a minute to notice your breath in a stressful situation. It will most likely be very shallow and fast paced. In fact, check your breathing right now! Is your breath quick or shallow? If it is, try to switch over to deep breathing by taking what I call a “belly breath”. Breathe deep and slow and inflate your belly like a balloon. Then let your breath out in a slow, controlled state. Try counting to five when you release your breath in order to slow down your breathing and center yourself. Taking just five slow, deep, controlled breaths will help your body get the oxygen and blood flow that it needs to be able to step out of that “flight or fight” mode that stress causes. Try slowing down to monitor your breathing the next time you’re feeling stress (or right now!) and see if you notice a change in your body and mental state.
8. Have fun. Engage in activities that make your mind, body, and spirit completely joyful. Often, we get so busy with all of the projects, relationships, and tasks in our lives that we forget to just have fun! This could just be taking the time to take a walk, play with your pup, talk with a friend, be out in nature, read a good book, etc. Whatever you enjoy doing, remember to make time for those things in order to allow yourself some fun and joy.
Do you currently practice any of these methods for managing stress? Do you have a different method for handling life’s stressors? Let me know in the comments! Try adding these into your morning routine to begin your day on a positive note and be prepared to manage stress. I hope that this post has given you some ways to manage the stress in your life, or at least reminded you of ways to re-center yourself when things get overwhelming.
By: Carol Aguirre MS, RD/LDN