The holidays are upon us! The holidays are a festive time that can sometimes end up feeling pretty stressful or even depressing. There may be financial challenges with gift buying. There may be social challenges as you see people you might normally avoid or see in moderation, like family members who know how to push all your buttons. Or maybe you feel like you’re missing out when you see picture-perfect images in ads and photos people post on Facebook. Or maybe you’re missing family and friends who have passed on.
Many people turn to alcohol to ease their stress. Moderate amounts of alcohol may ease stress. However it can also increase your stress, because alcohol mixes negatively with many medications and of course you can become addicted if you start relying on it as a “stress reliever,” because you can build a tolerance to the de-stressing effects. Alcohol is also a depressant and affects serotonin levels and other neurotransmitters in the brain so anxiety and depression may increase as the buzz wears off. Alcohol can actually induce anxiety for a full day after drinking.
To help you stay sane and manage stress through the holidays in natural, healthy ways, I shared tips on Fox 2 News and KPLR 11 today. Here is the interview from KPLR 11 and below it are the tips I shared along with many more…
Give Yourself a 2-Minute Time Out
If you’re finding yourself getting really stressed, take a break from the situation by excusing yourself. Head to the bathroom or a room away from everyone else and just focus on your breath for two minutes. Set the timer on your smartphone for two minutes and then count how many times you breathe in (remember this number for later so all you have to do is step away and count that number of in-breaths). You will be amazed by how much calmer you are in that short amount of time and how much clearer you can think and interact with people after. And no one will think anything of it since you stepped away for such a short amount of time.
Change Your Perspective
If you’re feeling stressed, you’re probably focusing on something you don’t like. Negative thinking triggers your body’s stress response. By changing your thoughts, you change the way you feel. You can shift your thinking by changing your environment. Get outside for a walk and it’s highly likely your mood will brighten. Being out in nature changes your perspective and if it’s sunny out, it will boost the feel-good hormone serotonin in your brain. Walking also reduces anxiety and helps you sleep better so a walk outside is a big win all around. If weather isn’t conducive to a walk, get to the gym or have a little work out at home. You can find lots of free yoga and exercise videos on YouTube.
With less sunlight this time of year, you can cheat and boost your serotonin lights with phototherapy lights or smart light bulbs that mimic natural sunlight, like Ilumi smartbulbs, which last up to 20 years and have a circadian setting that replicates the sun’s natural light cycle throughout the day, gradually changing the light from cool, energizing light during the day to a warm, relaxing glow at night to help you sleep better ($60-$70, ilumi.co). Your insurance may even cover the cost.
Studies have shown that citrus scents alleviate stress by boosting another hormone that affects mood, norepineprhine. If you’re not around an orange or lemon, put some citrus essential oil on a scarf or handkerchief to keep with you throughout the day or use a diffuser to fill your home or office with a mood-boosting scent. Essential oil companies also make special blends to help you relax and improve your mood (Aura Cacia Essential Oils and Blends, $7-$10, and Aromatherapy Vaporizer, $65, at Whole Foods and auracacia.com).
Squeeze and Breathe
Squeeze the fleshy spot between your index finger and thumb. Take a deep breath and apply firm pressure to this acupressure point for 30 seconds. This helps you reduce stress and tension in your upper body. You can even do it while talking to someone and they won’t even know it.
Play the What Do I Like Game
As I mentioned before, if you’re feeling stressed, you’re probably focusing on something you don’t like, which triggers your body’s stress response so swap the negative thoughts out for positive ones with a quick game. Refocus your mind to a more positive state by looking around and asking yourself what you like or what is going well in your life. If you’re talking to someone, think about what you like about that person. Or look around your environment and ask yourself about what you like in it? The color of the walls? A warm fire on a cold night? It’s likely you’ll feel lighter and happier within a few minutes. And a more positive outlook helps you handle any challenges that come your way.
Put the Brakes on Overwhelm by Being Present
If you find yourself getting really overwhelmed (maybe you just learned about a big, unexpected expense in the midst of all the holiday spending or that a family member just went into the hospital–something that seems to happen more often this time of year), you can put the brakes on anxiety by getting present. Get in touch with your five senses. Ask yourself what are 2-3 things you can see. Then move on to what you can smell, taste, touch and hear. This simple exercise will stop the runaway train in your brain and regain your sanity.
Laughter reduces stress hormones so make time for funny movies, books and videos. Yes, those funny cat and dog videos on YouTube are actually therapeutic. You might also consider taking a laughter yoga class for an extra boost.
The world won’t end if everything at your holiday gathering isn’t perfect or you didn’t get the perfect gift. People care about you. Focus more on connecting and enjoying time with everyone.
Put Away the Smartphones
All that buzzing and beeping increases your stress levels by invoking your fight or flight response by boosting adrenaline. You’ll also be available to connect better with friends and family if you’re not on your phone every few minutes.
Get a Massage
Play Your Favorite Music
Research has shown that hearing music you like relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, which is calming and good for your heart, so turn off the TV and turn on some tunes.
Do Less and Enjoy More
It’s tempting to accept every invitation and do lots of things to show your love for friends and family. If you end up feeling totally stressed though, that doesn’t exactly add to anyone’s holiday joy. Instead take care of yourself and say no to some invites. As you say no to some things, you give yourself space to say yes to things you really, truly want to do, which may be a special holiday party… or a quiet night at home on your own to regroup and unwind.
Make sure you always have something to look forward to. It can be something simple–whether it’s getting together with friends or hugging your dog–this simple act can make life a whole lot more fun and enjoyable.