In spite of the traditions and merriment surrounding the holiday season, many of us find we are facing an unwanted and invasive guest during this time of year—stress. For many, the first signs of holiday stress begin around Halloween, when holiday shopping ads begin, when stores start stocking shelves with holiday decorations and tempting sweets.
Read on for a few ways to check in with yourself and just… breathe.
Many of us don’t realize how our breathing changes when we are under stress. There are many forms of breathing that can help reduce stress, including various types of meditation breathing, “belly breathing,” body-centered breathing, and coherent breathing. Dr. Steve Sisgold, as associate at my office and author of What’s Your Body Telling You?, works directly with people to open up their breathing and release the emotions and stress that suppress our breathing and energy.
Because Autumn and Winter are seasons when we tend to spend more time indoors, there is a tendency to move less. Movement and various forms of physical activity are Nature’s stress reducers. Physical activity causes the release of a spectrum of neurotransmitters and hormones that reduce unhealthy stress. So, join a gym or get some exercise DVDs to move at home—including aerobic activity, stretching, and weight work to build endurance, strength and flexibility. Exercise keeps us fit, so find something that you will do. I like to ask people, “You know what the best exercise is?” Answer: The one you will do!
If you sense you’re under stress, allow yourself to acknowledge it. This can often be the first step in developing a plan for reducing stress. Denying stress only masks the problem, and pretending to be happy when you’re not will only increase the stress.
One of the greatest factors in stress is a feeling of isolation, so when you’re aware of your stress, don’t hesitate to reach out to one or more people you trust. These people care about you and can often bring support, empathy and companionship. Family can be stressful of course too, yet having love and support can calm us deeply.
High stress is often accompanied by sleep problems, so this is a season when adequate levels of high-quality sleep are paramount. If you are having trouble sleeping, try practicing meditative or other stress-reducing breathing, reduce electronics prior to bed, and avoid eating or drinking stimulants or depressants before bed. Realize that sleep comes in cycles, so be patient. If the problem persists, seek professional help. There are many natural remedies that can calm our brains and support our sleep. These include amino acids tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan, GABA, calcium/magnesium formulas, and valerian root.
Many of us stress ourselves because we want the holidays to be “perfect” or “just like old times.” But let’s face it—that’s not always possible. As our families and friends grow and move, and as our holiday traditions change, it becomes ever more difficult to create a perfect holiday event. Choosing a few favorite traditions and adopting some new ones might help. Just remember when it comes to the holidays—Perfection does not have to be par!
Set aside differences
The holidays are a great time for setting aside differences, for forgiveness and for new beginnings. If you feel you’re harboring negative feelings toward someone—be it your family, friends, or workmates—try to accept them as they are even if they don’t meet all of your expectations. There is a good chance that such people are also stressed out and your attitude may help them during a time of need. Just starting an opening to talk can help get a valuable discussion going.
Don’t abandon healthy habits
Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all when it comes to your diet and lifestyle. Overindulgence and lack of exercise will only add to your stress and guilt. Have a healthy snack before holiday parties so that you don’t go overboard on sweets, cheese, or alcoholic drinks. Continue to get plenty of sleep and physical activity.