Surviving Holiday Stress

The holidays are upon us. And while the presence of chilly temperatures (in most cases), glittering lights, and the festive atmosphere come with the expectation of holiday cheer for many this time of year brings about despair. The stress around making this time “perfect” can wreak havoc on a person’s state of mind. Dealing with grief or unmanageable moods can make this more pronounce. The need to appear grateful and cheery among those who may not understand can intensify the impulse to run and hide to a mountain peek and scream the frustrations out.

So what do you do to get through the passage of the New Year? Here are just a few helpful tools to avoid white knuckling and bring on a sense of serenity through the all the glitter.

Acceptance – First and for most, acknowledge and accept that you are feeling stressed. If you don’t acknowledge that something is wrong why would you need to do something about it? Acceptance is key to any issue before change can happen. No you don’t have to announce it to the world, unless you want to. Once you are able to identify the problem you can take action to relieve the symptoms.

How – Seriously, if your tensing your stressing. Fighting it will only make it worse.

3-Second-Rule – Do you have issues with containing your impulse to engage in destructive behaviors? Yes, this could include isolating and avoiding behaviors. Take 3 seconds to assess your situation.

How – Take moment to (1) stop what you’re doing, (2) distract yourself from the situation, and (3) engage in affirming actions. Yes, saying affirmations can seem weird for many who are so used to putting themselves down but with time and practice you can learn to restructure your mind. So practice, practice, practice. You can’t be good at something if you don’t practice.

Breathe – Yes, you breathe naturally. But many people who are stressed tend to engage a freeze response that triggers shallow breathing. Any perceived pressures or fears can lead to rapid heartbeat, excessive trembling, hot or cold sweats, nausea, dizziness, headaches or chest pains, and a sense of feeling numb or stuck. Focusing on slow and deep breaths beyond your shoulders can slow your heartbeat and increase the release of nitric acid, which encourages tense muscles in the lungs to relax. When the body starts to relax, your mind can become more focused and assess your surroundings more clearly.

How – Slow, deep breathing can be done anywhere at any time. So no excuses here. Count slowly to 3 and imagine the breath going into your stomach. No, it doesn’t go beyond your lungs for you literal thinkers. Use your imagination. Do this at least three times. Do this as often as you need. The best thing you can do is making this a habit so it becomes a natural process. Every hour on the hour or every time you walk under a door way or mistletoe.

Meditate – Want to take it a step further? Take time to pause the busy bee mentality and just be. Meditation is a good way to incorporate the benefits of deep breathing in a more structured way that allows the mind to block the noise of everyday life for a brief moment and start to ground your mind.

How – There are various resources online that you can Google to assist in this relaxation process. Everyone is going to respond to different types, so look up music, or use one that relaxes you. There are audio recordings of people guiding you through the process. Sit for an hour or 10 minutes. There is no right or wrong way. Let go of the need to be perfect when it comes to this and find one that works for you. Do you have access to a hot tub?

Exercise – Having trouble with slowing down? Fine, let’s start with something that will force you to breathe. It also releases endorphins, which are the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Regular exercise allows you to increase your overall physical health and emotional wellbeing. Incorporate the slower pace activities by using deep breathing or meditation during your post workout stretches.

How – This will be different for everyone and dependent on your fitness level. Engage in physical activities that you enjoy. If you’re doing something that induces stress, it’s not going to work. Individual activities such as running/hiking, cycling, or swimming is a great way to release those happy chemicals without the stress of socializing. For those who prefer someone’s guidance and group workouts the key is to not compare yourself to those around you. How are you supposed to feel good about yourself if you are measuring yourself to someone else’s body or fitness level? Cut it out and just focus on your performance. Or find that hot tub.

Socialize – For many there just isn’t enough time in the day to hang out with friends. We are so focused on our responsibilities with home, work, and family that we forget that we used to have friends. Want to teach your kiddos a valuable tool? Allow yourself to model a well-rounded person. Take an hour, or two, and enjoy being a person. You’re allowed a girls’ or boys’ night out occasionally. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to go all out. Hanging out at home with a few friends with a bottle of wine or meeting at a coffee shop can be just what you need to connect with people outside the bubble you’ve created. After all, what’s the point in all of your hard work if you can’t play?

How – Pick up the phone and call or text someone. Again, this doesn’t have to be a big event. Keep it simple and relaxing. Or go to a concert. Whatever works for you. The point is to get you out there. I recommend finding that hot tub.