Yeah, I know. The last thing you need right now is another list of ways to avoid stress during the holidays. The mere thought of another list is stressful all by itself.
I don’t cotton to holiday de-stress lists, either. That’s why I combed through dozens of tips from experts and ordinary folks to winnow out what I think are the best, most truly helpful holiday reminders. I’m betting that something on this list will truly make your life easier and your spirit more joyous. Most of the suggestions even have some science behind them, which always makes me happy.
For the mind and emotions
- Cultivate gratitude. If you develop an attitude of gratitude (as they say), you’ll find yourself in a happier place. This is more substantial than simply counting your blessings (although that works, too). You can be generous; you can be large of spirit. This is necessary soul-work and deserves attention at any time of year, but this season of hyper-consumption is a good time for a reality check. Do a shift in a soup kitchen or a food pantry. Be a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Deliver Christmas baskets to the less fortunate. Giving money is important, too, but it doesn’t pack the life-affirming power of face-to-face contact.
- Be non-judgmental. Before Uncle Bob begins his NRA rant or Aunt Millie makes not-so-sotto-voce comments about your grandchildren, prepare your mind. These are the people with whom you share the planet and your DNA. You aren’t going to change them, so you might as well adjust yourself. Practice a benign attitude of acceptance. A glass of wine also helps.
- Visualize. What one word describes what you hope for this holiday season? Peace? Serenity? Acceptance? Love? Write it on a card (or several) and tape it to the bathroom mirror. This is your holiday guide and mantra.
- Be mindful. We wrote about this in a previous post, but its impact on stress-reduction can’t be overstated. Pay attention to what you’re doing this moment. When you get to a holiday task you enjoy, decorating cookies or the tree, maybe, tackle it with focused attention and just enjoy the heck out of it.
- Smell citrus. The lemon-y scent of citrus smells clean, but it also increases norepinephrine—a mood stabilizer and stress-reducing hormone. Rub some lemon or orange essential oil under your nose or carry a hankie dabbed with the scent for a dose of feel-better. Use it as aroma therapy during the holidays.
For the body.
- Exercise. Holidays are a black hole for shrugging off daily routines. Who has time to exercise? That’s exactly why it’s so important. Exercise is critical during stressful times because it gooses our system with feel-good endorphins and increases energy levels. Getting outdoors for a walk or jog amplifies the effect.
- Go natural. Research shows that patients with a view of the outdoors heal faster. It also reduces stress. So, open the curtains; flood your house with natural light; and bring the outdoors in with pine boughs, holly berries, and essential oils. Go outside and gather your own for a double exposure.
- Eat moderately. You can certainly enjoy every morsel of holiday fare—just don’t get carried away. You know how you’ll feel after a night or several of overindulgence—and the morning of January 2 will be very, very bleak indeed. Once again, practice mindfulness. Pay attention to the colors, tastes, and delicious holiday smells. You’ll be less likely to blindly put things in your mouth, and you’ll enjoy what you do put there a lot more.
- Sleep. It’s hard to turn off the mental hamster wheel that you’ve been running on all day. But good sleep is essential to good functioning, and bad sleep is a total killjoy, as we all know. There’s a well-developed science of sleep hygiene. Here are a couple of safe natural sleep aids: Chamomile has been used to aid sleep aid for hundreds of years. What is more soothing that a hot mug of chamomile tea before bed? Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your sleep/wake cycles. Some people find that 5 mg. of melatonin before bed helps them feel sleepy and fall asleep faster. It’s safe, inexpensive, and easily found in pharmacies.
- Touch. What is it about loving touch? Research shows that touch releases dopamine and oxytocin—both soothing, mood-altering hormones. You don’t have to go all the way to home base (but if you do, sex is a great stress-reliever as well); just a gentle hug, shoulder massage; quick kiss helps put the moment in perspective. Don’t neglect the power of touch this season.
For your sanity
- Clean house. No, not you. Get your house deep-cleaned early in December. You’ll love knowing that the dust bunnies no longer live under the beds and that you’re ready for drop-in guests and family overnights at any moment.
- Simplify. Ditch fussy traditions. Lower your expectations. Spend less. The point is to enjoy the time with family and friends and to savor the sensual beauty of the holiday. The contemporary focus on fancy gifts and decorations and a whirlwind of parties is distracting and exhausting. Just say “no” to the distractions from the true spirit of the holidays.
- Watch a Christmas classic. For an enjoyable break, gather whatever family is available and settle in with hot chocolate and popcorn to watch your favorite Christmas movie, whether it’s Charlie Brown or Miracle on 34th Street. You can’t go wrong with an easy and heartwarming evening like this.