These Simple Holiday Stress-Busters Will Give Your Brain a Break
I can’t talk about stress often enough. It’s the 800-pound gorilla in the room when we’re talking about all the ills of the modern world, the secret ingredient in so many “lifestyle” diseases. You can do everything else in your power to get your health back on track, only to have it undermined by constant stress. And right now—the holiday season—a time that’s supposed to be about love and togetherness and good will—is one of the most stressful times of the year for most of us. And stress, as we all know, takes a toll on us at every level, both physical and psychological.
Of course, some of this is “good” stress—visiting with children or grandchildren we might not see as often as we’d like, family get-togethers, and so on. And some of it is “bad” stress—worrying about what kind of gift we should buy so-and-so, worrying about money, family get-togethers (again) and more. There’s a reason we see more heart attacks and strokes around Christmas, and I can spell it out for you with just a few letters:
So what can you do to reduce your stress during this holiday season? It’s important to remember that while stress manifests in your body, it originates in your mind. So while physical steps like getting enough sleep and eating well are certainly important steps to reducing stress, some of the most helpful things you can do for yourself are purely emotional. And they all boil down to one simple premise: take a little time for yourself.
Yes, the holidays are all about sharing and caring and putting a smile on other people’s faces, but make sure you’re caring for and nurturing yourself while you’re at it. So this holiday season, take a few minutes each day to give yourself one of these small gifts:
Savor the little things
…And I do mean little things. Something as small as taking the time to really enjoy that cup of coffee without worrying about what you think you “ought” to be doing can make a difference. So take a minute to be mindful. Sit down and savor that cup of coffee (or tea, or glass of wine) instead of rushing around the house with cup, mug or glass in hand while you’re trying to do a dozen different things. A real coffee break can be an oasis of peace in the midst of a hectic day.
Take a long, hot bath
Baths get short shrift in our busy, shower-happy world. And that’s a shame. A long, hot bath might not be the best thing for your skin if you do it every day, but it’s an incredible stress-reliever. So grab yourself some bubbles. Turn down the lights and turn on some soothing music. Light a candle…and let the day’s stress drain away.
There’s a reason for the old saying about laughter being the best medicine. Laughter helps relieve stress. And it’s not all in your head—giving in to laughter has a real, concrete physical effect on your body and your brain. It actually lowers your levels of stress hormones. It cues your brain to release those feel-good chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. So like the saying says: Live simply, love deeply…and laugh often. Your stress level will plummet.
For most people, Christmas time seems to revolve around food. Everyone has their special recipes they only bring out at Christmas. People who might not touch their stove all year can be found in the kitchen baking. In the last few days leading up to the Big Day itself, your pots and pans might come to feel like balls and chains and simply putting dinner on the table after all that work can be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
If that’s where you’re at, give yourself a break. While you’ll never hear me advocate for junk food, once in awhile the trade-off in stress reduction is worth it. It’s ok to order a pizza on Christmas Eve if you’re already frazzled and dinner seems like too much to bear. It’s fine to order in Chinese when you’ve spent the day making goodies for tomorrow. Just don’t turn it into an everyday habit.
Give yourself permission to not be perfect
I think we all have a picture in our minds of the perfect Christmas. And like too many other things in our lives, it’s largely a product of…advertising. For weeks or even months before the actual holiday, we’re bombarded with images of what Christmas “should” be. And no matter how much we’d like to think we’re immune to this type of manipulation, we tend to internalize it. We compare ourselves—and our families, and our holiday—to a picture-perfect ideal that just isn’t possible.
Because here’s the truth: unless you’re shooting a movie script, there is no such thing as the perfect Christmas. Life is messy. Families are messy. Sometimes the food burns. Sometimes the pie crust is tough instead of flaky.
Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate. Sometimes we didn’t get the “perfect” gift for someone special. Sometimes (especially with kids or grandkids) the house still looks like a tornado hit it when everyone turns up…
…and that’s all ok.
None of us are perfect, and holding yourself to an impossible standard does nothing but create a lot of unnecessary stress. So give yourself permission to be imperfect. Next year, you’ll be laughing about it.
Because guess what? This Christmas is the perfect Christmas. And cutting your stress will make it even more perfect.
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