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Wednesday
Dec042013

10 Tips for De-Stressing This Holiday Season

The holidays... Research suggests nearly 40% of people experience higher stress levels during the season with participants citing lack of time, lack of money, the push of commercialism and an increase in responsibility as their top stessors. Many of us undoubtedly identify with these pressures. We worry about mounting bills and crammed schedules. There are some weeks we may feel like we’re white-knuckling it, staying up late and stressing about meeting all obligations until a distant free night when we can kick back and do the luxury of absolutely nothing. I once heard the clever advice that we should devote an hour to self-care each day except when we're particularly busy, and then we should take two hours. Whether we fill the full 60 (let alone 120 minutes) a day isn’t the point as much as the larger principle itself. When we’re at our most stretched, that’s exactly the time we need to ratchet up our self-care. How are you caring for yourself this season? Beyond the basics of health, check out these 10 ways (among many) to de-stress and recharge this month. 

Plan a vacation.

Is it ever too early to plan a warm weather vacation? While many people wait until after the first of the year to think about getting away, this might be the ideal time to begin planning. If a January getaway to the Caribbean isn’t in the cards, don’t let that deter you. Maybe it can be a spa weekend with your spouse or best friend, a few days at an area indoor water park/hotel complex with the family, an overnight winter camping retreat, or a stay with long-distance friends. Research suggests the biggest happiness boost we get from vacations is the anticipation itself. In that regard, the gift begins right now! 

Take it out at the gym.

Sometimes stress hits us as fatigue, while other times it can feel like agitation. Why not bring the jittery side of your stress to the gym and use it as fuel for a better workout? Add a little extra time or consider trying a new fitness class. Just be sure to not push yourself so hard you come away drained rather than revived. 

Schedule your health--and your self.

It goes without saying that you should maintain your full workout routine and allow for the healthy food preparation time you need. Beyond that, however, put your general wellbeing on the books as well. What do you find to be the most rejuvenating pastime: walking through the woods at dusk, a hot mineral salt bath, a massage, a night of reading, a favorite sports event or performance? If it’s not in your self-care plan, it’s a pipe dream. Schedule yourself, and don’t wait until January. 

Recognize what frazzles your nerves (and consider making changes).

Some responsibilities tax us more than others this time of year. Maybe it’s attending an office holiday party, volunteering to help with a specific event, spending too much on gifts for a large extended family, or a four prong travel circuit to hit every set of parents’/in-laws’ houses for the big day. Whatever the case, recognizing the real source of your stress can be pivotal. By homing in on what depletes you the most, you can make conscious choices to create a better holiday experience. It’s easy to try to please everyone this time of year, but if you’re left frustrated, broke or drained at the end, it’s an unreasonable (and unhealthy) setup. Redraw the lines of your responsibilities by opting out or limiting those activities/expenditures that put you over the top. Stay for less time at the office party, take a year off from the volunteer position, tell family you’re operating from a budget this year and are doing smaller gifts or just presents for the kids. Celebrate with extended family over the course of a couple of weeks instead of a single day or two. Be resolute regardless of any initial push back, but know you might encounter less resistance than you think. Oftentimes, what we consider obligations are really just expectations we put on ourselves. 

Create small but meaningful rituals for just yourself.

We spend so much time and energy orchestrating holiday enjoyment for other people (i.e. kids, coworkers, extended family). Why not make a small part of the day (or at least the week) our own? It could be as easy as reserving some early morning time for an outdoor walk when the neighborhood is quiet, incorporating sauna time at the gym, planning a couple hours each weekend for a fun excursion (with a friend or on your own) or just reading at night with some candles and relaxing music before bed. 

Try something new. 

It’s the season when tradition reigns supreme, but an unrelenting focus on routine can make us feel like we’re stuck on a track, pushed to hit all the pre-determined stops when we might prefer to live and decide in the moment. Honor the traditions that have deep meaning to you and those you love, but also heed the desire for something new. Research suggests novelty is a significant dimension of our overall life satisfaction. New, however challenging, experiences actually reward us neurologically. Visit a restaurant you’ve never tried before, or attend a holiday performance or community event that looks fun. Sign up for a workshop or day class devoted to a holiday project. Many home improvement and crafting stores offer monthly parent-child workshops to build or create something together. Local parks or shops can offer pottery date nights or naturalist hikes. Some of our best memories are the times we stepped out on a limb and did something new and novel!

Start a relaxation exercise (or expand it if you already have one). 

Don’t wait until New Year’s to make a relaxation resolution! Use the time to experiment with and develop a meditation practice (solo at home or with a group at a local meditation center/house of worship). Alternatively, attend a yoga class, or try a creative visualization CD. The key is to find a relaxation method that works for you, and don’t forget to put it in your daily calendar! 

Laugh.

You’d be hard pressed to find a healthier, more stress relieving activity. Laughter, research shows, does everything from decrease pain to enhance immune function. It also boosts circulation and gives your heart a good kind of workout. In fact, some evidence suggests laughter (or approaching life with good overall humor) might be a protective factor against heart disease. Watch a comedy, go out for standup or just invite friends for a board game that will elicit laughs (Pictionary, anyone?). 

Embrace the darkness.

With the longest night of the year just around the corner, the holiday season contains the darkest weeks. Go out when you’re so inclined, but spend some nights in with candles, quiet and early bedtimes. Sit by the fireplace instead of the T.V./computer screen. Let yourself acclimate to the darker months, and invest in the sleep and rest we naturally crave this time of year.

Resist the temptation to get one more thing done.

It’s so easy to be tempted to do more, but ask if it serves you. Go for balance this season. No one should get to January spent and exhausted! Make your to-do list, but then cut it down--by half. Realistically, that’s about all most of us get done anyway. The rest hangs over our heads as extraneous stress. Keep the holiday as simple as possible with focus on the things that will mean the most once it's over. 

Thanks for reading, everyone. What helps you de-stress this time of year? What does self-care look like for you this season? Share your thoughts and best strategies. 

Written by Jennifer Wannen, Content Manager

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

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