Stress Less this Holiday Season – 5 simple strategies!

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While there is always a lot of anticipation about the coming of the holiday season, it can also be a time of high stress. Not only do the regular day-to-day chores need to be completed, but there’s a whole host of other activities: shopping, cleaning, baking, decorating, entertaining that are added to the list. Even being entertained can bring on extra stress (as opposed to relaxation) because it is time that is taken away. We are chronically over-scheduled, and this is amplified during the holidays.

Image - Stress5While a little bit of stress can be positive – it keeps us on our toes, gives us that adrenaline rush and stirs us to action – the negative health implications of stress are many. Research has consistently shown that stress is linked to headaches, fatigue, depression, heart disease and some believe, even cancer. If not kept in check, it can have catastrophic implications to the quality of our lives. So what to do about it?

The first and most important aspect of dealing with stress is self-awareness. Know yourself well enough to recognize the signals your body is giving you that you are under stress, as only then you can do something about it! Above, I listed some of the extreme symptoms, but they could be as simple as restless sleep, skipping workouts, and eating poorly. Everyone is different, and as long as you are aware of what your “normal” is, when it starts to slip, you can check in with yourself to see if stress might be the culprit. And if so, try these 5 simple stress-busters:

Image - Stress21. Practise Deep Breathing

When you are under stress, your “Fight or Flight” response is stimulated, and breathing becomes more shallow which brings on feelings of shortness of breath and anxiety. Consciously pause and take a few deep breaths. Long, slow and deep breathing works on the parasympathetic nervous system, the “Rest and Digest” response. Deep breathing has been shown to lower cortisol levels, slow the heart beat and lower blood pressure. Try inhaling deeply through the nose for a count of four and exhaling slowly for a count of four. Repeat several times. The best thing about this stress-buster is that you can do it anywhere anytime – sitting in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, or in bed, with a racing mind trying to fall asleep.

2. Book a Massage

Stress brings tension into our bodies, particularly in the neck and shoulder area. We all know the benefits of a deep tissue massage: eases tense muscles, relieve headaches and reduces joint pain. But a massage can also combat stress by increasing the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine. The nice thing about a massage is you don’t have to do anything except book the appointment and get to the clinic. After that, it’s all done for you. Give yourself a gift of a 30 minute break every couple weeks for a massage appointment. And if you absolutely cannot, ask a room mate, co-worker, partner, or family member to rub your neck and shoulders. Even a few minutes will make a difference.

3. Get Some Exercise

Image - ExerciseIt’s easy to say “I don’t have the time or the energy” but exercise can actually help to re-energize you. It gets the blood moving through your body, and gets oxygen to the brain and to the muscles, which increases alertness. If you absolutely cannot get to the gym, try heading out for a vigourous walk for just 10 – 15 minutes – that’s all it takes. If the cold, crisp air is too much for you, take the stairs at the office, or in the parking garage, or just put on some music and dance! Look for opportunities to move your body and stretch your legs. You will feel better and your body will thank you.

4. Learn to Say NO

As I mention above, we are chronically over-scheduled, and doubly so over the holidays. Rather than saying “yes” to all invitations, make a decision to spend time with people that are very special, and with whom you have a meaningful relationships. It is too easy to get caught up in all the festivities, and then find yourself at events where you are bored or dis-interested, and not enjoying the time you have invested at all. Instead, make a conscious decision to take some “me-time” where there are events or socials that you are not that keen to attend.

5. Take a Nap

Image - Stress4According to the Canadian Sleep Society, sleep problems can lead to depression and depression can lead to sleep problems. If your sleep patterns have been impacted by a hectic holiday routine, taking a nap might be a short term strategy that provides some relief. Studies have shown that even a brief nap can reduce sleepiness and boost cognitive performance, as well as improve mood, lower frustration, and increase creativity. Naps should be no longer than 10-20 minutes and taken early in the afternoon, so as to not impact night-time sleep.  For an extra soothing effect, try rubbing a little lavender oil on the temples to help induce that restful state.

Whatever you do, don’t stress about being stressed! You cannot eliminate it, and healthy dose is just that – healthy. Simply raise your level of “stress awareness” and have an action plan that works for you. When you recognize the symptoms, use the technique that is right for the situation. Over time, you will begin to notice the cumulative effects both in terms of mood, attitude and performance!

If you’re interested in assessing your stress, go to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s website and take the Mental Health Meter http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/mental-health-meter to assess your state of mental health.

Keep Calm and Carry On and have an awesome Holiday Season!

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