Do you get stressed-out around the holidays? These expert approved tips will help you relax and actually enjoy the holidays.
The shopping and crowds. The back-to-back diet-busting parties. The interminable chats with the in-laws. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year. That’s why we’ve rounded up these expert-endorsed ways to help you dodge the seasonal blues and stay happy, healthy, and energized.
Hike your mood with sunlight – It stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which impacts millions of Americans every year, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles. To ease SAD symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doc about photo-therapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light).
Take a whiff of citrus – Researchers studying depression have found that certain citrus fragrances boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by upping levels of nor-epinephrine, a hormone that affects mood. For an all-day pick-me-up, dab a little lemon or orange essential oil on a handkerchief to tuck in your pocket.
Walk away from worries – “The rhythm and repetition of walking has a tranquilizing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and improves sleep,” says nutrition-and-wellness expert Ann Kulze, MD. Aim for a brisk, half-hour walk every day.
Squeeze here – The fleshy place between your index finger and thumb is called the hoku spot in traditional Chinese medicine. Applying firm pressure there for just 30 seconds can reduce stress and tension in your upper body. So if you start to feel overwhelmed by the holiday chaos, give your hand a squeeze and take a deep breathe.
Do less, enjoy more – “We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event,” says George Pratt, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California. “Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more.”
Stick with your daily routine – Prioritize your workouts, book club, etc., and don’t try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle, says Katherine Muller, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
Don’t neglect whatever cracks you up – Laughing like crazy reduces stress hormones. That, in turn, helps immune cells function better, says psychologist Steve Wilson, founder of the World Laughter Tour, an organization that offers therapeutic-laughter training.
Forget perfection – Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little cluttered or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. “Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life,” says Donna Schempp, the program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance. Don’t sweat the small stuff and your holiday will be much more enjoyable!
Get out of the house – If your family members often pick on one another at the holiday table, taking the fun out of meals, consider eating family brunches or dinners in restaurants. “Being in public discourages loud voices and bad behavior,” says Muller.
Go tech-free – Constant cell phone buzzes and email alerts keep us in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode due to bursts of adrenaline. Not only is this exhausting, but it contributes to mounting stress levels, especially in women. What better time to turn your gadgets off than during a holiday get-together? Enjoy spending time with your family and friends without worry.
Savor a spicy meal – Hot foods trigger the release of endorphins—the natural chemicals that trigger feelings of euphoria and well-being, Dr. Kulze says. Also, it will clear sinuses, increasing oxygen intake and flow.
Dip into some honey – You’ll get an instant kick and energy for the long haul. Plus, research shows that its antioxidant and antibacterial properties may improve your immunity. Here’s a tip: The darker the honey, the more powerful the antioxidant punch.
Eat breakfast before you tank up on coffee – Caffeine on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can cause attention problems and irritability, says New York City–based clinical psychologist Joe Cilona, PsyD.
Turn up the tunes – Anxious? Listen to your favorite music, whether it’s Jingle Bell Rock or the latest from Jay-Z. Research from the University of Maryland shows that hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. That not only calms you down but is good for your heart, too.
Your recipe for relaxation – Craving something sweet? Ditch the holiday cheesecake and try a delicious mango instead. The sweet, tangy scent of mangoes—whether they’re fresh or jarred—may alter your blood chemistry and send a wave of calm over your body, research from Japan shows.
Fit in exercise – It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re stressed out, but going for a run or hitting the gym can actually make you feel better. Research has found that workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
Don’t over-schedule – If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed by your holiday agenda, don’t over schedule your time and take on more than you can manage. Remember: It’s OK to slow down a bit.
Think positive – The holidays may drive you to your breaking point, but don’t focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger the your body’s stress response, just as a real threat does. Remember, it’s time to celebrate with your family and friends (even if they do stress you out!). An optimistic outlook will help you cope with challenges that come your way.