The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year. But even those who thrive on shopping, celebrating and entertaining can get overwhelmed by holiday obligations and expectations. It's not uncommon to feel stressed out or depressed this time of year. Holiday demands can strain relationships and finances, which can lead to real physical consequences.
That's because when we're stressed, we are more likely to sleep too little, eat or drink too much, or make other unhealthy choices. To cope with seasonal stress, try these five simple remedies:
- Laugh it off. A hearty "ho ho ho" fights stress with a one–two punch that reduces stress hormones and increases feel–good hormones. Need inspiration? Search "laughter yoga" videos online and follow along for 10 minutes. Laughter yoga combines yoga–style breathing with exercises that bring out your inner silliness. Smiling, even if you are in no mood to grin, can also improve your mood and sense of well–being, say experts.
- Meditate. You don't need to take a meditation class to enjoy the rewards of contemplation. Just find a quiet spot, sit still and close your eyes. For five minutes, focus your mind on your breathing, an object, or a pleasant word or phrase. When distraction creeps in, pull your thoughts back to your focal point. When your heart and breathing are elevated by stress, meditation helps you relax by slowing them down.
- Get crafty. Jewelry–making, woodworking, knitting, scrapbooking and other hands–on projects are good for the mind and body, says Kelly Lambert, Ph.D., neuroscientist and author of Lifting Depression. Holiday gift–making should trigger the release of endorphins and serotonin, the body's natural "feel–good" chemicals. Of course, only take on projects if you have time to enjoy them. Otherwise, holiday deadlines could end up raising your stress level.
- Give thanks. A Kent State University study found that students who wrote letters of gratitude to people in their lives were happier and more satisfied than those who did not express their thanks. Other research has shown expressive writing can help improve your sense of well–being. Holiday cards are a good way to tell some of the special people in your life what they mean to you. Try writing one every day or so.
- Exercise. Exercise stimulates the body to release chemicals that counter stress hormones like cortisol, which at high levels can harm your heart, cause sleep and digestive problems, or contribute to depression. Sneak in 10 minutes of walking or other exercise as you go through your day.
Whether you try one of the tips outlined above or you have other ideas for how to de–stress during the holiday season, what matters most is that you take the time for yourself each day. While you may be focused on others more than ever this time of year, it's important to care for yourself too.