How do you relieve stress during the holidays?
Tis the season...for high stress.
This is the time when you are juggling holiday parties, holiday shopping, planning family gatherings, travel amidst the ongoing pandemic, and so much more — all on top of daily obligations, including work, chores, and taking care of family. So naturally, many find that their stress is through the roof, and time for self-care is nowhere to be found.
With everything going on, how can we learn how to stress a little less during what is typically a high-stress season?
Before we get to the answer, let’s first understand stress
While many of us experience stress collectively, stress is also highly individualized. This is because so many factors and variables affect our stress response. For instance, things like our temperament, personality, past experiences, socio-economic status, cultural differences, and emotional learning are all part of how we experience, express, and manage stress. Our brains also have a great deal to do with it.
Stress isn’t inherently bad. Some stress is necessary and is part of our survival. It is our bodies' way of helping us adjust to potentially dangerous situations. When we’re stressed, a region in the brain, called the limbic system, sets off the alarms and goes into “survival mode." Our sensory system goes on full alert, locking in on the perceived threat, activating the “fight or flight” response. This is great when there’s actual danger.
However, stress becomes a problem when prolonged. Repeated and prolonged stress breaks down those systems in our brains and bodies. It can cause immune disorders, high blood pressure, heart problems, and adverse effects on our physical and mental health, relationships, and daily functioning.
But here’s the good news! Understanding stress and your stress responses can help you manage it to work best for you.
Managing stress is all about identifying and regulating emotions
First, you have to take a look at your mindset around stress. Remember that stress falls on a spectrum ranging from no stress to positive stress to distress. Next, get in touch with your emotions. Instead of labeling emotions as either all "good" or "bad," view them as “pleasant” or “unpleasant,” with a range of “high” or “low.” The more words you have to identify emotions, the better you are able to describe your feelings and communicate them effectively. This means that you can do something about how you're feeling.
Remember, the goal isn’t to only have positive emotions or no stress. Instead, you should focus on developing strategies that will help you create a balance and the ability to decide if you want to maintain or shift the way you’re feeling.
Our emotions are most often seen in our behaviors. When we aren't able to regulate our emotions and manage stress, we tend to engage in some very unhelpful behaviors, such as negative self-talk, blaming ourselves, others, or our circumstances, complaining, procrastinating, and avoiding tasks or issues. We also tend to engage in poor health habits, like not eating well, not getting quality sleep, and not moving our bodies in ways that feel good to us.
Does this sound like you? Here's what you can do
The most important thing: take time to take care of your body.
You may be saying, “Time? I barely have any!” And that’s part of the problem. You think you don’t have any time. But you actually do! The following strategies take little to no time at all and will add so much value to your daily life:
1. Pay attention to your breathing
Start with being more mindful of your breathing. Spend a few moments throughout the day to intentionally breathe deeply, exhale fully, being present in the moment. When you’re out and about, make sure you’re not breathing in and out of your mouth. If you catch yourself escalating in negative emotions, pause and take a deep breath.
2. Nourish your body with healthful foods
No, this doesn’t mean cutting out entire food groups, starting a diet, or obsessing over every morsel of food you eat. It means making sure that you are eating lean protein, veggies, fruit, nutrient-rich carbs, and healthy fats throughout the day. We’re much more likely to crave various foods when we're stressed. Nourishing your body adequately helps prevent you from eating a whole chocolate bar or whatever your comfort food may be.
3. Prioritize sleep
Set a bedtime routine that gets you into bed with enough time to get a minimum of seven hours. Avoid staring at the screen for at least a half-hour before bedtime. Dim down the lights, and start settling down, much like how you would get a child ready for bed.
4. Move your body daily
Whether sitting at the desk all day or running around completing errands, you still need to dedicate time for intentional movement. This can be a 10-minute walk with music, a podcast, or an audiobook. A short yoga flow or workout. Or as simple as taking five minutes to do some stretching between activities.
No, like actually relax. Get a massage, take a bath, or create a routine that takes your mind off how busy you are, and helps you unwind.
6. Don't forget about your mind and spirit
In addition to taking care of your body, it’s also important to take care of your mind and spirit. Connecting with others, asking for help, practicing listening, and spending quality time with people who make you feel good, are just some of the ways to decrease stress.
Stressing less takes practice and patience
Stress is inevitable, especially during this time of year. With so much going on in the world, it may seem impossible to stress less or feel positive. However, stress and emotional management are skills that can be learned and solidified through practice, much like everything else. Remember that the goal isn’t always to have pleasant and positive emotions or never experience any stress. The goal is to make sure that you have more pleasant and positive feelings and develop the tools and strategies needed to create a shift in a positive direction when you encounter stressful situations.
Aleks Zavlunova is a Holistic Behavior Therapist and Wellness Coach. She uses principles of human learning and behavior modification to help people develop sustainable skills and habits to lead healthier and happier lives. Aleks combines cognitive behavior psychology and nutrition science to help her clients begin to address maladaptive and self-destructive patterns and habits, build self-esteem, confidence, and self-love, by systematically improving their relationship with food. She strongly believes that our relationship with food greatly correlates with our relationship with the self, our emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, as well as our relationships with others.