3 Secrets to Lowering Stress throughout the Holidays
The holidays are upon us once again, and it seems every year there is more and more stress. Stress can get to you even if you don’t have a blended family, colorful in-laws, a spouse, work parties to go to… the list just keeps going on, doesn’t it?
But there are three secrets to lowering stress that are not difficult to do. And each of these secrets can be found by watching animals, specifically: Tigers, birds, and rabbits.
Tigers are known as ferocious beasts, but did you know that they spend more time resting and napping than they do awake? Taking time out of your busy schedule to rest for a bit can help lower stress a great deal, but I’m not talking about resting for 16 hours like a tiger does.
The Secret: 5 minutes is all it takes to rest your body and your mind. Here are some simple techniques:
Take a slow, deep breath. Yes, please do it now, I will wait. Fantastic! Now, when you took that deep breath, did you fill your lungs or stomach with air? Some studies have shown that filling your stomach with air helps with relieving stress. While other studies show that taking slow deep breaths while filling your lungs helps to relieve stress. So who is right? Instead of stressing over that, fill both. Take another deep breath and fill both your lungs and stomach with air. Take a slow, deep breath in, then let it out as slowly. Don’t hold your breath. There are a lot of people that don’t breathe but, since the zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened, they are not walking around either. Dead people don’t breathe; living people do, so it makes sense not to hold your breath.
During those times that you are not holding your breath, you can also de-stress your mind by clearing it of the clutter that’s bouncing around in there. Yes, this is more difficult than breathing deeply, so here is something that may help. Think of a filing cabinet (or, for those born after 1990, a folder on your computer screen). As you breathe deeply and clear your mind, images and thoughts of what you need to do will pop up. Imagine each thought as a piece of paper. As it comes to mind, take that piece of paper and put it into the filing cabinet so you can pull it out later. It will take time, but eventually your mind will stop sending you random thoughts while you are meditating because it knows you are just going to file them away.
And remember, this is only a 5-minute process. If you don’t get it right the first time, try again the next time you start feeling stress.
Birds eat a sensible meal in the morning and evening. But they also snack throughout the day. And if you’ve tried dieting (sorry for saying that word) lately, you have probably heard about eating healthy and portion control.
The secret: Exercise portion control no matter what you eat.
What is your favorite part of the holiday meals; desert, potatoes, stuffing? Go ahead, fill your plate up, but here is a trick that may help. Once your plate is full, put half onto another plate, and wait an hour or two before you eat the second half. That way you are still eating as much food, just not all at once.
The truth is, you can eat an extremely unhealthy meal and it won’t affect you much, as long as it’s the only unhealthy meal you eat. So let’s talk about leftovers. I’m reminded of a television show where a character brought Thanksgiving leftovers to work to eat for lunch. Someone else at the leftovers and the character had a meltdown characteristic of a mental patient. Rather than keeping the unhealthy leftovers, make meals of them and give them away to homeless people on the street. Unfortunately, our bodies and minds only work as well as the fuel we put into them. And after many years of experimenting, I can tell you that dieting on potato chips, pizza, and ice cream did not create the body shape I want.
But making changes in eating habits is difficult, so don’t try to do it all at once. Start with the way you snack; maybe two or three times a week pick a healthy snack instead. Small changes made over time can make a big difference, and eating healthier really does lower stress.
Rabbits are full of energy, and always seem to be on the move (especially the cartoon rabbits). So yes, the last step is exercise. That dreaded word that means we actually need to get up and move more. I’m sure you have heard of the latest extreme workout routines, or maybe even watched ads for them on late night television. You see these very fit people doing things you wouldn’t have dreamt of doing when you were a teenager.
The secret: Don’t do them. Chances are, if you have not worked out much lately, starting an extreme routine will only cause an injury; and then you will be worse off than you are now. Start small. Take a walk around the block, ride your bicycle at the shore, or even just stand up and pace your office for a few minutes. 15 minutes of exercise a day can change your attitude, lower stress, and help you feel better physically.
And the fourth secret: Don’t beat yourself up! If you forget to eat right or to exercise, don’t worry. Worry causes stress. If you eat that huge meal and don’t split it, that’s okay. Try again next time. Remember, trying and failing is better than not trying at all.
But most of all, enjoy the holiday season. It is a time of family and of renewal, and I hope you have a fantastic, enjoyable holiday season!