By taking care of yourself and integrating small, meaningful relaxation techniques into your daily routine, you can enjoy the holiday season and all the joy it can bring.
The holiday season is here and between the decorating, gift-giving and get-togethers, it can be pretty overwhelming. It’s easy to get stressed out, exhausted and mentally drained by the busyness and pressure the holiday season can bring.
But if you prioritize your health and wellness, you can manage your stress during the holidays. Check out the tips below for some ways to relax and take care of yourself this holiday season.
- Make your wellness a priority. It’s important to understand that ongoing stress is harmful to your health. If you don’t manage your stress, it can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, depression, anxiety and more. It isn’t selfish to take time for yourself, especially during the hectic holiday season.
- Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude has been shown to have many health benefits, including helping you cope with stress, improve your sleep and reduce your risk for depression. Throughout the holidays, find small ways to express gratitude. Start your day by thinking about one or two things you’re grateful for. Or pick a different person each day and send a nice text or note. Express appreciation for a family member with a simple “Thank you for ______.” A little gratitude can go a long way to helping you get into the holiday spirit.
- Try deep breathing. A simple way to restore your inner calm is through deep breathing. You can try deep breathing several times throughout the day, especially in moments when you notice you’re getting stressed. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers this simple deep breathing technique – breathing in slowly through your nose and exhaling through your mouth, taking 10-15 seconds per breath. With each breath, focus on filling your lungs with air. When your mind starts to wander, return your focus to your breathing. Military OneSource offers a Breathe2Relax app to help guide you through deep belly breathing.
- Check in with your body. It’s easy for our bodies to hold on to stress without us even noticing – we may tense our shoulders, clench our jaws, or become tight in our backs or necks. A method called progressive muscle relaxation can help you manage your body’s reaction to stress. For this exercise, you take a few seconds to go through your entire body, tensing and then relaxing each muscle group one at a time. For example, begin with your face and take 5-10 seconds to clench your jaw, wrinkle your forehead and pinch your eyes shut. Then release each of these muscles and relax, taking a few seconds to notice the difference between tension and relaxation. Next, try your neck and shoulders. Move all the way through your body, down to your toes. Doing this at the end of each day can help you eliminate the stress you’re carrying in your body.
- Find a meditation or mindfulness technique that works for you. Meditation and mindfulness can help you cope with your emotions as you move throughout your day. Many techniques only require a few minutes and can be done anytime, anywhere. Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Focus on a mental image that soothes you. Spend a few minutes with this image and bring your five senses to it. What do you see? What can you hear? What do you feel? Maybe it’s a beach with the sound of the waves coming and going. Maybe it’s a spot in the woods with sunlight peeking through the clouds. Whatever the image is, spend a few minutes focused on it to help you erase any negative thoughts crowding your mind. You can do this before you get out of bed in the morning, during a crowded family party or any other time you feel overwhelmed.
- Repeat a mantra. Think of a word or a phrase that comforts you and repeat it while trying to empty the thoughts in your head. Maybe it’s the word “relax” or maybe it’s a short prayer you like. Repeating it – silently or out loud – can help you focus your attention elsewhere. Try it for a couple of minutes while you take deep slow breaths to center yourself.
- Try yoga or tai chi. Yoga and tai chi are both practices that involve moving your body slowly and purposefully while relaxing your mind. VA’s Whole Health approach to health care has information and guided practices for both yoga and tai chi.
- Take a quick walk. Taking 10 minutes to get outside and move your body can help you clear your head and eliminate stress. You could do this before your day gets too busy, after dinner to unwind or any time in between to get a quick mental health break. Listen to some music or a podcast – whatever helps you relax.
- Don’t get caught up in comparisons. Comparing your holidays to the perfect ones you imagined or to the ones you see on social media isn’t helpful. Trying to achieve holiday perfection is exhausting and unrealistic. Allow the holiday to happen – all the ups and downs – without feeling badly about it.
- Feel OK saying no. You don’t have to go to every holiday party or participate in every gift exchange. You can decide what works best for your health and wellness. If you’re overwhelmed with crowds, try having smaller get-togethers or a one-on-one date. If you’re worried about your finances or what gifts to buy, consider homemade gifts or cards instead.
- Pay attention to yourself. During the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement and forget about the basics that will keep you feeling healthy and well. Prioritize your sleep and be sure you’re still finding time to move. Allow yourself to enjoy holiday treats but make it a point to get enough of the healthy stuff too.
- VA offers several mobile apps designed to help you manage your stress.
- Annie for Veterans can provide you with automated self-care reminders, including tips for reducing stress.
- Mindfulness Coach can help you learn how to practice mindfulness and adopt simple mindfulness practices to use in your daily life.
- Live Whole Health is a tool you can use to set goals, take a personal health inventory and access VA’s materials on its Whole Health approach to wellness.
- VA also offers a wide range of videos and tips under #LiveWholeHealth that are perfect for managing stress. Find short videos on grounding meditations, muscle awareness, gratitude, deep breathing, yoga and much more.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a list of quick 10-minute activities that you can do to help reduce your stress and improve your well-being.
- MedlinePlus offers more information about how to recognize stress, its harmful effects and ways to manage it.
This holiday season doesn’t have to leave you stressed and exhausted. By taking care of yourself and integrating small, meaningful relaxation techniques into your daily routine, you can enjoy the holiday season and all the joy it can bring.