There is a not-so hidden truth about the holiday season, and it’s that for all the fun, family bonding and love that is shared, the holidays are stressful. You must buy gifts, cook turkeys, host multi-family dinners, and appease your insufferable mother-in-law. At times like these, a little self-TLC goes a long way in keeping your cool, and you need not go to an expensive spa to relax. Here are a few cost-free ways to dial back your stress during the holidays:
1. Take a walk
Walking releases endorphins, the “feel-good chemicals,” into your brain, so getting your legs moving, even for a quick loop around the block, is an easy way to boost your mood. Exercise has also been shown to increase energy and productivity, which will help you get more done.
2. Scale back caffeine
A second cup of coffee may seem like a great way to tackle your to-do list, but beware. Caffeine stimulates greater production of adrenaline, which can cause irritability, difficulty focusing, and worst of all: a crash in blood sugar levels. And you’d be surprised at how little it takes. A 15-ounce coffee—the equivalent of a Starbuck’s grande—is enough to increase adrenaline by 200%. If after one cup you’re still feeling tired, try one of these tasty energy-boosting coffee alternatives.
3. Read a book
The simple act of reading provides tremendous mental health benefits. In 2009, the University of Sussex performed a study that found that half an hour of dedicated reading is better for your stress levels than several other more traditional methods of relaxation, like having a cup of tea or listening to music. Don’t have 30 minutes? No problem. The study also found that even just six minutes of reading can be enough to reduce stress levels by more than two thirds.
4. Get 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 norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood. Also, a Japanese study showed that smelling citrus for 10 minutes helped to boost participants’ moods for up to 30 minutes. Orange you glad we told you this?
5. Play with the dog
In the mid ‘80s, researchers at Purdue University found that when people interact with dogs, they (the people) experience a drop in blood pressure—a key sign of relaxation. More recently, researchers in Japan found that dog owners who were bonded to their pets experienced a spike in oxytocin—a neurotransmitter that helps us cope with stress—from simply meeting their dogs’ gazes.
6. Practice meditation-lite
Meditation is one of the best ways to relieve and prevent stress, but let’s be honest—it isn’t for everyone. Many people don’t have the time, or the patience, for it. For all the meditation dropouts out there, there is now something called meditation lite. All you do is take 25-50 deep breaths, counting each one. It’s like meditation without the pressure. Since you can practice meditation-lite anywhere, it’s a perfect holiday stress manager: try it while waiting in a long checkout line (you don’t have to close your eyes), stuck in holiday traffic jams or while listening to your family discuss politics at the dinner table…
7. Watch a funny movie
The health benefits of laughter are no joke. Laughing enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and releases extra endorphins into your brain. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.
8. Hit the gym
The busy holiday season is high time for skipping the gym, but you might actually feel less frazzled if you squeeze in a workout. Studies show that regular exercise alleviates depression and anxiety, boosts energy levels, and improves brain function. Researchers have also found that workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
9. Sign off social
Social media is a great way to stay connected, but an increasing number of studies in recent years have found links between social media and emotional distress. In 2012, Anxiety UK conducted a survey on social media use and its effects on emotions. The survey found that 53% of participants said social media sites had changed their behavior; half of whom said the change was for the worse and cited decreased self-esteem and social anxiety. What’s more, the survey revealed that two-thirds of participants reported difficulty relaxing and sleeping after they used the sites. For ideas on how to do a social media detox, read this.
10. Get all—repeat, ALL—of your Zzzs
Cutting back on sleep to get everything done is a double-edge sword. And if you do it long enough, it will inevitably become a single-edge sword that’ll chop off your sanity. Not only does sleep depravation make you foggy-headed, it also diminishes your decision-making skills, impairs your judgment, and makes it harder to learn new things. What’s more, over time, lack of sleep can make you depressed and anxious.
What are your tips for staying calm, cool, and collected this time of year? Tell me in the comments section below.