Feeling stressed this holiday season? Remember, every time your nervous system swings into stress response, your body’s natural self-repair mechanisms flip off! Don’t let the chaos of the holidays harm your health.
Here are a few stress relief suggestions:
Meditation boosts your immune system, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, improves your body’s natural anti-aging, and decreases activity in the brain’s stress centers, while increasing activity in the empathy and memory centers. It can even affect how your genes express themselves.
Don’t forget to have fun and lighten up this holiday season! Play board games. Watch a good comedy. Tell jokes. Go to a comedy club. Buy some silly string. Get your goof on!
3. Spend time in nature.
Bundle up and go hiking or snowshoeing or skiing. Wander in a forest. Sit by a frozen lake and ponder its beauty. Appreciate the bare trees. Relish in the miracle of Mother Earth’s bounty.
4. Make those you love a priority.
Focus more on sharing joyful experiences with loved ones, rather than pressuring yourself to do things perfectly. Be gleefully imperfect together. Take the pressure off. Make sure to cuddle often. Express your love verbally or in a letter. Doing so releases oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins that drop cortisol levels and boost the body’s natural self-repair mechanisms.
5. Sing, dance, and listen to music.
Apparently, when a shaman in indigenous cultures is approached by someone who feels depressed or depleted, the first question is always “When did you stop dancing and singing?” So I ask you, are you dancing? Are you singing? If not, why not? Put on some holiday music and shake your booty. Or go caroling, even if you can’t sing! Remember, it’s the holiday spirit that counts more than talent.
6. Play with animals.
Snuggling your pets is just as good for the nervous system as snuggling with people! When you foof Fifi, you drop cortisol levels and boost oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins, just like you do when you spend time with people you love.
Remember, you’re supposed to be hibernating! Depriving yourself of sleep so you can live up to the standards of a Martha Stewart holiday will only backfire if you’re battling a cold on Christmas day. If you feel tired, rest. Your nervous system will relax and balance out your hormones stress naturally.
8. Indulge in some holiday love-making.
Sex is a potent relaxation response activator, so if you’re feeling stressed around the holidays, grab your partner and get it on- doctor’s orders! If you don’t have a partner, don’t worry. Self-pleasuring orgasms drop cortisol levels and activate relaxation responses just as effectively.
9. Practice generosity.
Helping others has been scientifically proven to induce relaxation responses in the body. So don’t give until you’re depleted, but do consider shifting your attention to serving others. Help out at a homeless shelter. Collect toys for needy kids. Go caroling in a nursing home. Bring joy to the children’s cancer ward of your local hospital. Not only will you help others drop their cortisol levels, you’ll return the favor to yourself.
10. Give yourself permission to feel and release your emotions.
Suppressing negative emotions, such as grief, loneliness, resentment, anger, and fear, bump cortisol levels even higher. So don’t try to fake it during the holidays. If you need to have a good cry, do so. If you need to punch a pillow while screaming, go for it. If you need to vent, write down your beefs and then burn them, or talk to a therapist or trusted friend.
11. Gather with a spiritual community.
Whether you prefer to go to a church, temple, mosque, meditation group, spiritual running group, or Sweat Your Prayers spiritual dance community, gathering with others with the intention of “tapping in” will reduce cortisol levels and leave you feeling connected.
12. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t have this holiday season, focus on what you do. Try making a list of what you’re grateful for at least once a week. (Read here for scientific proof that being thankful is good for your health- link). Try watching the film It’s a Wonderful Life- and remember what a wonderful life YOU have.
13. Write your holiday Prescription
In my book Mind Over Medicine and in my National Public Television special Heal Yourself: Mind Over Medicine, I teach you how to write The Prescription for yourself so that you can reduce disease-inducing stress responses and increase self-healing relaxation responses in the body. But you don’t have to be sick to write The Prescription for yourself this holiday season. It’s preventive medicine and a gift to yourself.
What Prescription will you write for yourself?Keep Calm & Carry On,