During the holidays, we're often bombarded with more stress than any other time of year. This is especially true if you're playing host or traveling to visit friends and family.
The holidays require a great deal of physical and mental energy to handle these seasonal demands of cooking for and entertaining (and sometimes even refereeing) a house full of extended family. Traveling over the holidays -- especially with children -- can try the patience of even the jolliest souls.
For some, the holiday season can also trigger serious feelings of sadness. Many, particularly those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder, are sensitive to the shorter, darker days. And, if you've experienced a recent loss of a loved one or can't spend time with your family, you might find it especially difficult to get in the holiday spirit even at spirited events.
So how can you stress less and enjoy more this holiday season? Try these simple yoga-inspired techniques to revitalize your body and mind while calming your nerves -- eorry not, there's no mat required:
Stretch away your stress
If seasonal stress has you feeling frazzled, fatigued or down, try this opening, a lengthening stretch to induce feelings of calm and confidence.
A 2010 Harvard study showed that holding an open posture for two minutes lowers cortisol (a major stress hormone) and increases testosterone (a confidence-inducing hormone).
While standing, simply raise your arms above your head at shoulder distance. Take five long, deep breaths. Then inhale as you reach and hold your left wrist with your right hand; exhale as you side bend your entire body to the right, stretching out your left side. Hold for a breath or two. Inhale as you return your arms straight above your head.
Repeat on the other side.
Too much time on your feet socializing, cooking or shopping? For optimal stress-relieving results in the least amount of time, take your feet above your heart.
Simply lie on your back with your legs elevated by a pillow, up on a chair or even straight up the wall (known as legs-up-the-wall pose in yoga).
Just 30 to 60 seconds like this will take the pressure off tired legs, improve circulation and decrease swelling. This is also a good way to relieve ankle and leg edema after flying or traveling in a car for a long.
Breathe your way to calm and control
First, focus on exhales as sighs of relief:
Another flight delay? Uncle Arnold talking politics that are not your own at the table? You might catch yourself sighing. That's good -- take the cue from your autonomic nervous system and repeat that sigh of relief, just bigger and more intentionally as an extended exhalation.
Relax your shoulders, neck and upper back. Inhale through your nose and exhale out your mouth, emphasizing your exhalation. Be sure to release your rib cage downward as you exhale fully.
Repeat five or more times to feel a relaxation response in your body and mind. Deep, diaphragmatic breathing engages our parasympathetic nervous system (the opposite of our fight-or-flight system) and inhibits our body's production of stress hormones. It also stimulates feel-good hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, a neurotransmitter essential to mood regulation.
Secondly, breathe in self-control to avoid overindulging:
It's a common tip to count your chews while eating but that can be tedious and unrealistic. Instead, take two or three long, deep breaths in between bites to slow down your pace, giving you more time to be present and aware of your choice to take another bite -- or not. It also enhances your ability to focus on the sensations of your food -- the smell, taste and texture --and heighten the pleasure of eating.
Follow these simple steps, and you will be quickly back in a festive mood.