Tap your holiday stress-busting super power: Breathing

Story highlights

  • Better breathing also reduces physical tension and promotes mindfulness in stressful times
  • Breathing techniques can improve sleep

Dana Santas is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, experienced registered yoga teacher and mind-body coach known as the Mobility Maker. She's the yoga coach for the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, Tampa Bay Lightning and others in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and the Professional Golfers' Association.

(CNN)Despite the myriad joys the season brings, it can be a stressful time for many of us. Between shopping, cooking, travel, parties, house guests, winter storms and shorter days, the holidays pile on the stress with little regard for the continued demands of our everyday lives. Instead of feeling festive, we're often left tense, irritable and exhausted.

The good news is that we're all equipped with a natural superpower to manage stress: breathing.
By training ourselves to breathe properly and leverage the power of our respiration, we can reverse the negative physiological responses that dampen our holiday spirit. Better breathing also reduces physical tension, promotes mindfulness, and helps us rest -- all useful in decreasing the impact of holiday stress.
    That said, like any superpower, if not fully understood and properly controlled, your breathing can be used against you. Because breathing is largely an autonomic activity, too many people believe they never have to think about it. However, if your posture is poor or you consistently feel stressed, chances are you've fallen into the habit of breathing high in your chest rather than fully in your lungs. This isn't a pattern you should leave on autopilot.
    Left unchecked, "bad" breathing facilitates your stress response.
    When you feel tense and anxious, the sympathetic fight-or-flight aspect of your nervous system turns on, quickening your breathing and increasing your heart rate, blood pressure and stress hormone production. Uncontrolled, rapid, chest-oriented respiration feeds your fight-or-flight response and can actually initiate your sympathetic nervous system -- even if no other stress factors are present -- locking you in a state of breathing-induced stress.
    Thankfully, you can use your superpower for good in the battle against stress by practicing diaphragmatic breathing that taps your parasympathetic "rest and restore" nervous system. In as little as 90 seconds of functional deep breathing, you can elicit a relaxation response that lowers blood pressure, heart rate and stress hormone levels.

    Ready to put your super power into action?

    Below, I've outlined four simple methods for dealing with stress during the holidays that also work year round. These are the same techniques I teach my professional athlete clients to help them deal with the ongoing stress of their careers. So, by following these instructions, you'll not only use your breathing like a superpower, you'll do it like a pro.
    1. Turn sighs of frustration into exhales of relief
    From lack of parking spaces and long shopping lines to rude relatives a