Have you ever noticed that your stress level rises as the end of the year approaches? Disappointed that you didn’t accomplish most of your goals for the year? Anticipating too much family time at holiday events or being lonely? Worried about saying or doing the right thing whether it’s hosting a dinner party or giving the right gift. Stressed out from working hard to finish your work at the end of the year so you get a promotion next year?
Stress can amp up anytime when you are worried about making others happy, others judging you and/or when you are judging yourself!
Here are four strategies for relaxing more and stressing less during the holidays or anytime.
Reading about these is the first step but please actually do these. What you practice grows stronger, so if you practice each one of these even for a minute or two, you’ll have a better chance of using this strategy at the moment when you really need it.
1. Mindful breathing – It will take longer to read this than to do it (1-2 minutes and you can do it longer to relax more)
- Sit still and just be. Let yourself relax. Drop your shoulders.
- Be aware of your breath. You can count your breath or just feel your breath go in and out of your nose.
- Instead of counting, you can use the short mantra that Thicht Nhat Hanh’s, a global spiritual leader, suggests as you breathe in and out: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” (I suggest you don’t just say these words to yourself but feel the calmness and the joy of your smile as you say the words.)
- If you notice any thoughts, worries, negative talk, just observe and let it go. Your worried, agitated mind is not the real you – the Godliness in you – talking; it’s your ego trying to protect you. Let the thoughts go.
- When (not IF because you will get distracted) you find your attention move away from your breath, just bring your attention back to your breath. Yes, it is that easy. In fact, every time you notice you are NOT focusing on your breath, you are being mindful. WOOHOO! (See my post on Celebrating your Journey.)
2. Feel your feet on the floor – Literally GROUND YOURSELF by feeling the floor/ground under your feet.
- Feel the connection you have to the universe and Mother Earth. Realize you are part of something bigger and you are not alone.
- Feel the support from the ground and from others past and present who did support you.
- As part of this grounding, you can also do a quick scan up your right leg and torso, across your shoulders and down your left side, then scan your arms and anywhere else for tension or pain. When you find an area that is tense, breathe in peace, healing energy and/or love to that area. On your out breath, think “Release” or “Let Go” as you release the tension or pain.
3. Take a short break and go outside.
- Take a walk or sit quietly and use all your senses to observe the beauty and wonder of life. Watch the clouds or the birds flying, listen to the sounds or the silence, notice the colors (how many green colors there are in the trees or blue colors in the sky), feel the air on your skin, scan your body for tension and then relax your body.
- If you don’t think you can take a break during a situation (like a presentation or at dinner), then take a break before so you are more present and less stressed to start.
4. Take a few minutes and write down 3 things you are grateful for.
- Gratitude is a hot topic right now but it’s for an important reason. When you have gratitude – not just write down what you appreciate but actually feel the gratitude – it Take a walk or sit quietly and use all your senses to observe the beauty and wonder of life. Watch the clouds or the birds flying, listen to the sounds or the silence, notice the colors (how many green colors there are in the trees or blue colors in the sky), feel the air on your skin, scan your body for tension and then relax your body.
Which one had the biggest benefit in breaking your stress cycle so you can live more in gratitude?
After you practice each of these, PICK ONE, just one and practice it every day. Reading these won’t make much difference, but practicing and mentally rehearsing for just a few minutes can make a bigger difference. You may find yourself sitting in a meeting and grounding yourself before you start speaking, or doing mindful breathing before a difficult conversation with a loved one or colleague or getting clear about what you want before you open your mouth instead of just starting to talk without clarity.
Focusing on reducing our stress level is vital to our love (and work) relationships. When we are stressed out, cortisol levels increase. Cortisol and adrenaline are stress hormone responses. Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neurology at Stanford University, explains in this clip from Greater Good Science Center that the stress response, which evolved for short-term physical crises, has become a long-term, chronic problem for human beings. We’re in high stress all the time and it impacts us physically, mentally and emotionally.
Stress causes physical damage to our bodies, it impacts our ability to think clearly because our emotional brain takes over instead of our rational brain (frontal lobe) and stress has us react from negative emotions which are damaging to our relationships.
What our practice grows strong so it’s important to consciously notice when you are under stress and break the pattern by mindful breathing and focusing on what is really important instead of just reacting. This is not just about the holidays but every day.
Stress is normal but that doesn’t mean it’s required. Stress is optional!
If you want to share any questions or results from reading and/or practices the strategies in this article, please write a comment below. It might feel strange to do these if you have not done them before – and that’s alright! Try them a few times and you might find these activities work.
If you don’t have a coach to guide you in your journey of love and life, let’s get on a call where you can get some clarity about what are your biggest challenges and the dream results you want, how to move forward to get the dream results you want, and if/how I could help you on your journey.