Health & Wellness

4 Ways to Squash Grinchy Holiday Stress

These simple strategies help take the anxiety out of the season.
Published November 16, 2016

Oh, the holidays! The lights are strung, the gifts are wrapped, and the stress levels are through the roof like a Griswold-style Christmas tree. Yep, per a recent poll, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. say that the season stresses them out.

Of course, living with some amount of stress is normal, and it doesn't need to zap joy from the season. But if you find that you are routinely reaching for food to deal, that may be a sign that stress eating has become a habit.

Recognizing that you have an emotional urge to grab the nearest box of cookies is the first step. The next step: Interrupting the automatic food-centric habit with a healthier behavior, like calling a friend or taking a walk around the block. The more you do this, the more likely that you'll create a new, good-for-you habit.

Need a little extra calm? Try adding these four stress-busting tips to your daily routine. They'll help you find some Zen even in the midst of holiday chaos.

4 mindful ways to calm seasonal stress

Begin the day by tapping into your inner calm.

If you’re in for a long day at your in-laws or have a thousand errands to run, start the morning with a 10-minute meditation, or just sit quietly and focus on your breathing. This may help change your baseline so that you begin the day with a calmer mind and nervous system, rather than feeling stressed, says Miles Neale, PsyD, a psychotherapist and a clinical instructor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical College. 

Focus on your five senses.

When a negative emotion creeps in (say, you're stressed because you're running late to a party), take a moment to cycle through your senses one by one. What does the turkey in the kitchen smell like? What's the color of your favorite ornament on the tree? How does your ugly holiday sweater feel against your skin? By paying attention to immediate sensory cues, you may be able to draw attention away from the anxious thoughts swirling in your brain and refocus on the world around you.

Don't put self-care on the back burner.

With so much going on, you may find that you're ditching your usual healthy habits in order to squeeze in every family obligation, says Neale. His advice: “Don’t abandon normal routines of self-care or those things that you rely on to keep yourself balanced.”

If you go for a walk every morning, keep doing that even if you’re visiting relatives. If you want to, ask them to join. At least once a day, focus on doing something just for you. Read, attend a yoga class, or do an activity that helps you unwind.

Get out of your head and move your body.

When anxiety reaches “I’m going to scream” extremes, Neale says that removing yourself by taking a 10-minute walk to clear your head is probably your best move. In fact, any kind of physical activity may help. “Anxiety is basically too much energy in your nervous system, and physical exercise—walking, yoga, swimming—is well documented to help relieve that energy.” If you can, head outdoors to a park or natural setting: Preliminary research from Stanford University shows that a dose of nature may help distract you from focusing on your problems which could help reduce your stress levels even more. 

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