‘Tis the season for family, friends, and fun! Unfortunately, however, it can also be the season for stress. With everything that has to get done at this time of year, it’s easy to find yourself overwhelmed during the holidays. Fortunately, there are ways to get through it all with your sanity still intact!
Here are three simple ways to beat holiday stress and help you unwind. They can be used whenever you feel frazzled or anxious, and they are also really great for reducing insomnia at night, too!
Side note before we get started: Most experts will tell you that you should do meditative exercises while sitting in a straight-backed chair, but seeing as I’m trying to actually relax when I do these things I want to be as comfortable as possible, so I much prefer to do these types of exercises lying down. When you try them, my suggestion to you would be to just pick a position that’s comfortable for you.
Stress-Relief Technique #1: Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises can be a wonderful meditative experience to help you relax and unwind.
With this one, begin by settling yourself comfortably, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breathing. Slow your breaths down, breathing deeply in and out for about a minute, and pay attention to the rise and fall of your chest.
On your next inhale, tell yourself: “Breathing in, I relax my body” and on the following exhale, “Breathing out I smile”. As you breathe in, let any tension you feel dissolve. As you breathe out, smile just a little bit. On each inhale dissolve the tension further and further, and on each exhale, smile a little bit more. Smiling relaxes all sorts of facial muscles and “tricks” you into feeling happier, which helps you to relax even more. Deep breathing not only calms your mind, it brings more oxygen into your body and also has the effect of slowing down your heart rate, which also helps to induce relaxation.
There are several different types of deep breathing techniques out there, but my personal favourite is one I came across in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Peace is Every Step. Start by finding yourself a comfortable position and then take a few minutes to just be present in the moment. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing and just focus on it for a minute or two – your mind will wander away from your breaths, and when you notice that it has, just bring it gently back to focus on your breathing again. If it helps, you can use a focusing aid such as thinking the words “in” and “out” as you breathe in and out.
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment,
I know this is a wonderful moment!
~Thich Nhat Hanh
Stress-Relief Technique #2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation, sometimes just referred to as Progressive Relaxation, is a great tool for those times when you’re really feeling physical tension and discomfort in your body. This technique was developed in the early 1920s by American physician Edmund Jacobson, and consists of slowly tensing and relaxing each of your muscle groups in sequence (hence the “progressive” part). By deliberately tensing your muscles before trying to relax them, you can actually achieve a deeper muscle relaxation than you would have if you tried to just relax the muscles directly.
What you do with this one is breathe in and tense up a set of muscles (e.g scrunching up your face, clenching your toes or tensing up your shoulders, etc.) as tightly as you can, without causing pain, and hold the muscles in that tense state for about five seconds. Then, as you breathe out, relax the muscles again for at least 30 seconds, and then consciously try to relax them even further.
Systematically work your way through your whole body, so that every muscle group gets attention. (You can either start with your toes and work your way up your body, or start with your head and work your way down. I like to start with my head because it helps me think of tension dripping down and out of my body. You might be different so go with whatever works best for you!)
Stress-Relief Technique #3: Peaceful Visualization
With this exercise, you get to use your awesome mind powers to induce tranquility and peacefulness. This is also probably the most fun out of these three instant relaxation techniques because you get to whisk yourself away to some fabulous location of your own choosing with your imagination!
The standard technique here is to image a scene, place or event that is particularly peaceful, beautiful or happy for you. It can be a “real” place like a beach you’ve been to before, or it can be a fantasy place that you’ve never actually experienced before but which you feel would be happy or peaceful for you. Either works as long as you can imagine details, because the more details and senses you can draw into your visualization, the more effective it will be.
For example, if you do happen to imagine yourself relaxing on the beach, really get into it: feel the texture of the sand and the towel you’re lying on. Feel the warmth of the sun or the coolness of the water on your skin. Smell the salt of the ocean or fruity pineapple and coconut in your piña colada. Taste the piña colada! Feel the breeze! Listen to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, and hear the birds calling to each other overhead. Really feel yourself becoming calmer and more serene in this perfect, relaxing place.
If you’re not a beach person, then choose a forest, or the desert or whatever place and scene feels right for you. The point of this exercise is to use it as a “virtual vacation” – it’s supposed to be a retreat from any stress, exhaustion and tension you may be feeling, so enjoy it! The point of peaceful visualization is that when you really get into the process and engage all your senses as much as possible, your body starts to react to the images as if they were real. That’s how powerful your mind can be, when given the chance!
Practice Makes Perfect
Stress may be a part of life, especially during the holidays, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it get the best of us. Using these easy relaxation techniques can help you to consciously reduce your stress and anxiety, and make your holidays much more enjoyable!