When you think of the holidays, what do you picture? Cozy times with family and friends, a break from work, relaxing evenings and sleeping late? Or maybe tense relationships, impending deadlines, hectic preparations and not enough hours in the day? Most likely, you face both highs and lows.
When approaching the holidays, it’s natural to feel a certain amount of stress. You have more on your plate, and you want to get everything done, and done right. Now you’re cooking up a really special holiday treat. A dash of anxiety, a dollop of hassle, a touch of tension — and may as well throw in a pinch of drama. You can feed off of this for weeks.
Or here’s a suggestion: tone down the stress with some calming techniques. And these aren’t just anecdotal stories or suggestions from a friend-of-a-friend. These are scientifically proven methods of reducing stress. When the going gets tough, go with the lab coats and test tubes every time.
1. Listen Up
Listening to music has a calming effect — but only certain tunes. No electronic, hard rock, punk or hip-hop. Those just rev you up more. Soothing songs that might already be on you playlist include:
• Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” • “Watermark” by Enya • Adele’s “Someone Like You”
One of the most serenity-inducing songs of all time is “Weightless” by Marconi Union. It was actually composed with input from sound therapists to lower heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol. But if you’re a traditionalist and want stress relief unencumbered by the scientific process, try Mozart’s “Canzonetta Sull'aria.”
2. Keep Count
Yeah, it’s a party, and keeping track of how much you’re drinking seems like a buzz kill. Sure, a lot of alcohol does reduce your physiological reaction to stress. But we’re talking A LOT here, entering “falling-down drunk” territory. Regular use of alcohol, no matter the reasons, stresses out the heart, liver and brain. Over-indulging often leads to hangovers or sleep problems. It’s hard to function when you’re queasy or sluggish. You might even get more stressed out than you were before.
A moderate amount of alcohol daily — two drinks for men, one for women — is fine. When you share a glass of wine or beer with others, the positive social interaction helps you relax. Friends and family are great de-stressors.
3. Laugh It Up
What makes you laugh? Cat videos on YouTube? Slapstick? Deadpan humor? Satire? Standup comedians? Whatever tickles your funny bone, use it to reduce stress. The physical act of laughing calms your body. It brings in more oxygen, relaxes muscles and boosts blood circulation, all good things to combat stress. Over time, laughter also enhances the immune system, reduces pain and eases clinical depression.
When your anxiety levels rise, turn to your favorite Kevin Hart movie, Weird Al album or Calvin and Hobbes collection. Find something to make you chuckle, and you’ll feel better before you know it. While you’re still grinning, share the joke with others and make their day, too.
4. Go for Green
When you get a chance, thank a plant for adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide from the air. But also give it a nod for reducing stressful feelings. Being around plants is calming, so introduce a few to your surroundings. Don’t go overboard. You don’t want to start worrying about having to water them all.
Greenery that’s especially beneficial indoors includes:
• Aloe plants • Philodendrons • Rubber trees • Snake plants • Spider plants
Not only do these green guys enrich your physical and mental space, they’re also easy to care for. You won’t be saddled with guilt for accidently killing your stress-reliever.
5. Engage in Some Monkey Business
When you’re stressed out, your blood pressure shoots up. You know the long-term effects of this: diuretics, anyone? Eating a healthy diet helps keep blood pressure under control, and a favorite snack of our simian friends is especially helpful. An ordinary banana can have extraordinary effects. The mineral potassium counters the pressure-raising effects of eating too much salt. Baked potatoes, orange juice and yogurt bring on the potassium, too.
6. Be a Kid Again
Ever get jealous of little kids? They have it easy, breezing through life, hitting the playground and skipping through parks. Though you may no longer comfortably fit on a swing, you will find chewing gum reduces stress. Chewing – quietly of course, you don’t want to bother your coworkers – also helps you feel more alert makes it easier to multitask. That’s just an added bonus during the busy holidays. Work your jaws, and you can address greeting cards, plan a party and watch your favorite seasonal video, all at the same time.
The holidays are in sight, bringing love, joy and fun, but stress, tension and pressure aren’t far behind. Don’t worry. With a little help from science, you’re prepared. Bring on the celebration!