The everyday pace of life brings enough stress into the picture. Whether it's dealing with a tough work assignment or managing the kids' extracurricular calendars, it'd be nice to have a few extra hours for getting it all done.
And, as the holiday season approaches, that pace skyrockets.
It's no surprise then that Americans cite the holidays at one of the most stressful times of the year, with women reporting the highest spike in stress. Jobs intensify as employees feel the pressure to close out the year with budgets, reporting and reviews. There are last-minute social gatherings and holiday parties galore – not to mention the pressure of finding and buying great gifts, traveling to see family, and ensuring holiday traditions are executed flawlessly. It makes sense that while this is one of the most magical times of year, there's also a lot of stress involved.
Stress, while rampant, is counter-productive because you spend more time worrying about the to-do list than you do actually crossing items off. With a few tweaks, however, using some of the best insights we have on stress, you can stay sane this holiday season, lower your stress and get a lot of things knocked off your list.
Strike a (Power) Pose
When you get ultra stressed, it doesn't matter how hard you try to talk yourself off a ledge, your anxious mind keeps winning out. But what if you could use your body to calm your mind? That's exactly the findings that Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy shared in her Ted Talk (one of the most watched of all time) Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are. By standing like a superhero for two minutes, you can reduce your cortisol (the hormone that causes stress) levels by 25 percent.
Listen to Music
If you want an excuse to blast those carols from now until the new year, this is it. Listening to music has been shown to positively impact the psychobiological stress system according to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Music can calm your mind and your body. So if you need to feel a bit more relaxed while trying to get it all done, turn on your favorite music and feel the difference.
Take Deep Breaths
Although you spend your whole life breathing, when tensions get high you often forget how powerful proper breathing can be. Whether there's terrible traffic or you've encountered a total scrooge, the breath is a built in stress reducer. To combat stress you can trigger the relaxation response, a technique developed by Harvard Medical School cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The first step in this technique is long, slow and deep belly breaths, which changes your response to stress like decreases in heart rate and muscle tension.
While gratitude journals are often touted in the self-help space, there's significant scientific research that correlates giving thanks to increased wellbeing. Countless studies have shown that appreciation in various forms is linked to a stronger mental state. Achievement Coach and award-winning clinician Michael McCutcheon agrees. “I truly believe that gratitude is the key to happiness and luckily researchers back up that motto," he said. "I cannot recommend more highly starting a nightly gratitude journal. The end of your day should be a time for positive reflection on what went well, and what you are generally thankful for, and taking the time to provide yourself a few solitary moments of peace during the hectic holiday season is something you'll surely be grateful for as well."
Whether you've confined yourself to your desk or spent the week racing around in your car, you may want to find a few minutes to get outdoors. Nature is shown to have positive effects on the brain, according a study published in Psychological Science. Walking in nature or even just viewing pictures of it is restorative to our brain. In a recent experiment conducted in Japan, participants who walked in a forest versus an urban center decreased heart rate, lessened anxiety and improved the mood. So when pressures mount, an evening stroll or a breath of fresh air really can keep your stress response in check.
Science shows us that high stress levels during the holidays can be curbed. With a few small tweaks to your day like relaxing tunes and some deep breaths, you can go back to enjoying this wonderful holiday season instead of worrying about it.