The holiday season is never as easy, peaceful and joyous as we hope or expect it to be. And while there is a plethora of wonderful and joyous moments during this time of year, sometimes we are even too stressed to notice or appreciate them.
Additionally, I know that this election season has added an unprecedented degree of stress with the unknowns of our political future.
But stress is stress, regardless of its source. It has serious implications on your mind and body, and can be difficult to manage, especially when many things pile on at once. Studies show that nearly 70% of doctor visits are due to stress-related symptoms; getting a handle on them will benefit you in the short and long term.
Try some (or all!) of the following proven stress-busters.
Take deep breaths
This is self-explanatory. Our breath is the best tool to calm our brains and our bodies - the key is remembering to use it!
One of the root causes of stress is our emotions and gaining insight and awareness into them can help to control them. To do this, slow down, connect with your breath, get into your body, and practice looking at life situations, your thoughts, emotions and sensations with an “it is what it is” mentality. Eventually you’ll see what is arising more objectively and that “it” begins to have less control over you and your mood. Not having to label everything as good or bad, with this “just is” mindset we practice having an evenness of mind (also known as equanimity) in learning to respond and not react. Through experiential practice, studies have proven how this creates and strengthens new neuropathways, allowing you to respond more effectively to life’s struggles.
Cultivate an “attitude of gratitude!” Neuroscience tells us we have a negativity bias - for self-protective reasons, we are evolutionarily designed to focus on the negative. It takes conscious effort to look for the good and when we intentionally looking for the good, we find more good! Studies also show that cultivating gratitude can help boost positive emotions while helping to buffer against negative ones. Focusing on gratitude will not prevent the negative stuff from arising but it helps to diffuse it and allows us to respond with less reactivity. Practice being grateful for the little things (e.g. a friendly barista steaming your latte) as well as the big things (e.g. the health of you or your loved ones).
Watch a video of a baby laughing, and within minutes the release of endorphins from smiling or laughing will likely lessen your negative mood. Studies show that laughing can improve your health by relaxing your whole body, strengthening your immune system, balancing your nervous system (especially when laughing face-to-face with another person, which will also increase connection and create shared experiences) all the while triggering emotional changes in the body that will reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
Being in nature has a profound effect on people’s well-being. Scientist Roger Ulrich found that hospital patients whose window overlooked natural settings showed shorter recovery times, needed less medication and reported a more positive hospital stay as compared to those patients whose didn’t have visual access to nature. It’s also been proven that smelling grass reduces heart rate, blood pressure and even reduces road rage! So, next time you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed – go outside!! Soak in the fresh air, stop and smell the roses, connect with the natural environment around you.
Even if you dread working out, it will still have powerful positive effects for your body. Studies show that exercising reduces the levels of your body’s stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, while aiding in the production of endorphins, which are your body’s natural mood elevators and pain killers. And it’ll help you keep fitting into your jeans after all the holiday pie.
Have more sex
Studies show that when we are in an intimate relationship, we heal faster, get sick less often and live longer. In addition, having sex can release the “feel-good” hormones such as oxytocin and endorphins, counteracting the stress hormones. Increasing these positive experiences and feelings towards your partner will help identify them as someone you can rely on during stressful or difficult times. So, go get it on!
If stress continues to be something you struggle with beyond the holiday season, and would like opportunity to practice these tools more in depth, check out www.mindfulnessandtherapycenter.com or feel free to call me for more info, 925-212-2996. At The Bay Area Mindfulness and Therapy Center, I work with individuals and lead mindfulness classes on helping people get unstuck and live their optimal life.
***This article originally was published in the December 2016 issue of Danville Today newspaper