• Second Opinion Magazine

7 Simple Tools to Stress Less and Enjoy the Holidays More

by Aveen Banich M.D, RYT

“In seed times, learn; in harvest, teach; in winter, enjoy.” ­ —William Blake

Here in Wisconsin, November and December are brimming with festive holiday gatherings, nostalgic music, and delicious food and drink. However, often due to too much shopping, party preparation, end-of-year work responsibilities, and family gatherings, this most wonderful time of year may also make us also feel frenzied and stressed out.

Winter is the natural time for introspection and slowing down. Animals hibernate and plants lie dormant. The natural world becomes quieter. Although our own holiday season may leave us feeling overwhelmed at times, there are some simple and inexpensive ways to slow down, relax, and enjoy.

1) Take a little time

Take a little time each time each day to simply notice the natural world and connect to it in some way. This may include marking the winter solstice, feeding the birds outside your home, or simply noticing when the moon is full. Being present in nature helps us to be more present to ourselves. Whenever we are fully present, we worry less about the future and thus, are less stressed.

2) Kindle gratitude

How many times a day do you hear people complain about how busy they are around the holidays or about how little time they have to get their shopping done? How often is that person you? Make a simple commitment to count your blessings instead of complaining about your to-do list.  Anton Chekov said, “People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.” Begin by making a simple gratitude list upon waking or when going to sleep. Many people also choose to keep a gratitude journal, so they can recall wonderful moments over time. As a way to kickoff your gratitude practice, enjoy a beautiful, free online video that has been viewed more than two million times: www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_nature_beauty_gratitude.html. You may even want to view this daily during the holiday season when stress levels rise. It is that inspiring.

3) Be gentle with yourself

We have such high expectations of ourselves during the holidays. We want to shop and decorate and bake and cook in order to create lasting memories for families and friends. However, in doing so, we often ignore simple practices that improve our own wellbeing and keep us balanced. Hydrate yourself with beautiful clean water. Eat some simple, healthy warm food in addition to the delicious treats that surround us at parties and in the workplace. Get rest and move your body. Take a walk or try a yoga class. Giving back to yourself in these simple ways will help you enjoy the holidays from a stress-free and healthy place.

4) Take time each day for stillness

During the holidays, our senses are often on overload. The lights, the music, the packed stores, and the parties are wonderful, but they can create stress as well. Winter is the natural time for us to spiral inward. Counter-balance this sensory overload with a few minutes each day in meditation or simply unplugged from electronics with a cup of tea. The quiet will calm a frazzled nervous system and decrease stress hormones. A regular practice of stillness will also center you so that you are better prepared to keep up with the holiday pace.

5) Laugh more

“Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face.” (Victor Hugo).  If you are having a hard time finding your joy, check out a local elementary school holiday program. The sheer happiness and amazing enthusiasm radiating from children will certainly help you find it. You may also want to explore laughter yoga. Dr. Jodi Ritsch M.D offers fun and easy laughter yoga classes for all ages. Even the Scrooges among us would have a hard time not dissolving into fits of giggles during these classes. Grab a friend or a dozen friends and check out her offerings at: www.LifebyDesignEC.com.

6) Give a little, gain a lot

“There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” (Bernard Meltzer) Giving of our time and talents has been shown in many studies to ease anxiety and depression. Volunteering also helps us connect with others in the community and improves feelings of hopefulness and optimism. The holiday season is the perfect time to flex your giving muscles. Make a meal for someone who is hungry. Keep it simple and eat together. Spend an afternoon donating your time to one of the amazing charitable organizations in the Chippewa Valley. Donate funds to a cause you are passionate about or give a gift to that charity in someone else’s name. What an easy way to check off your to-do list while increasing endorphins and decreasing stress levels!

7) Breathe

It may sound obvious and yet conscious breathing is one of the most powerful tools we possess to decrease stress. Counting three deep breaths at any moment when stress is taking over is a surefire way to find your center and re-connect with the best parts of this wonderful season. It is free and always with you. What a gift!

Aveen Banich M.D, RYT is a board certified ophthalmologist, a yoga instructor, a mother to four lovely souls, and a wife to a funny and patient man. She offers yoga classes, meditation sessions, and reiki at The Center in Eau Claire. Find her at www.LifebyDesignEC.com or on Facebook.

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