Holidays are supposed to be happy, joyous, and wondrous, right? Instead, it’s often such a stressful time that we just want to stop the world and get off! Bah humbug! What with holiday parties, cramming extra errands in (holiday shopping anyone?), year-end deadlines, extra hours at work, and the regular stress of our busy daily lives, who has time to feel the joy? Stress in your mind creates stress in your body, which wreaks havoc on your health.
If you find yourself stressed, there is one very simple, yet profound, way to take a breather and reset your body, mind and spirit.
One obvious, yet elusive, stress-relieving trick is to B R E A T H E. Now you might say, come on, we’re always breathing. However, when stressed, we naturally begin to change our breathing habits, breathing more shallowly. And the posture of stress (you know it… shoulders hiked, chest crunched in, muscles tense as if you are bracing for something awful to happen) only makes breathing more difficult. But when you breathe deeply, a fabulous built in stress reliever, the vagus nerve, is triggered and it promotes relaxation and is an antidote to stress. It stimulates the relaxation response, slowing your heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and generally calming the body. According to the Cleveland Clinic on their Stress Free Now page, “Even one conscious deep breath begins to activate your vagus nerve and kicks off a wonderful cascade of benefits.”
In order to breathe more deeply, most of us need to practice. To begin, sit upright in a chair, placing one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Breathe in deeply to the count of 4 and breathe out to the count of 6. The idea here is to breathe out longer then you breathe in. You can adjust the count to suit your comfort level. You should feel the hand on your stomach move outward on the in-breath and inward on the out-breath. The hand on the chest should not move much. Do this for two minutes, at least three times a day, setting specific times during your day to do so. It’s best to coordinate with a regular activity, so you will remember. For example, you could practice this upon waking, at noon, and when going to sleep, or you may begin each meal with these deeper breaths. Check in at the end of each of these times and notice how you feel. Chances are that you will feel more relaxed and calmer.
Since stress in life is inevitable, and that stress is often intensified during the holidays, why not do what you can to help yourself get through it in a healthier way. Maybe you’ll even get into the holiday spirit and actually enjoy the beauty of the season.
Wishing you a stress-less WHENsday, and holiday season!
Nancy Friedman, Chief Being Officer