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The Top Ten Ways to Stay Stress-Free During the Holidays

By Katie Jones and Rob Panetti, Bay Path College Health and Wellness Department

Stress is pervasive in our day-to-day life. We can rarely go through a few minutes of conversation without hearing how stressed out a friend is; sometimes it’s our own stress levels going through the roof. During the holidays, this tends to be exacerbated with many of us having what can feel like a mountain of stressors being thrown at us at once. 

The Fight or Flight Response—our brilliant bodies

It is really important to understand that stress has some real physiological implications. Our bodies are very intelligent but the problem is, we trick them all the time. For example, you may be stressed about eating an entire plate of Christmas cookies, or the long lines at the shopping mall. But, our body sees stress in one way – that we are in danger and need to prepare for a physical battle. So, the stressor of your in-laws are coming over instead tells your body that you are being chased by a large animal that wants you for its next meal. Your body prepares to fight or take flight. 

When we are exposed to a stressor, our bodies produce large quantities of chemicals which prepare to either fight what is posing a danger or to run away—flight. This includes increasing blood pressure, breathing more quickly, and overall increased alertness. Therefore, all focus is given to this fight or flight response moving our body’s attention away from functions that it sees as non-essential, such as digestive and immune systems. As a result, we can have stomach issues, get sick, and have problems sleeping. These results magnify when combined with their emotional and mental side effects often leaving us angry, anxious, irritable, or cranky, in addition to feeling and being sick. Not a great combination at all!

Got five minutes? Do one thing to positively impact your stress levels and all the others aspects of your well-being.

Often, one of the biggest sources of stress is lack of time. So when someone gives you one more thing to do, you are probably thinking “No way,” or “Yeah right!” The greatest irony of this is that if you can find just five minutes to devote to yourself, you can do one thing that will make you feel better and less stressed –(and yes this might mean you have to put down Candy Crush for a few minutes).

Here is the Bay Path College Health and Wellness’s Top 10 Stress Relievers that require five minutes or less:

10. Breathe Deeply – Stop and notice your breath. Because breathing is an automatic process, we often don’t give it the attention it deserves. Likely you are breathing shallowly which only further signals your body to go into fight or flight mode. By breathing properly and taking deep breaths you will increase circulation, loosen tightened muscles, calm your nervous system, and increase energy. Place your left hand on your chest and right hand on your belly button. Take a deep breath in through your nose, trying to only allow your right hand, the belly button hand, to move as your stomach expands while your left hand remains stationary. Then, exhale slowly and completely. Repeat this 10 times and you will instantly put your body and physiological systems back into balance.

9. Connect your mind-body-spirit with a restorative yoga pose
Yoga is great for many things, but stress relief is perhaps one of its most widely-recognized benefits. Even a few minutes in a simple restorative yoga pose can be enough to give you the tremendous stress relieving benefits of yoga practice. Pick one and try it! 

8. Drink plenty of water, starting when you wake up
Water is one of the most vital resources for our body and has profound effects on our well-being. Water regulates our temperature, is critical for our body to produce energy, is important in the digestion and detoxification processes, and can affect mood, cravings, and too many other functions to list. Wake up each day and enjoy a glass of water before you drink or eat anything else. Then, be sure to enjoy a well-balanced breakfast to prepare your body for the day. 

7. Know the power of your nose
Our sense of smell has a powerful connection with our brain, especially as the olfactory, or smelling part of our brain, is in the limbic system – the primary area of the brain that deals with stress. Perhaps you can remember a time you smelled something yummy and immediately started to salivate. Now, take a whiff of lavender oil, and your body will begin to relax. 

6. Do absolutely nothing
When is the last time you can recall intentionally doing absolutely nothing? Our brains are constantly on alert with our over-activated stress response constantly asked to multi-task in our increasingly connected world.
Take five minutes, go find a dark, quiet space with no electronics in the room, and lay down for those five minutes. Allow things to enter your mind but quickly leave as you lie in one position, as still as you possibly can, for five minutes.

5. Sleep – get it!
When we are busy or stressed, sleep is one of the first things that suffers. This is the start of a vicious cycle, as we become sleep deprived and therefore less patient and more agitated, therefore often increasingly stressed. So, turn off your electronics, try some deep breathing techniques or listening to calming music, and be sure to get your sleep each night. You will find that the next day you will have more energy and be more productive when tackling all those to-do lists and even more happy while doing them. 

4. Break the cycle
In order to fight the fictitious battle or flight from the imaginary enemy our body has created because of stress, we need energy. This results in our body craving fatty and sugary foods that provide us with lots of calories (which is a measure of energy) that is quickly converted and ready for use. When we consume these foods, it only further places our body into a vicious cycle of further stress from the flood of energy to our system, and the further stress from our emotions often being upset that we likely made a poor eating choice. One of the best things you can do is recognize stress eating and the signals. If you are suddenly hungry and feeling the need to satisfy that hunger immediately with comfort foods, you are likely stress eating. Choose to take a few minutes and try a stress relieving activity. Or, overcome the physiological messages telling you to have those brownies and choose a good nutritious option such as a piece of fruit or some veggies. 

3. Soak up the sun and some fresh air.
During the winter we often spend even more of our days inside, away from the rays of the sun which can have a powerful effect on our stress levels. Walk outside and into the sunlight. Take in several deep breaths of fresh air. Look around and appreciate the beauty of nature. With every breath, inhale the clean, calming air and exhale out your stresses.

2. Laugh.
When is the last time you had a fit of absolutely uncontrollable laughter? We are talking about knee slapping, abs sore the next day, doubled over laughter. Now, think back about how you felt after. Laughter is one of the best forms of stress relief with both short-term and long-term, real physiological benefits. A good bout of laughter will flood your brain with endorphins, stimulate circulation in your body, and relieve stress. This results in improved mood, a stronger immune system, and overall higher sense of happiness. So, try it right now… simply laugh. Laugh so hard that you can’t stop. And then keep going. 

1. Move your body.
Exercise is proven to have positive benefits on your physical and emotional self, and can be one of the best weapons against stress. You don’t need lots of equipment or even a gym membership, all you need is your own body. Try Rob’s Stress Busting Workout Routine which includes just six exercises for ten seconds each, repeated five times.