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Busy times like the holidays have a way of bringing with them a next level stress that we can't seem to avoid. With all the planning, parties, family and celebrating that happens, we seem to be in a constantly heightened state of "GO, GO, GO!" just to make it through. This practice of living in the preparations for what is to come causes us to build up an unhealthy amount of anxiety and stress that can really take a toll on our bodies and minds. So it is extremely important that we take the time to counteract those effects. Here are some ways you can take 15 minutes each day to combat stress, no matter what time of year you may be feeling it.
Deep breathing exercises
When it comes to feeling stressed, one of the easiest and most accessible remedies is deep breathing. Deep breathing exercises help to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, or your "rest & digest" responses, which lowers your heart rate, blood pressure, and releases a sense of calm. Best part - anyone can do it, and you can do it anywhere, any time. Just taking 5 to 15 minutes of your day for deep breathing can realign your whole reality. One basic exercise: close your eyes, breathe in for a count of 5, hold your breath at the top for a count of five, exhale for a count of five, repeat. A perfect, easy holiday stress reliever.
Meditation has become an increasingly recognized and utilized tool for relaxation across all demographics of individuals. The key - not expecting to master it, but just taking the time to do it. For beginners, the set up is easy - set a timer for yourself, find a comfortable seated position (can be cross-legged or on a chair or
cushion, however you can sit upright with a straight spine for an extended period of time), close your eyes, and breathe. Getting started really is that simple. During meditation you have a few options: 1. You can focus on a single point, either a visualized image, repeated mantra or your breath, bringing your mind back to that focal point as it (inevitably) wanders away to thoughts of your day; 2. Try observing your thoughts as they happen, without judgement, and then releasing them as if setting a paper boat down a river to float, learning to let them fade in and out during your practice; 3. Following a guided meditation, either with music or a calming narrative. The goal is to practice being in the moment that you are in. Just 15 minutes of meditation can really help combat tension and stress from your daily life. Also, check out your local yoga studio or gym, as they often have free or donation based meditation sessions available to the public.
For centuries yoga has been a way for people to practice a mind-body connection. It is often referred to as moving meditation, and can have profoundly relaxing effects for just about anyone. Through connecting your breath to the movement of your body, you are in essence creating a meditative focal point with physical manifestation that forces you to be present in the moment (lest you fall over!) and release anxieties and tensions that do not serve you. There are many different styles of yoga, but often Hatha or Yin Yoga are widely available and gentler practices that focus on enhancing your calm. But you can also take a few minutes out of your busy day to close your door and do a few poses wherever you are: child's pose, gentle twists or even an easy sun salutation or two in conjunction with your breath can lead to a release of anxiety and stress. Plus, you can always finish with a few minutes of Savasana to truly enhance decompression.
Exercise is a great, healthy way to deal with stress. Aside from the cardiovascular benefits of increasing oxygen circulation and strengthening muscles, exercising also releases endorphins into your body, stimulates your metabolic functions, and helps your body stay responsive and flexible. The added benefit of movement and exercise is that it can help channel and release built up tension and anxiety in the body by giving that energy a place to go. Even if you don't have time for a HIIT class or BODYPUMP class at the gym, a 15 minute walk around the block can work wonders on relieving tension and be an ideal holiday stress reliever.
Tense & release
When anxiety and stress build up inside of us, it often feels like a vibration or energy, and not knowing what to do with that energy can exacerbate the feelings of tension and stress, creating a vicious and unhealthy cycle. A simple and subtle technique that can really be used anywhere is tense & release, and is exactly what it sounds like: you activate a muscle in your body, like squeezing a fist as hard as you can, hold it for a few seconds, then release. With that release goes some of the anxiety and energy that is pent up inside. As a progressive exercise you start with your feet and tense individual muscles up your body, all the way to your face and even scalp. If you are sitting in a room with a bunch of other people, you can place both your feet on the ground in front of you and squeeze your legs together tightly, activating a large volume of muscle tissue under the table where no one will see. And then you can let it go, take a deep breath, and feel less stressed.
Sometimes we all just need to let off a little steam. The next time you are feeling stressed, try having a 15 minute dance party for one. Close the door, crank up the tunes, and just sing along and let loose with your moves. Chances are by the time a few songs are done you will likely feel lighter, happier and more refreshed, maybe even laughing out loud. Dance parties have a way of doing that.
The age old agade of stopping to smell the roses is steeped in good stress relieving practice. These days we use essential oils, candles, lotions and - of course - flowers and spices to enhance our mood and also relieve stress. Aroma is a powerful sense that causes our brains to associate with specific emotions, as well as stimulates emotional and hormonal responses through our limbic system. Taking 15 minutes to inhale a calming scent will greatly reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of stress in your body. Some classic calming aromas are lavender, rose, sandalwood & ylang ylang.
Tea time for everyone this holiday season! Its really ingenious, the idea of taking a 15 minute break in your day to enjoy a relaxing cup of tea may be the very thing that saves you this season. Aside from just the practical fact of forcing you to slow down and remove yourself from the whirlwind of you holiday work and life, the calm enhancing warmth of drinking tea coupled with the aromatherapeutic benefits of the fruits, herbs and spices brewed within only serve to provide a respite to your weary day, release some stress and strengthen your resolve to head back to whatever you were doing. Because, let's face it, whatever you were doing can wait.
Warmth has the ability to relax muscles on contact, which automatically releases tension and stress that are being held onto in our bodies. If you have time to take a bath or a steam, that's great, but a simple solution when you come home for the day is to take a hot compress (either a washclosth soaked in hot water, a heating pad, or even one of those microwavable compresses), place it behind your neck and shoulders, then sit back and relax. You will literally feel your mind start to calm down, your muscles melt, and your breathing deepen. By the time the compress cools you will feel more relaxed.
Whatever your methods to decompress, make sure you don't let stress get you down this holiday season.
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| Naomi Cook
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