When it comes to staying balanced, blissful and zen-like, the holidays can be a recipe for disaster. But that doesn’t mean we have to endure the chaos and equate the Christmas season with stress. Instead, there are some natural (and healthy) holiday stress relievers you can use to keep the Holiday season cheery and bright.
According to Sadie Nardini, celebrity wellness and yoga expert and star on the 24/7 national wellness channel, here’s how the holiday stress typically ensues: “Get a whole bunch of people together, often with complicated family dynamics. Add travel, crying kids, new environments, too much food, and a dash of holiday cheer, a.k.a booze–and then expect it to all go off without a hitch. Expectations, whether of ourselves, or other people, or of what other people will do or think of us, is the death of the holiday spirit.”
Exhausted yet? Stressed yet?
You’re certainly not alone. But thankfully, there is something you can do about it–aside from, say, count the days until the holidays are over.
First, be realistic. The holidays are no time to expect miracles. “Be aware of areas where you either have negative expectations (running into your ex at the holiday party), or pie-in-the-sky ones (this time, everyone’s going to get along perfectly, if you can just do everything right and keep everyone happy!),” advises Nardini.
Second, remember that you are only human. And that means we all have messy, crazy and sometimes less-than-lovely behaviors that go along with it. “Re-set your expectations to “realistic”, says Nardini, “and realize that whatever happens, you’re not seeking perfection nor drama.” While you’re at it, do your best to stay centered and not take other people’s behaviors personally, she adds. “Make this not-so-simple, but super powerful shift, and you’ll be much more likely to survive–and thrive this season.”
Need more specifics on how to do all of this? You’re in luck.
Here are some of Nardini’s best–and most mindful–ways to blow off steam, relieve stress and bring you back to a state of blissful zen this week:
Flip Your Switch: One of the fastest ways to de-stress your body and mind is to change the way you breathe, says Nardini. “When your chest and belly are tight, and you’re taking short inhales and exhales, you can actually cause more of an anxiety response.” Just bringing awareness to this can help–and so can a conscious breathing technique (see next tip).
Double-Down Breath: This technique actually slows your brain waves and calms you right (double) down. To practice, simply Inhale through the nose for a count of four, then exhale twice as slow for a count of eight. Repeat for one to two minutes–or until you feel more balanced and relaxed.
Turn it Upside Down: Literally. Lie on a bed, with your hips elevated on a pillow or two, legs up the headboard or wall. “This easy inversion rests your organs, detoxifies your body and restores your mind from many levels of stress,” explains Nardini.
Tea-lax: Who doesn’t find a hot cup of tea especially comforting? Chamomile tea, in particular, is renowned for its calming, stress-relieving properties. Drink a cup or two during the day when anxiety rises, and again before bed for a more restful sleep.
Play Ball: It’s no secret that tension in the mind and heart gets stored in the body (just ask your neck and shoulders). To alleviate these tight, tense muscles, get a tennis ball or two, lie on the floor, put them under your shoulders, neck, or lower back (not on the spine–just the sides), and roll them around for five minutes. It’s a personal massage that turns stress into Love-Love, says Nardini.
The Belly Roll: ”One of our best allies in the fight against stress is serotonin: our feel-good chemical,” says Nardini. But, contrary to what many people think, most of your serotonin is released from your digestive tract, not your brain. To access these awesome chemicals, take that same tennis ball or a dish towel rolled into a ball and put it under your low, soft belly as you lie down facedown on the floor. Breathe and massage it into the belly for five minutes to release serotonin. Check out Nardini’s video demonstration here.
Go with the Flow: Sometimes when we’re stressed, exercise is the best prescription, says Nardini. “When we have an abundance of energy, in the form of anxiety, a mindfully-vigorous workout can help produce endorphins and reset the mood along with toning the body.” Perhaps the best exercise to de-stress is yoga–specifically, Vinyasa, or flow yoga because it’s soothing, yet challenging. “It also the added stress-busting benefits of deep breathing and mind-centering techniques.”
Detox Your Retox: In the midst of all the stress, it can be all too tempting to grab a cocktail–or three, to handle stress, says Nardini. “Not only does alcohol impair your ability to stay clear and centered (drunk-texting, anyone?) it sends a signal straight to your self-esteem that you can’s handle your life without the help or Mr. Jack or Ms. Marga Rita.” No one’s going to deny you a holiday cocktail with friends this time of year, but before downing the wine in an automatic response to stress, try some green juice, fizzy water with lots of fresh lime juice or herbal teas. “Kombucha is also great detox beverage that contains just enough naturally-occurring alcohol to take the edge off without taking you off your game,” recommends Nardini.
Twist and Shout: If you get so stressed during the holidays that you want to scream, try the following stretch to soothe your spine, which is known to be calming, and release excess emotions:
Twisted Fierce Lion Pose:
Stand with feet together, knees squeezing in.
Bend your knees, take your seat back as if you’re sitting in an imaginary chair.
Lift your low belly and reach your arms up.
Exhale, bring palms together at chest, and twist right elbow to left knee. As you do, stick your tongue out, and roar like a lion: “Haaaaa”!
Inhale to center.
Exhale, twist to the other side.
Repeat five times on each side–or until you start to laugh and no longer feel the tension you started with.
Here’s wishing you a happy–and more zen-like–holiday!