‘Tis the Season to Breathe!!………….BE Stress-FREE through the Holidays!

          “The good news is you don’t have to let stress ruin your holidays!” 

                                                     -Sharyn Alden-

by Wendy Midgley, MED, RD, LDN, CDE  & Deb Brothers-Klezmer BSN, RN-BC, CRRN, NCTMB

The holiday season–starting with Thanksgiving through the New Year–is a time for gathering with family and friends for festivities, partying, love and connection, and special remembrances. 

It can also be a challenging season emotionally to many, especially for those experiencing losses.  It can be overwhelming in terms of “time demands” coming from numerous directions.   Fun and joyful activities are often paired with worry over finances and anxiety about family get-togethers.   A spectrum of intense emotions!

This season also includes lots of food (tasty but often not too healthy) as well as abundant alcohol. 

Heightened emotions and incredible time demands–together with too much rich food and alcohol–are ‘the perfect storm’ for “feeling totally stressed out.”

***We can choose to do the holidays, (and Life itself!)  differently this year!!NOT feeling totally stressed.  Rather:  We can feel calmer and create new positive experiences for ourselves and family.***

What actually is “Stress?”

Stress is often described as: HOW WE PERCEIVE an event or situation, and what kind of meaning we assign to something.   AND, how we react or respond to what we perceive.   YES, how we perceive events strongly influences how our bodies, minds, and emotions respond.  

The good news is:  we CAN learn to define, perceive, and act upon situations differently.  When we are in “stress mode”–we seem to attract more uncomfortable experiences.  When we are in an alert, but relaxed mode–we tend to go through Life with more ease.

How can we En-JOY this holiday season, yet emerge in 2014 in positive spirits and good health, VS feeling totally depleted and “in recovery mode?” 

  • The first step is making the INTENTION to have a more relaxing, lower stress level holiday season this year.  

***Intentions send a ripple effect out into the world, setting energy in motion to create a holiday season even better than you could even imagine.***

  • The second step requires re-thinking and IMAGINING what a successful holiday season feels like!   In other words:  “Feel into” and en-vision what a more relaxing holiday season could be like.  (It is possible!)

 QUESTION:  What are YOUR personal ideals of what the holidays are about?  Don’t attempt to live up to some unattainable cultural ideal (that you may not even want!).  What is really important to YOU?   Be more “neutral” regarding your expectations.

 ***SUGGESTION:  WRITE and REHEARSE a brief VISION STATEMENT with the INTENTION of what YOU want for this holiday season and busy time of year.*** 

  • The third step: is making new choices (saying a yes or a positive NO), TAKING NEW ACTIONS, and setting boundaries in new ways— so we do not feel overly bombarded by requests and demands.  

Taking such steps may feel uncomfortable at first, but the rewards are empowering and worth it!

 Which of the following recommendations are helpful to you?:

  • Make it a priority to get adequate sleep and rest: 7-9 hours per night. Don’t skimp on sleep!
  • Don’t overspend, over-eat, or over-imbibe alcohol and sugary drinks.

 ***If financially strapped—give “free” gifts of your time, or complete a task for someone who needs something done.***

  • When feeling challenged by multiple demands and events:

—Take a moment and CHOOSE what events you’ll attend (and for how long) and who or what you’ll say NO to…and not feel guilty.)  If you are surrounded by people at work or home—spend a few extra private minutes in the bathroom to review your choices for “next step”!  Write events and times on a calendar.

***Make an energy and emotional ‘budget’.***    Question: How much emotional energy do I have to spend on yet one more event!!! (and maybe an event filled with challenging people!)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-bartolotta/holiday-stress_b_4371825.html  “5 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress” by Kate Bartolotta

  • Nurture your Spiritual Self.  Do not neglect your soul!!   Spend a few minutes reading inspirational or holy writings, or spend a few minutes sitting in a sacred space—sacred to you.  What is sacred to you this time of year?
  • BREATHE!  Mindful Breathing has many benefits:  calmness, relaxation, better sleep, energization, mental clarity and greater well-being in general.

If you are ‘brand new’ to breath-work, start by simple observing your breathing: inhaling and exhaling.  Sit upright, but comfortably, in a chair.  Breathe deeply, allowing your lungs to fill,  noticing that your lower belly expands at the same time.  The act of breathing also engages the diaphragm, a strong sheet of muscle involved in full expansion of the lungs.    When you exhale,  do so at a longer count than your in-breath.   If you want a demonstration of proper “belly breathing”–just watch an infant doing this–as it is natural to them! http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Mental_Health_Letter/2009/May/Take-a-deep-breath  (very good article on proper breathing.)

For a more focussed breathing practice, try the 4-7-8 technique.   In this practice: we take 4 breaths in, hold the breath for a 7 count, and exhale to an 8 count (with a wooshing sound as you exhale).  A good demonstration of this is provided by Dr. Andrew Weil. http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/VDR00112/The-4-7-8-Breath-Benefits-and-Demonstration.html   If the 4-7-8 count is too challenging, try 3-3-6 or 4-1-5 count.  Just make sure the exhalation count is longer than the inhale count.

Why should the exhale count be longer than the inhale count?  When your exhale is even a few counts longer than your inhale, the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) sends a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system.”   (The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system is involved in calming us down.)  http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-4386/A-Simple-Breathing-Exercise-to-Calm-Your-Mind-Body.html

  • Decide to eat healthily every day, as best you can. Choose 3 Meals of balanced carbohydrates and proteins. Include high fiber vegetables and some fruits.
  • Plan in goodies carefully. If you eat 3 balanced meals, as a priority, it will be easier to say No to excess sweets and rich snacks.
  • Limit alcoholic drinks to 3-5 per week…and not all at once!!!  Alcohol equivalents:  5 oz wine or 12 oz beer or 1.5 oz (1 shot) straight liquor (like gin, whiskey,  or rum or vodka) 
  • Stay well-hydrated:  6-8 glasses water per day, plus natural teas.  Most herbal teas are low in caffeine.

Bring water with you wherever you go and sip on it regularly.

 ***Don’t deprive yourself of sleep, love, social connections, human energy and oxygen—-with overdoing, overspending, and overeating.*** 

 ***Conserve your most vital asset: your (human) energy.***   (Deb’s         regular advice to her clients)

  • Take “time outs” no matter how “time-crunched” you feel.

–Slow down, honor where you are at, and who you are.

–Breathe: inhale, exhale, relax.

 ***PRIORITY!:  PLAN in SOME ALONE TIME for yourself, even if it is just 30 minutes of SOLITUDE or vegging out in your car (and not talking on cell phone!)  UNPLUG!!!  Power down. This is NOT a selfish thing to do.  It is an important self-nurturing step. ***

                        ***Pray, meditate, breathe and move daily.***  

  • Hang out with people who are loving, compassionate and upbeat.
  • Keep your sense of humor handy at all times!   

***We need to have a few good laughs each and every day!  Laughing changes our body chemistry by raising “feel good endorphins.”***

  • Be patient and kind to yourself. (and others!)
  • Keep a Gratitude Journal.  Write in it before you fall asleep. (or in the AM upon arising.)
  • Reach out and ask for help if you need it. 
  • Go outside for fresh air, take a walk.  Or get out some exercise DVDs or do some yoga at home.   Use a pedometer for a distraction,–or to start counting 10,000 Steps per Day.
  • If feeling totally overwhelmed with “I can’t cope” thoughts—remind yourself of times you’ve felt “in control” and when you’ve felt successful.  Those feelings of inner power are still there for you. 
  • For those of you are traveling: check out this BLOG.  Although traveling may not be stress-free, there are ways we can react less intensely to unexpected aspects of travel!!   http://www.usatoday.com/story/dispatches/2013/11/25/family-holiday-travel-stress-tips-advice/3667461/  “Tips for Stress-Free Family Holiday Travel”
  • Raise your oxytocin (the bonding hormone) by engaging in “a feel good activity”: e.g. holding a new puppy or kitty, love-making, getting or giving a massage, or spending time with a contented baby.
  • Do something creative.  Decorate if you like to, or don’t decorate if you don’t feel like it!!!   Seek beauty and enjoy “the arts”.  
  • Take the stance of being “MINDFULLY ALLOWING.”  This does not mean we ‘zone out’, do nothing , or be the door-mat.   Rather: we plan what we can and take good care of ourselves.  Then we ALLOW for what Life also contributes.  Go with the Flow when we can!
  • Have fun!

 Believe that you can have a different type of holiday season this year. 

 Take the steps you need in order to make it happen!   Enjoy and Relax!


We wish you PEACE,  LOVE, and JOY this Holiday Season and in the New Year,

 Deb and Wendy

 The Wellness Shifter Ladies!!!



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