During the holiday season, research shows that people feel increased rates of stress. In fact in one survey about holiday stress, 77 percent of respondents said they feel more worn out and anxious during this time of year.
We’re traveling, cooking, cleaning, visiting, gathering, celebrating, all on top of our everyday work and home to-do lists. No wonder many hardworking bodies feel tight and tired.
Clearly, we can’t completely eliminate stress from our lives. But if we ignore our bodies’ signs of struggle—like irritability and tense, achy muscles—stress can be damaging to our overall health and well-being.
These three simple moves, however, can help alleviate stress. Use them when you begin to feel tense, revisit them anytime, and allow them to have a positive impact on your day. They’ll help you get through the holiday season and beyond.
Normally, breathing is a passive action, which means our bodies do it automatically; digestion and the beating of our hearts are other examples of passive actions. To use breathing as a tool for de-stressing, we need to take this passive action and bring focus to it, or make it an active action. When you do this, breathing can help calm your body and stimulate your relaxation response.
How to to it:
Sit tall. Now, breathe in through your nose for a count of 5. Feel the air fill your lungs, but be mindful that you are not allowing your shoulders to rise as you inhale.
Hold this breath for a count of 5. Try to let go of any tension you may be holding in your shoulders, neck, or head.
Then through pursed lips, exhale out of your mouth for a count of 5. This can be a little more forceful than your average exhale, but be careful not to over-exert, or you may become lightheaded.
Repeat 5 times.
Shoulder Blade Pinch
Most commonly, stress manifests itself physically in our shoulders and neck, often due to a hunched posture. For example, we hunch and make ourselves smaller as we “move away” from a stressful situation, or we hunch as we try to get closer to our phones. This exercise is a simple and quick way to undo this harmful hunch. You can do this move almost anywhere, like during a stressful work call or at the dinner table when awkward conversations are getting the better of you.
How to do it:
Sit or stand tall. Now, keeping your torso still, squeeze your shoulder blades together, making sure not to elevate your shoulders. The only motion should be your shoulder blades squeezing backward; everything else stays quiet, relaxed, and still.
Hold for a count of 5, and release. Repeat as needed.
The word “no” and the action of shaking our heads appear everywhere in our daily lives—often in a negative way. (No, I can’t help you with that task. No, you can’t have more time.) But what if we could use no to our advantage? This move helps relieve tension and stress, making no work for you.
How to do it:
Sit or stand tall, and inhale to a count of 5.
As you exhale to a count of 5, turn your head to the right. Pause. With just your eyes, acknowledge the space around you.
Staying in this position, take another breath, inhaling and exhaling, and let your shoulders relax away from you. You may even feel a little stretch in your neck and shoulders.
Inhale to a count of 5, and then as you exhale, return your head back to center and look straight ahead.
Repeat these actions to the left.