With 19 days until Christmas, holiday stress is peaking. So this week, we’re focusing on self-care basics to preserve health, happiness, and your remaining sanity. First, nourish yourself physically. Make time to eat-your body can’t run without fuel. Exercise 2-3 times weekly by going to the gym, walking your dog, or shopping. Recharge your emotional engine by making time to do things you enjoy-savor a cup of coffee, take a bubble bath, or visit a friend. Feed your spirit with a nature walk, positive affirmations, listening or reading someone inspirational and giving to others.
Second, practice relaxation. Take breaks in the day. Stop running around at record speeds. The “perfect gift” doesn’t exist so stop and breathe. Close your eyes and spend 5 minutes, breathing in to the count of 3, holding for a couple seconds and then out to the count of 3. If a thought strays in, let it go. Focus you attention on your heart spreading calm and warmth through your body. Repeat 2-3 times a day. Studies show that relaxation can boost immunity, and improve mood and sleep.
Finally, spend your time wisely. Choose one activity which makes the holidays special for you and make certain to do it. Maybe baking or caroling or watching a holiday DVD. Don’t let your “to do” list consume you. Prioritize what has to get done, and cut out what you can. Stop and think “Will doing this make me feel good” or tired and stressed. Choose what’s best for you at least once a day.
When first introduced to breathing as a relaxation technique, we wonder how something so simple can work. My favorite story about “breathing” was finding my 10 year-old daughter playing the deep breathing/relaxation CD I’d made to a friend who was spending the night and having trouble sleeping. She said, “Just listen–you’ll feel better.” Fifteen minutes later, they were both asleep.
Deep breathing works so well because we spend so much time physically and emotionally stressed. Psychologist Alice Domar states that the average US adult experiences the fight or flight response 50 times daily. While adaptive for cave-dwelling ancestors running from saber-toothed tigers, the flood of stress chemicals through our bodies makes us edgy, irritable, and more vulnerable to physical and emotional health problems. Likewise, it results in short, shallow breathing which fuels rather than diminishes the stress response.
The busier we are, the truer this is, especially for moms with small children who already feel physically and emotionally depleted. The more rundown we are, the more likely the fight-flight response is to trigger. Research has shown that five minutes of deep breathing several times a day leads to lower stress hormones by day’s end. Why wait? If we can delay bedtime to pick up the house, certainly we can take 5 minutes, 3 times a day, to improve our physical and emotional well-being. Although it may feel strange at first to be still and breathe deeply, it feels good.
This week’s mantra: “I always have my breath to destress.”