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Three Simple Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

Nov 27, 2019 ● By Briana Bragg
by Briana Bragg

Season’s greetings—laughter, delicious food and fond memories—promote good cheer, togetherness and sharing that will last a lifetime. Or so the advertisements go. We roll from a holiday of thanksgiving and gratitude to one of giving gifts to one of setting goals for the year ahead. Life must be perfect.

But a totally stress-free holiday season is unattainable, and good cheer is not the feeling many people experience this time of year. Instead, feelings of sadness, additional pressure and dread set in. For them, it can be a lonely time of year, depending on how many close friends or family live in the area.

For others, the pressure of cooking, shopping, gift-giving, traveling and family drama may cloud the “reason for the season”. There’s uncle Bill, who just can’t keep his mouth quiet about politics; and aunt Mary, who insists on putting in her two cents even if the opinions aren’t welcome. This begs the question of why we put so much pressure on ourselves this time of year.

There is hope for combating holiday stress. Here are some simple, yet effective ways to reduce it as we move through the holidays.

Step 1:
Identify Stress Triggers

One mindfulness technique is becoming aware of the reactions happening within the body. Take notice of a racing heart, sweaty palms, anxious thoughts, headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, irritability and muscle tension. These are a few of the ways that stress shows up. When uncle Bill starts spouting off about politics and our heart feels like it is pounding, this is a stress trigger. When thoughts become negative or anxious, this is a stress trigger. Once we become aware of stress triggers, specific techniques can be used to calm the central nervous system and reduce it. Just noticing them can provide huge insight and even some relief.

Step 2:
Mindful Breathing

When stress kicks in, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are pumped through the body, known as the “fight-or-flight” response. Deep, abdominal breathing pauses the flooding of these two hormones and calms the central nervous system. Inhale and exhale through the nose, which speaks directly to the central nervous system, feeling the air fully fill the lungs. On the inhale, focus on the abdomen rising; on the exhale, focus on the abdomen falling. Repeat 10 times for immediate relief and step away if needed, to a quiet place.

Step 3:
Refocus the Mind

Once stress is triggered within the body, racing negative thoughts may begin to take over. Creating a distraction from the situation at hand is a mindfulness technique that can be used anywhere at any time—not necessarily distracting the person responsible for the situation, but creating a diversion within the mind, known as a refocusing technique. Instead of playing the conversation over and over, reinforcing the stress trigger, try this.

The Balloon Technique:

  • A repeating negative thought can be hard to dispel. With closed eyes, see yourself holding the string of a green balloon, the balloon floating just above your head.
  • Now visualize the thought to the left of the balloon and see yourself as an observer instead of the judger of the thought.
  • Take the thought and put it inside the green balloon.
  • Inhale and exhale. On the exhale, release the string of the green balloon and watch the balloon and the thought float high into the sky, higher, higher, until both the balloon and thought are gone.
  • Inhale and exhale.
  • Repeat if necessary.

 Briana Bragg is a speaker, author and coach specializing in meditation and mindfulness. She is the founder of Vacation of the Mind, a guided meditation company. For more information, email [email protected] or visit