The holidays can be a really stressful time for some of us. From the gift shopping to planning dinners and parties, to keeping the family in one piece during that annual overseas trip and juggling work on top of everything.
Well, if you’re suffering from festive fatigue (it’s a real thing!), here are 26 handy ways to beat stress and keep yourself calm through the holly jolly season:
Aromatherapy is a quick and easy way to relieve stress. Simply light up a candle or diffuser containing essential oils and other natural plant extracts, as these release scents that can create a feeling of deep relaxation when inhaled.
Ideally, you should stop and take deep breaths regularly, two or three times a day, to keep calm. But it’s also effective for on-the-spot relief. Stress experts suggest the following technique:
- Loosen any tight clothing or belts and lie down or sit in a comfy chair that supports your head.
- Breathe in and out slowly and in a regular rhythm, filling your lungs with air without forcing it.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, counting from one to five.
- Do this until you feel calm – for about three to five minutes.
It might not sound very soothing but setting goals for the season helps you build confidence, which in turn boosts your ability to deal with pressure.
A good diet can help. “Junk food and caffeine can make you feel jittery,” says mental health spokesperson Sam Challis. Instead, aim for a balanced diet based on fresh whole foods, with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain carbs, and lean meat and fish.
“And although it’s tempting to reach for a glass of wine when you’ve had a tough day, limit yourself to one or two drinks – too much alcohol can make you feel more anxious the next day,” he cautions.
Eight hours’ sleep is crucial for staying calm. German research has found that people who sleep for just six hours a night have double the levels of stress hormone cortisol as those who get eight hours’ shut-eye. Eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep and will help you feel more in control. And stress can trigger insomnia. If sleep problems persist, see your GP.
Fun boosts your ability to cope, so something like having a hobby is crucial for helping you keep stress under control. And it doesn’t have to be too upbeat like dancing, just try to introduce some fun into each day. Start by smiling more and wearing bright clothes – it really makes a difference.
Gratitude can help you feel more positive. And don’t worry if you’re a glass-half-empty type – you can train yourself to be more positive. At the end of each day, write down five things you’re grateful for. It shifts your perspective.
High tea sessions can be very de-stressing. There’s no better time then the end of year to catch up with your girlfriends over some aromatic teas or coffee.
Working hard on something that matters is less stressful than putting in long hours on things you don’t enjoy. We can’t always spend time doing what we enjoy, but knowing what matters to you means you can work towards doing more of the things you like.
Jokes ease tension, and there’s nothing like watching your favourite comedy to put you in a better frame of mind. “Laughter’s an effective coping mechanism,” says Benjamin Bonetti, author of How to Stress Less. “Getting things in perspective and seeing the funny side of life releases tension and can also reduce levels of stress hormones circulating in your body.” Time to start watching those YouTube cat videos…
Kissing triggers the release of oxytocin, the bonding hormone that lowers stress levels, according to US research. So grab your loved one and pucker up underneath the mistletoe.
Listening to music helps you unwind, says Karen Ng, senior correspondent at Metal Bulletin. “It’s the little things that sometimes make a big impact in combating stress and music is one of those. Whenever I’m feeling frazzled, I try to put on some classical music like Bach to calm me down and inject some much needed Zen back into my day.”
A massage is great for easing muscle tension and studies have found that it could lower levels of cortisol and improve quality of life. “Making time for myself is the best way to de-stress,” says Angela Lee, a teacher in her 40s.
She says, “I often go for a body massage or facial to look nice and feel good. My favourite is a weekly aromatherapy massage that takes away all my muscular tension and eases my mind. I am then ready for another hectic week at work, cooking for my family or preparing for the year-end family trip!”
No – a simple word that can help you take control and ease the pressure. Taking on too much and working long hours is a classic cause of stress. Learning to say ‘no’ is vital for helping you manage your to-do list.
“This doesn’t just apply at work – sometimes you may need to say ‘no’ to demanding friends and family members,” says stress expert and psychotherapist Gladeana McMahon. To say ‘no’ assertively, keep it simple, try to be constructive and don’t apologise.
Open up – smile at strangers and strike up conversations. A study from the US has found that acting like an extrovert can boost your happiness levels and reduce tension. So have a friendly chat to the bus driver or sales assistant.
Prepare well for long flights, especially if you’re flying with an infant. Mother-of-two Vanessa Tan, in her 30s, shares, “For a fuss-free baby and worry-free parents, lifesaving items to pack include a milk bottle in hand, baby’s favourite toys, snacks, a pacifier and baby programmes loaded into an iPad.”
Quiet time can be blissful and help de-clutter your mind. “When life tips you off balance, the natural instinct is to respond by correcting things through action,” says John Lees, author of Secrets Of Resilient People.
“But important decisions made under pressure may not be quality ones. Finding a calm space allows you to step back. This can be physical space which encourages quiet reflection, like a room in your home that is free of electronic screens and devices, or while commuting.”
Resilience is an important skill. “The ability to bounce back is essential for dealing with stress,” says Lees. If you don’t have natural resilience, you can learn how to get it. “One of the key ways to do this is to learn to stop worrying,” says Lees. Worry exacerbates stress and makes you feel powerless.
“Make a note to worry at a time when you are likely to be more positive, such as writing down a phrase like ‘bank loan’ to remind you, and then put the thought aside. Worry when you are feeling calmer – this will often mean the problems seem much smaller and the solutions more obvious,” he says.
Socialising soothes the soul. A good network support is essential, and one of the reasons stress is a bigger problem these days is that we tend to be more isolated. Being with friends helps you relax, but it also means you know you have people to turn to when things get difficult, which can take the edge off the pressure. When you do have problems, talking to a good friend can be a great way to find a solution.
Travel, especially to places with lots of nature. For Serene Ng, an Investment Services Executive in her 30s, travelling to places like Hawaii and Australia’s Great Ocean Road relaxes her.
“I make a conscious effort to plan a trip, whether long or short, once a quarter to schedule a necessary break from work and to break out of my daily cycle. There is something about being in a different environment that brings our minds away from life-as-usual.”
Understand what you can and can’t change. “If you want to protect yourself from stress, it helps to be able to discern the difference between the things you have some control over and the things you don’t,” says Lees. It sounds simple, but it means you’ll stop wasting energy fighting against things you can’t change, such as redundancy. Instead, you can focus more positively on what you can do.
Volunteering lowers stress – that’s according to research which found that 78 per cent of people report that volunteering has a soothing effect. The reason? Helping people in a worse position can put your own issues into perspective. Check out local organisations you could give time or money to here!
Work smart instead of hard. Good time management may not sound glamorous, but it’s a crucial skill for mastering the art of calm. Make a list of everything you have to do at the beginning of each day, then number the list according to what needs to be done first and what can wait.
Start with the most urgent tasks and don’t necessarily expect to have done everything by the end of the day – instead, start a new list and move anything you haven’t ticked off to the next day’s list. This helps lower your sense of overload – writing all the jobs down on paper gets them out of your head, so you don’t have the additional tension of having to remember everything you need to do.
This is because sex lowers stress hormones and relieves anxiety, say Scottish researchers. In the study, those who had sex during a two-week period reported lower stress than those who didn’t. Make physical contact a priority, says McMahon – even if you don’t have sex, being sensual with each other can help you relax.
Yoga is the classic stress-busting exercise. US research looked at 200 women recovering from breast cancer and found those who did yoga for 90 minutes twice a week experienced less stress, decreased fatigue and improved vitality.
Zumba – and other dance activities – can help reduce tension. The combination of physical activity and socialising makes dance a double whammy against pressure build-up.
Text: bauersyndication.com.au / Additional Reporting: Elizabeth Liew
This post was first published in December 2016, and updated on December 20, 2019.