De-Stress Your Holidays

December is here and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by an extra-long to-do list on top of the usual stressors associated with the holidays. During this time when most of us genuinely want to feel joyful, the best gift we can give ourselves (and by proxy those in our lives) is the gift of rest and calm. When we feel calm and settled inside, it’s much easier to ‘do’ the holidays with joy and presence.

For the 3 weeks leading up to Christmas, my focus in class will be on down regulation. Down regulation happens when we’re able to move from feeling stressed, to a calmer and more peaceful place. This ability is key to finding moments of serenity when our world feels chaotic, which can happen even when the chaos is happy chaos. This doesn’t come without a bit of planning and effort, though. So in addition to coming to class over the next few weeks, here are some ideas that may help you settle your nervous system during the silly season.

Get outside.

Most of us (myself included) are spending hours every day on computers and devices. A study published in The Scientific American in 2020 showed that focusing our eyes for extended periods can elicit a stress response in the body. So set break reminders on your computer or phone so you can get up and walk out the door, even if it’s just for a short break. Being in nature for just a few minutes is the ultimate de-stressor. Going for a walk, or just sitting outside while you take a break can have a profound effect on your mind and your body. Studies have shown that being outside, even when it’s cold, will fortify your Vitamin D stores, strengthen your immune system, lower your cortisol level and improve your mood.

Move…in a way that feels nourishing.

You can capitalise on being outside by going for a walk, or if you live in an area where there’s snow, go skating or snowshoeing. Attend a yoga class, join a dance class, just find a way to move your body as often as you can, and make it fun! When it’s fun, it’s more sustainable.

Focus on your exhale.

So often in yoga, we focus on the wonderful feeling of a full deep inhale. But there’s a growing body of evidence that says that emphasising the exhale helps us relax, prevents disease, and enhances our health.  Science is just beginning to discover how exhale-dominant breathing benefits us, but we do know that the exhale stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and enables us to relax, digest our food, and be clear, present, and focused. Exhale dominant breathing can be as simple as inhaling for a certain number of counts, then making your exhale 2 or more counts longer. Do this for 2-5 minutes per day and watch what happens!

Find what brings you pleasure (and DO it).

When life gets busy with “serious” pursuits like jobs, kids, and the other tasks of adulting, allowing ourselves time to relish things that are pleasing to us can somehow feel like it delegitimises our hard work. But if we don’t take pleasure seriously our resentment can grow, which steals from us the opportunity to be happy. Nurturing your soul with what you love to do means dedicating time to knowing yourself and what makes you happy. It means listening to what you need, and opening yourself to love.

And love, along with a joyful holiday season, is my wish for you this year and always!

©Julie Smerdon 2022

Photography: Pete Longworth

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