Stressed Out for the Holidays? Five Scientific Tips for Regaining Your Jolly
1. Draw a Smiley Face
No. Seriously. In the first three days of life, newborns demonstrate an instinctive preference for the human face. By the time that human beings are seven months old, we have gained the ability to distinguish between the emotional content of different facial expressions—we react positively to smiling faces, and negatively to angry or fearful faces. That ingrained reaction is a survival mechanism that continues to impact our brain chemistry throughout adulthood. Try it. Draw a smiley face, and stare at it for fifteen seconds. If you really concentrate, odds are that you’ll find yourself smiling at your smiley face, for two reasons. First, it’s instinctively human to smile in response to a smile—it’s a critical physiological reaction that helps children bond with parents and communities bond together. Second, within 15 seconds of staring at a smile, your brain will start to produce more serotonin and dopamine. And then if you start to smile, and share that smile with other people, then they’re more likely to smile back…and soon the whole smiling thing starts a chain reaction that can do wonders for your stressed-out mood.
2. Take a Minute to Stretch
In the modern world, most of our stressors are mental rather than physical, but our bodies were designed for a simpler era, and they can’t distinguish between physical stress and mental/emotional stress. So when you experience stress, your muscles instinctively go into fight-or-flight mode, but if you aren’t physically active in response to that stress (i.e. climbing a tree to get away from a pack of dire wolves), then then all of that tension keeps building and building…and then your muscles get knotted up…and then they start to hurt…and then the pain makes you cranky…and that stresses you out more…and then your muscles get more knotted…and that gives you a headache…and then you wonder how life got so miserable in the first place. So, give your muscles a chance to move. A quick series of stretches (or a few quick wall/desk push-ups) will break the tension cycle, and you’ll feel better both mentally and physically.
3. Drink a Glass of Water
It’s simple, and it takes just a few seconds out of your day, but drinking water is a huge stress-reliever because it helps equip your body to balance your body chemistry and flush out toxins (especially if you’ve been getting into the coffee and holiday cookies). Dehydration causes fatigue, loss of muscle control, headaches, moodiness, altered body temperature, and reduced motivation; so, a simple thing like adding a few glasses of water can keep your brain functioning at peak capacity.
4. Take One Deep Breath
In a perfect world, we might have time for full-blown meditation; but when your schedule’s completely back-to-back and you spend the whole day putting out fires, then you just don’t have more than a few seconds to spare. However, if, as you’re transitioning from event to event, you can focus long enough to take one deep breath in every transition (breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth), your body will actually produce an immediate physiological response—it triggers the Vagus nerve, which causes a cascading parasympathetic reaction that relaxes your body, altering your blood pH and lowering your blood pressure. Bonus: the effect is cumulative. If you make deep breathing a habit, over time it can have a positive effect on your heart, brain, digestion, and immune system. Research from Cleveland Clinic has even associated breathing exercises with lowered risk for pulmonary obstruction and reduced asthma symptoms.
5. Remember the Endgame
When we’re in a huge rush to buy presents, wrap presents, attend all of the holiday parties, negotiate travel arrangements or prepare to host visitors…all on top of exams and end-of-year projects, it’s easy to let the things that are urgent overwhelm the things that are really important. Take a minute to focus on why we go through all of the holiday madness. Do you know what the number one predictor of health and happiness is? Human connection. Knowing that there are people that you love, and who love you, has an impact on every part of your physical and mental wellbeing. So, instead of focusing on all of the things that you have to do, take a minute and remember the people who make the crazy worthwhile.
If you’re smiling right now, then you’re on track to actually enjoy the holidays.
And, do you know what else makes life less stressful? Knowing that you look awesome. And, here at Otero, we’ve got your back, and your front, and your sides. For the perfect holiday fit, check out our awesome polos and tees. Pair them with a jacket, and you’re ready to wow the holiday parties.
And if you need any last-minute gifts, don’t forget to check out our accessories line. These gorgeous pieces are handcrafted in Greece by a family of artisans, who have been working with high-quality whole-grain leather for generations.