Americans already live in a state of chronic stress, between the job, the bills, the kids, the house, the spouse, and everything else we pile on top of ourselves. Stress is not a bad thing, in small bursts that results in the expulsion of that energy, and then long periods of rest to follow. We were actually built for this type of stress. What we weren’t built for is this chronic stress, no expulsion of the energy, and no rest or relief from the stress. And then we add holidays on top of our already stressful lives. The shopping, the cleaning, the family, the traveling, the lines, the crowds, the money, the time. This time of year has a tendency to take a lot of us down.
So, what can we do to manage this intense time of year, without running away and hiding until it is over? First, we need to know the types of things we are doing to manage our stress that is actually adding more stress to our life. Things like drinking too much caffeine, working out too much, drinking alcohol, eating fast convenient food to give us more time, or trying to get more work done before bed, these may feel like time managers but they are actually increasing your stress levels and then requiring you to handle more stress in your life. Cutting back on the caffeine, only working out 3-4 days a week, clean eating, giving up the alcohol, and cutting yourself off from work and screen time at a certain time each night will drastically reduce the stress hormones from being released. These are things we need to be aware of all of the time.
But, this is a special time of year that requires a lot of extra stress management. So I am going to introduce some of my favorite stress management tools that I use in addition to the daily ones I listed above. First, meditation, this useful practice has been shown to decrease anxiety, depression, and increase your ability to handle stress. An easy beginner practice is called the 16 second meditation. It is a breathing practice that actually slows your heart rate down instantly. All you need to do is inhale for 4 seconds, then hold that breathe in and count 3 seconds, then exhale for 6 seconds, then hold that exhale for 3 seconds. Having a longer exhale than inhale slows your heart rate down, and having to count your breath requires mindful attention which increases your ability to handle stress. Another great practice that achieves these same goals is yoga. It opens up your lungs and your ability to get a deeper breath while forcing you to focus on your pose. Tara Stiles has great yoga videos that I love doing at my house.
But I have to say, I get the most stress relief from spending quality time with my husband. When the kids are in bed, and the house is quiet, and we can just hang out and let the rest of the world melt away, nothing relieves the pressures of the day than feeling like I am loved and treasured, and deserving of someone’s undivided attention. The phones, the TV, the kids, the housework, all of it gets put aside so we can just be the center of each other’s universe. Now, I know not everyone is in a place in their relationship where they can actually get stress relief from their partner, it’s actually quite the opposite. If this is the case, then do yourself, your stress hormones, and your family a favor and come in to The Attach Place and see me for a couple of sessions of couple’s therapy. Or, you can even do some Skype sessions with me if you are not in Northern California. And if you are single, this can still apply with a loving attachment figure in your life; a good friend, a sibling or parent, even spending time with your beloved animal can be a stress reliever. There are many other ways to reduce stress this holiday season, these are just some of my favorite. Find what works for you and then make a point to actually do it. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you; not to mention all of the people around you. I hope this helps you get through the next month.
Robin Blair, MFT Registered Intern
Supervised by Jennifer Olden, LMFT for one month, as she has just passed her MFT licensure exams. Congratulations Robin!