The holiday season is upon us and, chances are, you are more stressed than usual. Be it difficult family dynamics, arduous travel plans, or simply changing your iron clad routine, the holiday season has a unique way in winding us up.
Alicia R. Maher MD, board certified diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, states that scientifically, when we disrupt our normal lives, we rely more on the “reactive” parts of the brain, and it’s a very overwhelming state for our bodies.
Under normal circumstances, when you experience stress, your body feels a surge of adrenaline as the “fight or flight” part of your brain is activated. But in a heightened state of stress, like around the holidays, the fight or flight system stays activated, your body is frequently flooded with adrenaline, and you end up feeling exhausted. “Adrenaline was designed to help us out in dire danger—only once in a while. Running on it day after day is too much for our bodies,” Dr. Maher says.
To keep yourself grounded, Dr. Maher recommends these three mindfulness solutions for stressful situations.
The Stress: You just woke up, and you already feel behind on your to-do list.
The Solution: Hop in the shower.
Reboot your brain with this everyday activity. Use your five senses to make simple observations: Notice how your shampoo smells, how the water feels on your skin, what your loofah sounds like when you suds up. “The key is not to add anything new to your routine during the holidays, but to bring more awareness to what you’re already doing,” Dr. Maher says.
The Stress: You’re in the car for a long ride, and your child won’t stop screaming.
The Solution: Take a time-out.
When focusing on your senses isn’t practical, like when you’re traveling, try a gratitude exercise. For five minutes, think about everything you’re grateful for. From a neuroscience perspective, this refocuses your mind. “It’s generally very calming, and you can do it anywhere,” Dr. Maher says.
The Stress: You’re shopping, and the saleslady is being anything but helpful.
The Solution: Eat a mint.
Before you reach into your words-that-are-not-suitable-for-children dictionary, pop a breath freshener. After you put the mint in your mouth, notice its texture, how it gets smaller as it dissolves, how it makes your mouth feel. After you walk away from the situation, let it go. “We often cause ourselves more stress by continuing to think about the rudeness,” Dr. Maher says. Instead of thinking about everything you’d like to have said to that person, try a gratitude list to keep your spirits up.