7 Steps to Train Your Brain to Release Tension and Receive Gratitude
If life were a Hallmark card, we’d all be energetically bounding into the holiday season with grace and joy. Unfortunately, decades of marketing the magic of the season has elevated our expectations to unreachable heights, making feelings of overwhelm even worse.
Studies show that despite all the reminders to appreciate what we have, the constant focus on needing to get and give more with less has us all seriously stressed out. According to polls from the American Psychological Association, some of the most commonly used terms to describe emotions during the holiday include fatigue (68%), stress (61%), irritability (52%), sadness (36%), anger (35%), and loneliness (26%).
This year, don’t bypass the blessings that exist in precious time spent with family and friends. With a few simple shifts, you can recharge your energy, slow down enough to appreciate what’s good in life, and refocus your attention on what matters most.
1. Take a digital detox. In the “off season”, work demands subside as companies realize attention is often elsewhere. But our hard-wired need to stay connected and productive can keep us leashed to our technological devices even more as things slow down. Notice the pull and just like lifting weights at the gym, resist it. Without judgment, shift your attention to the present moment and experiencing what’s right before you, or use the time to truly decompress with one of the recharge strategies below.
2. Prioritize sleep. It’s natural to want to hibernate a bit when our surroundings become cold and dark. So why not follow nature’s perfect rhythm and allow yourself to rest? Set an alarm to start your unwinding process and aim to go to bed 30 minutes earlier each week to nudge you towards more consistent slumber. Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, aromatherapy, peaceful music or guided meditation to quiet your busy mind and allow your body to drift off to sleep.
3. Power-up your plate. And remember, sometimes less is more. Focus on increasing the value of what you eat rather than the volume to keep you feeling energized and engaged. If 80% of what you eat consists of whole, natural, health-promoting foods then the occasional indulgence that you really enjoy and appreciate won’t throw you off track. When you do splurge on dietary delights, eat slowly and mindfully to fully enjoy the experience.
4. Move it, move it. Movement not only stimulates energy production, but it also helps to dramatically decrease stress hormones while boosting feel-good chemicals in the brain. One way to make it easier to incorporate physical activity into your already-busy schedule is to gradually increase the general movement you get throughout the day. Simply standing instead of sitting can double metabolism, and walking can multiply resting metabolism five-fold. Set goals for yourself and make it more fun by including friends and family in a challenge, such as tracking steps or doing a silly circuit-training workout with your kids during commercials.
5. Laugh out loud. While most people don’t play games with the intent of improving their health, recent studies have demonstrated that having fun and laughing can have tremendous impact on all dimensions of our health: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Our physical body cannot differentiate between “real” laughter in response to something we genuinely find funny and the unconditional laughter that is merely brought on by one’s intention to laugh. Experienced with a group, this laughter quickly becomes contagious and the impact is substantial. (Want more info on the health benefits of Humor, visit www.aath.org.)
6. Remember your purpose. Try to start each day by setting your intentions for priorities and purpose. Instead of focusing on what needs to be done, spend a few minutes thinking about why the holiday season is important to you, and how you want to experience your time so you can stay mindful of what matters most. Anchoring your brain’s attention on what matters most first thing in the morning and reflecting several times during the day will help to keep you grounded in your intentions.
7. Treat yourself — Tis the season for giving, so why not do something special for yourself? Taking time to nurture your own spirit will help fuel the energy and attention you need to be fully present with those you care about. Schedule a massage or other spa treatment, buy a nice candle or aromatherapy diffuser, take a long bubble bath, or treat yourself to a movie.
Remember to bless your stress, it means you’re alive. Besides, a simple shift in perspective can make stress your friend instead of your frenemy.
If you’d like to learn the 3 most critical steps you can take to become a Stress Master during the Holiday Season (and find out the one thing you do every day that’s hijacking your brain) — join me on a free live webinar Dec 12th at 4pm PST. Visit www.heidihanna.com/webinar to register or if you missed the event, you’ll see postings for upcoming programs.
Stop Stress and Jumpstart Your Joy This Holiday Season was originally published in Thrive Global on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.