For those who celebrate Christmas, these last few days before the holiday can be among the most stressful of the year. “Merry,” “jolly” and “joyful” are not words that readily come to mind at a time when the daily pressures of work and household life continue alongside the rush of last-minute shopping and the many difficulties involved in preparing to host relatives or to travel.
Nobody needs more lists at this point in time – so here are three simple ways to keep yourself, if not “jolly,” at the very least calm throughout the season.
Breathe. Take some time each day to breathe deeply. The best kind of breath for relaxation is a long slow inhale through the nose, feeling your belly expand, then a slow exhale out through the mouth. But any kind of deep, mindful breathing will help you – and you don’t need as much time for this as you might think. If you can take ten to fifteen minutes in the evening after you’ve put the kids to bed, that’s great – but even two to five minutes scattered throughout the day, when you’re stuck in traffic or waiting on line at the store, can help immensely with stress relief.
Hydrate. It’s all too easy to forget to drink enough water and become mildly dehydrated in the busyness of the season. Bring a travel container of water with you when you’re on the way to work or Christmas shopping, and be sure to refill it throughout the day. Dehydration has been shown to decrease focus, decision-making and short-term memory– all of which you actually need more of, not less, when you’re under pressure. Water also helps the body clear out pathogens, toxins and cellular waste byproducts (through the lymph nodes and kidneys), keeping you feeling better in general and less likely to get sick. For an extra immune boost, add a cinnamon stick, an inch to an inch and a half of ginger root, and an inch to an inch and a half of turmeric to four to six cups of boiling water, let steep, and sip throughout the day.
Sleep. Fight the temptation to stay up late making holiday preparations, packing or catching up on work you’ve fallen behind on in the rush of things. Research is increasingly proving that sleep is so crucial to every bodily function that it should be considered a form of “superfood” nutrition.
Sleep is when certain key parts of the brain actually wake up and go into overdrive, becoming far more active than they are during the day – most notably the brain’s toxin-flushing lymphatic system. This system clears out the toxins formed as byproducts of the brain’s normal daily functioning, detoxifying and recycling them for fresh use the next day. When too many toxins pile up without enough sleep time for your brain to flush them out (at least 7 to 8 hours are needed for most of us), cell damage and memory impairment can follow.
Sleep is also crucial for the immune system. Your immune system is hard at work while you’re sleeping, and one of its nocturnal activities is releasing cytokines, which the body needs to help fight infection. White blood cell and antibody counts also decrease with sleep deprivation. So turn on the sound machine, pull on your sleep mask, do whatever you need to get enough sleep, especially when under stress.
Finally, give yourself permission to not be perfect: a cluttered house, a present that needs to be returned, saying no to a holiday party that feels like one activity too many – these things are small compared to your own health, well-being, and what Christmas and the holidays are really all about.