A little break — even just 5 minutes — can go a long way
You’re busy with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. You’ve got presents to wrap, sugar cookies to bake, family to visit and lots of running around to do. The holidays can be a lot of fun — as long as your efforts to celebrate the season don’t become too stressful. The good news? You can keep that from happening.
“It’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, but for many, it can be a stressful time,” says Jodi Jordan, a physician assistant specializing in primary care at Geisinger Richfield. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to try to live up to the ideal of the ‘perfect holiday.’ This time of year, set boundaries and try to block out time for yourself as we are often busy taking care of others.”
You don’t even need to block out a significant chunk of time to wipe away stress. Sometimes, just catching your breath for a few minutes is enough to get back on track.
Use these six 5-minute “remedies” to stay healthy and less stressed during the holidays.
1. Start the day with gratitude
When you wake up, rather than starting the day by obsessing over what lies ahead of you, pause for a few moments and give thanks for the positives in your life. Maybe those include your family, your job or even the opportunity the coming day holds. Expressing gratitude for what you already have can help you to realize the positive things already in your life — and that you don’t have to stress over making “the perfect holiday.” Writing down your thoughts in a journal can help manage stress and clear your mind.
According to some studies, practicing gratitude can have health benefits, like:
- Strengthening your immune system
- Reducing aches and pains
- Helping you sleep better
- Giving you more satisfaction in your life
2. Breathe deeply
This is something you can do when you’re at work or riding in a car — and it can have a big impact on your day. If you aren't comfortable taking time to breathe deeply in a public place, find a quiet spot where you won’t be distracted. It can even be the bathroom! Close your eyes and inhale slowly and deeply, for at least 5 seconds. Pause when your lungs are full and slowly exhale, taking at least another 5 seconds. Repeat this 10 times (or more).
“Try to concentrate only on your breath and not to let all those other distractions enter your mind,” says Jordan. “You can even come up with a mantra to help you keep distracting thoughts out of your mind. Given the season, you could focus on a word, like ‘joy’ or ‘peace.’ If a distracting thought does pop into your head, don’t focus on it. Let it go and focus on your mantra.”
Breathing deeply mimics what your body does when you’re relaxed, which sends messages to your brain to calm down.
3. Go for a mid-afternoon stroll
Take the time to just step away from work, chores or other stress-inducing tasks and head outside for a walk around the block. Exercise, like walking, also helps release daily tension from pain or grief.
“It’s best to leave your phone behind when you go for a walk,” says Jordan. “This eliminates the temptation of checking your email or social media every 30 seconds and allows you to focus on the environment around you. When you do this, you can really appreciate what you’re doing at that very moment.”
A walk outdoors, if possible, is also a chance to get some natural light and the vitamin D that comes from sunlight, which can ward off feelings of depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
4. Do nothing at all
Sometimes the best thing you can do is simply stop and turn off your brain for a couple of moments. This releases any pressure you might feel to be productive every moment of every day — a mindset that sets in as we contemplate all the activities on our plates during the holidays.
Don’t peruse the internet. Don’t answer emails. Just close your eyes and reflect on something positive.
“Small breaks can be very helpful for your mental health. If you’re able to truly disconnect, even better. Electronics prevent you from being ‘in the moment,’” says Jordan.
5. Take care of a plant
Taking care of a plant can lift your spirits. During the cold winter months, it's not as easy to get outside and enjoy the benefits of nature as it is during warmer seasons. Taking care of a plant can have some of the same effects — without having to brave the cold outdoors. Keeping plants in your home also helps you breathe easier, since they release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Some plants are particularly good at purifying the air, such as spider plants and rubber plants.
Plus, taking care of plants just feels good. If you don't have the greenest thumb, research some low-maintenance plants. Remember: This is part of your 5-minute “remedies,” so aim for a plant that's easier to take care of during the busy holiday season.
6. Maintain a healthy diet
Making a few small adjustments to what you put in your body can make a big difference. Jordan says focusing on whole foods — and reducing fried and processed foods — can improve how you feel emotionally. She also suggests limiting your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as both can interfere with sleep.
Lastly, drink plenty of water. For a healthy person, Jordan says a good rule of thumb is to aim for half your weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 140 pounds, strive for 70 ounces of water each day.
Drinking water lubricates your joints, improves your complexion, aids with constipation and helps your kidneys flush toxins from your body.