While many anticipate the holiday season with all of the celebrations and excitement, it can be stressful and even a lonely time of year for many. What follows is a list of things you might try to lower stress levels in various ways – and valid to use at any time of the year.
When starting a new habit, keep in mind your larger purpose – longevity, joy, weight loss, improvement to chronic aches and pains, mental clarity, etc. Then choose one or two new behaviors (habits) that you know you can easily get yourself to do on a consistent basis. The final step in making any new habit stick is to add in a celebration or “shine.” You can easily add this in to the action itself.
For instance, one of my habits it to create mindful breaks (I call them mindful snacks) throughout the day. These are 2-minute pauses to notice my breath, or to touch my thumb to each of the other fingers. Upon completing one of these 2-minute “reps,” I smile and silently say to myself “look at you improving your focus!”
While it might seem a bit silly, especially at the get-go, it is being shown that the emotions elicited around your actions wire in new habits – not repetition. Give it a go, and let me know what you discover!
- Drink water throughout the day – no numbers attached, just try to get in as much plain, filtered water as you can. Drinking water hydrates all of our body tissues and organs and activates the sympathetic nervous system to increase metabolism, which may aid in weight loss over time. Excess weight not only increases chances of diseases, it also creates chronic stress in the body. Even adding just 1% more water daily can make a difference.
- Do something mindful every day – meditate, watch the birds, sing a song, start to learn something new. Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.” Mindfulness can happen in many ways, but is focused on paying attention to the present moment. It can lead to better focus, stress and even pain reduction. I have been using mindfulness in my own life and fully recognize the benefits of this practice. A little bit daily over time can make a huge difference in mental and physical performance.
- Get restorative sleep – at least 7 hours each night. Sleep is the foundation for better health.
- Get outside daily – bonus points if you go barefoot. Research is now showing that being in nature reduces cortisol, the stress hormone. Even looking at a picture of a natural setting can help. While 10 minutes is enough time to start to see cortisol levels drop, 20-30 minutes produces an even bigger decline in this stress hormone.
- Dedicate alone time daily – A few minutes might be enough to reduce stress and enhance mindfulness. Even if you love to be around people all the time, alone time can enhance creativity and focus.
- End each day reflecting on what made you smile – Gratitude or appreciation tracking can be a significant (and completely free) way to increase life satisfaction and overall happiness. Studies show that it can even increase your likelihood of making new friends. While this practice does not have to be formal, some find keeping a journal for tracking appreciation and gratitude is helpful.
- Consider Intermittent Fasting (IF) – This practice involves shortening your “eating window” during the day and can be beneficial in helping practitioners to consume less overall, which can be beneficial during the holiday season when there are temptations galore. There is a lot of research currently being done on this practice and it is being shown that not only can this practice help reduce caloric intake, it does not cause a reduction in metabolism which is commonly seen in the eat less, move more “diet” model. I currently offer coaching for people interested in trying IF.
- Eat protein with every meal – As we age, our need to protein increases and protein consumption will keep you feeling fuller for longer, helping to reduce cravings.
What one of these will you try this year? I’d love to hear from you!