Ugh -- December. Is there any month of the year that drives us quite so batty? Shopping. Entertaining. Traveling. Wrapping up that final workload. And all those holiday parties you promised you'd go to! It's enough to make you want to start dipping into the eggnog a few weeks early.
A surefire antidote to relieving all this stress is by practicing the three R's -- rest, relaxation and reflection -- which not only helps soothe your frayed brain, but also improves your overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, learning to chill slows your heart rate, lowers your blood pressure, reduces muscle tension (and chronic pain), improves your concentration and even boosts your confidence. Not a bad payoff, right?
Our own experts have often given us great relaxation advice. Deepak Chopra recommends mediating for 10 to 20 minutes a day in order to bring your mind and body into harmony. Dr. Nancy Snyderman suggests running away for a fast recharge. "Tell your family you love them, but that you need a brief getaway," she says. "They'll be fine. It is not selfish, it's self-preservation." And my old pal Dr. Oz says that, if you can't get away, take 5 minutes to go into the bathroom and practice deep belly breathing. This quick exercise is central to many mystic religions, he adds, and is profoundly important to spiritual balance.
I loved these tips -- and wanted more! So being a lifelong "list person" I combed the web in search of the perfect clip-and-save cheat sheet that I can tape to the fridge. And as luck would have it, the smart and reliable folks at WebMD.com have just the compendium I was looking for.
So take a moment, take a look and -- whatever you do -- take it easy! The holidays are supposed to be fun, remember?
Deepak is absolutely right: Engaging in mediation -- whether the classic yoga variety, or some other kind of soothing repetitive action -- can reduce your stress levels dramatically. Among the most common activities that help you keep you calm and "in the moment” are walking, jogging, swimming, painting and baking (provided it’s not some crazy, complicated recipe). Knitting and crocheting are also great tension relievers -- and, hey, you needed to finish Aunt Louise’s Christmas sweater anyway.
The imagination is a pretty powerful tool, so one way to escape the holiday chaos is to picture yourself relaxed. Try creating a peaceful visualization, or “dreamscape,” say the experts, and your head will soon command your body to unwind. These mind-pictures can be anything from an idyllic setting -- a fantasy island, an Italian villa, a colorful garden -- to something you simply like to touch, like your favorite silk blouse or the smooth fur of your adorable pooch. The more realistic your daydream, the more relaxation you'll experience.
In order to function, cars need gasoline, appliances need electricity -- and your body needs air! Stress creates shallow breathing, say the experts, so the best way to relieve the tension is by changing the way you breathe. As any acting or singing student can tell you, the best deep breathing exercise is let out a big sigh, drop your chest, and exhale through gently pursed lips, making sure that every breath comes from the deepest part of your belly. Do this 10 times a day, and you -- and your mind -- will soon be breathing easy.
Enough with the multitasking. By training yourself to stop doing a dozen things at once and, instead, focus on a single sensation in your immediate surroundings -- the smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee, the gentle tinkle of a wind chime, the delicate stitching of a favorite quilt -- you’ll keep yourself in the present and protected from the anxiety of your crammed schedule. Asian spiritualists call this “mindfulness,” which according to the teachings of Buddha is vital to the path to enlightenment.
I love my wine, I love my super-duper veggie drink -- but, boy, do I love my tea. While coffee triggers the release of cortisol -- that red-alert adrenal hormone that is directly associated with stress -- tea can often be the body’s best buddy. While researchers have reported that black tea lowers cortisol levels and green tea promotes health and beauty, I’m strictly a chamomile girl -- and my nightly cup of it (and the calm and relaxation it produces) is something I can’t live (or sleep!) without.
As the old saying goes, “show a little love.” Cuddling with your significant other or your pet, offering an unsolicited hug to your friend or talking on the phone with an old pal are just a few way to take the kinks out of your psyche and achieve an inner bliss, says psychologist Deborah Rozman, PhD, co-author of Transforming Stress. Scientists say this is because social interaction helps your brain think clearer, and physical contact can lower blood pressure and decrease stress hormones. But who needs science to tell us how to love? Let’s give it up, people!
It’s a crazy month -- hardly the time to schedule a professional massage. But according to Darrin Zeer, author of Lover's Massage and Office Yoga, you can always go the do-it-yourself route: place both hands on your shoulders and neck; squeeze and rub with your fingers and palms (keeping those shoulders relaxed); wrap one hand around the other forearm; squeeze the muscles firmly (from your elbow to fingertips and back again); and repeat with other arm. See, don’t you feel better already? Leave yourself a tip.
Kids aren’t the only ones who need time-outs. Jeff Brantley, MD, author of Five Good Minutes In the Evening, says that when your inner volcano is about to blow, find a tranquil place to sit or lie down -- alone -- and then take a few deep breaths. The more you concentrate on releasing tension and slowing your heartbeat, the more you’ll return to a place of calm. I have a special spot in my home where I do this -- and I’m not telling anyone where it is!
There’s nothing like music to soothe the ragged soul -- especially slow and calming tunes. Experts note that your heartbeat aligns with the tempo of a relaxing song and that 30 minutes of classical music can produce calming effects equivalent to taking 10 mg of Valium. Bach is great for slowing down; and James Taylor does it for me, too -- one song and I go from warp speed to cruise control in just a matter of minutes. And all of it is a whole lot better than listening to a ringing telephone.
As Johnny Mercer wrote more than half a century ago, “ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive!" Experts say that 30 seconds is all you need to ramp down the rhythm of your heart, and one way to do that is by focusing on the good stuff. Was your child a darling baby? Conjure her image. Are you looking forward to fishing on Saturday? Pretend you’re already there. Do you remember a real swell kiss? Relive it. Remember, peace of mind can always be a piece of your mind.
And here’s an extra tip from me: As I’ve <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marlo-thomas/national-humor-month_b_1441439.html?ref=marlo-thomas">often said</a>, when the going gets tough, laugh a little. In addition to providing all sorts of health benefits -- a stronger immune system, a boost in infection-fighting antibodies, a jolt of endorphins -- laughter reminds us the most important thing about life: not to take it quite so seriously. So go to a comedy club, tell someone a joke. Watch a funny cat video on YouTube. They don’t call it the best medicine for nothin’!
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