'Tis the season for completely losing it. The holidays are a worry-filled time for a lot of people, but it turns out that you might be partially to blame for your own pre-eggnog anxiety. But we know (or we hope) you're not purposely trying to sabotage yourself, so here's a quick rundown of things you might be doing without realizing they're actually making you feel worse.
Take a deep breath and try to relax. You might be stressed because...
1. You haven't laughed today.
If you can't remember the last time you laughed so hard you were blinded by tears, you should reconsider your life choices. And watch this video clip. Laughter has been shown to relieve stress, stimulate blood flow, relax muscles, promote a healthy immune system and relieve pain.
2. You're not using your gym membership.
In a study on mice, those that had exercised responded to a stressful cold-water bath with a short spurt of anxiety followed by calm, suggesting brains are more equipped to deal with stress when the body has been physically active. Regular exercise, not whenever-I'm-bored-and-it's-convenient exercise, can help you de-stress. Also, you'll look better.
3. You're listening to the wrong playlist.
Multiple studies have shown the relaxing benefits of listening to music. But everyone has their own musical preferences. Your piano teacher might chill out to Debussy, but maybe The Cranberries take you back to a relaxing, mid-90s kind of place. Know yourselves, guys.
4. You left that sink of dirty dishes for "tomorrow."
Consider your cleaning habits. Were you "that" roommate in college? Would it be not uncommon to find a partially decomposed banana lying under a pile of fliers and junk mail on top of your refrigerator? Is the bottom of your bag a sad collection of broken pens? Keeping your spaces tidy may not be an anxiety cure-all, but there's evidence to suggest it can help relieve stress.
5. You're not having enough sex.
If you're freaking out about something, you may not have given this topic much thought, but you should! It's the most fun stress-reliever on this list. Yep, sex not only counts as decent exercise, but it may very well help you chill out. Princeton researchers found lower stress hormones in rats allowed to copulate daily in one study, and Bonobo monkeys have long been observed to use sex as a stress management tool.
6. You're letting your breathing get the best of you.
Quick breathing is a natural response to stressors, but unless you're losing it over something like a saber-toothed tiger, hyperventilating over anxiety kind of defeats the purpose. Find a breathing exercise that works for you, and remember it the next time you start to worry.
7. You're trying to face your stressors.
Valiant effort, but the truth is, within reason, you can try to avoid things that stress you out. Don't like crowds? Then stop grocery shopping on Saturday afternoons. The Mayo Clinic says you can totally avoid specific people, too -- which you're probably already doing if you don't like them, but now you don't have to feel guilty about dodging whatever mouth-breathing co-worker you can't stand.
8. You haven't said anything nice about yourself.
9. You're sleeping badly.
If it's 4:32 a.m. and you know you'll have to peel yourself off your mattress to go to work in a few hours' time, close out of Netflix. It's not time for one more episode. Sticking to a regular, healthy sleep schedule doesn't just protect you against heart disease, some cancers and a host of other chronic health problems, it can also help you feel better about yourself and your life.
10. You see time management as more of a goal than a reality.
If the sheer number of things you have to get done on any single day is overwhelming, consider how much time you devote to each task. Planning your day and prioritizing your to-dos can help you make better time-management decisions to feel more in control of your life. If internet procrastination is your weakness, this Chrome extension will track how long you spend on each site.
11. You're saying "yes" too much.
Once in a while, it's okay to say "no" to lighten the load of your personal responsibilities. No, sorry, you can't drop your cousin off at the airport, because you've had a dinner scheduled for weeks. No, sorry, you can't make a fruitcake for the company holiday party, because it would take too long to bake. And fruitcake is disgusting. (Mostly the latter.)
12. You're surgically attached to your phone.
Stop that. Stop checking. You'll be okay -- see the item regarding personal mantras. Research has shown that the pressure to be constantly available to respond to emails, texts, phone calls and to know what's going on can be too much. You may want to make a conscious effort to turn your phone and computer off for a certain amount of time each day.
13. You've just achieved some major goal.
…but for some reason you're still freaking out! Yikes. (We can only hope you're knocking out life goals on a daily basis, anyway.) Research has shown that "compassionate" goals -- things that benefit others along with yourself -- reduce anxiety post-achievement more so than "self-image" goals in college students. In other words, be a better person and you might just feel better, too.
Now isn't that better?