Despite its long-sung reputation as "the most wonderful time of the year," the holiday season is easily one of the most stressful times as well. A recent Virgin Pulse study of more than 1,000 full-time employees in the United States and Canada found that 70 percent of people are feeling significantly more stressed as 2014 reaches its end, affecting their work productivity, health and happiness.
It's not difficult to lose track of our initial purpose and deeper drive for the work we do when stress takes over. However, participating in activities that help us look beyond ourselves and channel our energy into helping others instead can be one of the best ways to help relieve the mind-limiting stress so many of us feel right now.
In fact, some scientists, like neurobiologist Donald Pfaff, believe that humans are by nature altruistic and hardwired to behave in consideration of the greater good, which could explain why such actions help us as much as they help others. And the self-determination theory in the psychology of happiness, which asserts that people need autonomy, competence and relatedness to thrive, exposes how good it makes us feel to contribute to our environment -- whether that be in the office, at home or out in the community.
Whether you're taking up a philanthropic cause or nurturing those closer to home, here are seven ways to not just minimize your end-of-year stress but maximize your sense of fulfillment this holiday season.
Go for a walk with loves ones.
One of the best things you can do is check technology at the door and take a stroll among the winter elements. The low-impact form of exercise proves effective in reducing negative emotions. This mindful time also helps you reconnect with nature, often missed while constantly plugged in. Taking friends and family along with you can help reduce stress even further.
Perform a random act of kindness.
One of the easiest ways to boost your own morale is to look around, identify someone who clearly needs help, and then help them, just because. Whether you buy them a cup of coffee, offer them lunch or simply give up your seat on public transportation, seeing how something small can have such a strong impact on someone else's day can reframe your own perspective. The resulting sense of optimism will help you forget about your stress.
Connect in the kitchen.
The benefits of spending time with friends and family in this culinary laboratory are three-fold. Focusing on the formula of a recipe helps distract the mind from any stress outside the kitchen that was frustrating you in the first place. Sharing the tasks with others provides strong opportunities for developing social skills and building better bonds with loved ones. And having a finished product that can help nourish others in your home provides a sense of accomplishment.
Ponder your feelings of gratitude.
Setting aside some time to reflect on the parts of life you're most thankful for can not only help reduce stress, but also inspire a more comprehensive worldview in the process. Once you've counted each of your blessings, you're quick to understand how such long lists don't necessarily exist for everyone else. That perspective works wonders in helping you stress less about the negative and focus more on the positive. Take it to the next level by writing thank-you cards and letting those you're grateful for reap the benefits of your expression as well.
Volunteer within your community.
Being generous with both your time and money helps you as much as it helps others. According to a study published in Science, we feel far happier when we spend money on people around us instead of on ourselves. A review of 40 studies published in BMC Public Health found that volunteering in general helps improve a person's well-being while decreasing their risk of depression. Whether you prefer to help run the annual toy drive, serve food at the soup kitchen or keep rescued animals company at the local shelter, giving this time away is a win for everyone.
Practice loving-kindness meditation.
This meditation method coined by Sharon Salzberg centers around an effort to develop feelings of kindness, warmth and goodwill toward others. Its focus on looking beyond the self and into the lives of others brings many benefits to the person practicing it. Loving-kindness meditation helps increase positive emotions and decrease negative ones, as well as improve one's empathy and emotional intelligence.
Have an unplugged coffee date.
Taking the time to sit with a close family member or friend and delve into a conversation about topics that truly matter can help you accomplish several important things. First, it forges a strong social connection that you might otherwise not have developed. Second, it creates a forum for open self-expression that can relieve the stress that would be incurred by holding those thoughts in. And third, as you express your thoughts about the world and your perceived place in it, you feel more encouraged to think about that spectrum and what it means to you. Whether you're talking about positive or negative things, this communication space is invaluable when it comes to the satisfaction of speaking openly and honestly.