The holiday season always presents a conundrum. On one hand, there’s excitement, eagerness, and all-around good cheer as we gear up to spend some quality time with friends and family. On the other hand, there’s the stress, pressure, and trying not to get trampled at Black Friday sales in preparation for such gatherings of loved ones. To top it off, some scrooges still send emails during the break.
Keep in mind, there are ways to tip the scales in favor of good cheer: Pause the gift wrapping and Christmas card designing for just a moment as we meander down the path of activities that are sure to help you cool down and turn your busy mind off this holiday season.
Be Mindful When Your Mind’s Full
Recently, mindful meditation has gained popularity as a means to reduce stress and increase overall mental wellness-;and for good reason! The benefits mindfulness provides include (but aren’t limited to):
- Reduction in rumination, which is the act of consistently revisiting negative thoughts and emotions.
- Improved reactions to stress.
- Less anxiety.
- Increased focus and memory.
- Reduced negative emotional reactions.
By focusing just on the present, or at least attempting to, you give your brain a break from the constant cranial chit-chat we deal with almost every second of every day. It helps to put things in perspective, and reveals the importance of the present and the relative insignificance of worrying about past and future events.
Phone apps provide an easy and convenient way to access thousands of guided mindfulness meditations. Whether you’re having trouble getting to sleep or just need a moment to breathe, you’ll be able to find a meditation that suits your needs-;and schedule (you’ll find meditations as short as five minutes all the way up to practices lasting a few hours).
Go to your phone’s app store and test out three or four different mindfulness apps to find which you like best. You’ll be reaping the mental health benefits in no time.
Easy Bake Lovin’
Cookies and croissants and cakes, oh my! Whether you’re a beginning baker or a regular Martha Stewart, pre-heating that oven is just the first step to cooling off this holiday season.
A recent study showed 80% of people who experienced excessive stress turned to baking to relieve some of the tension. The science behind why baking is a good stress reliever points to our innate love (and need) to creatively express ourselves. In the same way singing or painting helps us release emotional build-up, baking, namely the decorating aspect of it, too provides an outlet for the artist inside all of us.
And before you even get to decorating your pastries, the process of measuring, mixing, stirring, and portioning your treats also provides mental health benefits in the form of mindfulness. The task of methodically assembling your baked goods requires all of your attention, and is a good way to shut out the noise of a busy holiday season.
Finally, remember, sharing is caring and another way to boost your mental health during this stress-inducing season. By offering your baked goods to others, you experience a sense of altruism and overall wellbeing-;it literally makes you a happier person. When you give your baked treats away after putting in the time and effort required to make them, your brain releases endorphins linked to trust and pleasure. Subconsciously, you’re forging a stronger bond with those you share with, whether it’s friends and family, neighbors, or even a homeless shelter. As pack animals, our brains love that.
To get started, check out the BBC’s page for baking beginners, which is complete with recipes and useful baking tips. Food Network also provides sweet holiday baking recipes that are sure to please. If your sweet tooth kneads a break, there are also holiday breads you can bake for a more savory treat.
Read into It
Whether you’re at the end of a long day or just need a break from holiday prepping, make sure you have a book handy. Reading for just six minutes is said to reduce stress levels by 68%, and can help improve your overall memory and focus.
We all have those books we promise to get to, but just can never find the time. Now, make it a priority to set aside a certain number of minutes (or hours) that are completely dedicated to reading. You deserve the chance to escape into another world amidst all the holiday pandemonium, and focus on something other than gift buying, meal cooking, and travel planning.
Color Me Mine
Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore-;in fact, adult coloring books have recently taken our culture by storm. There are mental health benefits that come from putting colored pencils to paper, and no, you don’t have to stay within the lines.
When you color, you’ll find that you’re more relaxed, and able to turn your mind away from the other tasks you need to accomplish, if only for a few minutes. In a way, coloring is like meditating because your mind can be completely focused on just one thing.
Mood-wise, coloring can make you happier because you’re able to creatively express yourself, something all of our minds enjoy and crave. In fact, creating artwork is a form of therapy for some because it allows us to tap into our feelings and increase our self-awareness.
When you’re done with your pieces, you can hang them up as a reminder of your creative endeavors or give them as holiday gifts to loved ones-;everyone loves a handmaid present.
You can find coloring books for adults online and at most book and large retail stores.
Walk It Out
When you think you can’t handle much more rushing around, taking a walk may be just what you need to slow down. Going outside for a stroll will not only help you unplug from the holiday madness but also help you recharge for when you must enter the foray once more.
You can enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature or prepare a playlist of songs to put you in a more tranquil mood. Aside from selecting music to listen to (if you choose), try to avoid using or checking your phone during your walk. Separating from the screen can do wonders for your stress levels and will help you stay in the present, relaxing moment.
One of the biggest payoffs for taking a walk is the extra energy you’ll have for the rest of the day. A CSU Long beach study found a link between number of steps taken and mood and energy levels: People who walked more were happier and more energetic than those with lower step counts. So, bundle up and get to steppin’!
With the holidays in full swing, it can be difficult to find time for yourself. Give yourself the permission and time to try a few of the activities mentioned above-;you’re sure to find one that fits into your schedule.
Remember, it’s all a balancing act. For all the hours you spend stressed out this holiday season, make sure you offset them with activities that take your focus off of your to-do list. You (and your brain) need and deserve the break!