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In the Mood Series: Reducing Holiday Stress | MyLifeStages
In case you missed it — the holidays are here. No matter your family structure or the ways you celebrate at this time of year, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.
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Pinterest Pin ItIn the Mood Series: Reducing Holiday Stress

In the Mood Series: Reducing Holiday Stress

Posted on 12/14/2015  by  Healthy Living Blog 

In case you missed it — the holidays are here. No matter your family structure or the ways you celebrate at this time of year, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

As with most things, “the best defense is a good offense.”

Los Altos psychotherapist and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) instructor Renée Burgard, L.C.S.W., of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, shares some stress reduction practices you can use during the holidays to keep your mood positive.

“This is a time of year when we want to feel happy, warm connections with those we love, and a sense of peace and joy,” Burgard says. “We’re led to believe we should be having those feelings, but many of us find it hard to access them when we’re overwhelmed and stressed. We may feel like something is wrong with us or wrong with our lives — and that self-judgment can add more stress.”

What can you do to reduce your stress and improve your mood?

“All the suggestions in the world for reducing stress and improving well-being won’t help, unless you know how to use them effectively, rehearse or practice them, and remember to use them,” Burgard emphasizes. “For all that to happen, experimenting and practicing is key.”

You can start your stress reduction experimenting with these easy techniques that Burgard teaches and uses herself, every day:

1. Be Grateful. Take time, once a day, to reflect on something you appreciate or feel grateful for. It can be something really good, something as basic as being able to walk or see, or anything that is going fine and is “not wrong.” Studies have shown that when you practice gratitude daily, and especially if you write it down, you’re cultivating and enhancing your well being and happiness, regardless of other circumstances.

2. Breathe, Observe and Stretch. If you start feeling overwhelmed or are fixating on how much there is to do, just stop and breathe.

  • First, breathe in and out once and say to yourself: “Stop. I’m noticing I’m feeling ____ (an emotion you’re feeling — it can be as simple as just ‘unpleasant’). By breathing and saying this, you are engaging your “witnessing mind.” This is mindfulness in action! Instead of being immersed in distress, you are observing it, which is very different. The brief mental space this creates makes room for other ways of responding, and new, more positive feelings and ideas.
  • Next, observe your body and say to yourself: “I’m noticing my breathing is feeling ____ (shallow, deep, fast, slow, etc.); my ____ (body area) feels____ (sensation: tight, calm, hot, cold, tingling, energized, etc.).”
  • Lastly, take care of your body, calm yourself and loosen some inner knots. Slowly stretch once or twice with awareness of your breathing while you stretch, releasing tension through your body one place at a time while you hold your stretch. You can also draw circles with your shoulders, your chin, your elbows, your hands, your toes and feet, and your torso. Remember: keep breathing!

3. Question Assumptions. There often is too much to do, and we think we “have to” do everything. Practice questioning those assumptions, and don’t believe everything you think! Ask yourself, “Am I sure this is 100 percent true?"

4. Wish Everyone Well. Use phrases like the following to wish yourself and others well: “may (I/you/we) be safe,” “may (I/you/we) be healthy,” “may (I/you/we) be happy,” and “may (I/you/we) find peace.”

Burgard encourages everyone to experiment with different practices to manage their stress and improve their mood.

“Whether it’s applying these practices or learning other ways to cope with stress, or using an MBSR technique, I sincerely hope you’re able to experience moments of relief and create more spaces for joy this holiday season and throughout the year.”

You can learn more about stress by taking this quiz.

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Renée Burgard, L.C.S.W., of Palo Alto Medical Foundation, is a Los Altos psychotherapist and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) instructor.