Feeling stressed? Do something different!

When Claire put down the phone, she was hyper-ventilating. Her heart was racing. It was 3pm on the last work day before the Christmas holidays and she just learned that one of the managers had not finished the report that was due by tonight and was leaving early to attend to her sick child. Claire was feeling the immense temptation to go out and have a cigarette. Instead, in line with the new stress management tools she’d been adopting, she took a few deep breaths. She looked out of the window at bare trees and Parisian rooftops, trying to de-dramatize the situation.

As she was pausing to regroup, her blackberry rang. It was her husband. Having barely asked her how she was, he told her in an agitated voice that they had to host his entire family at their place in Paris since his brother was canceling the arrangements made months ago about gathering at his place in Bordeaux.  Claire felt a wave of anger rising inside her. Her hands clutched in fists, she felt she was exploding. She was wise enough not to utter any of the angry thoughts that were racing in her head and just about managed to ask her husband in a restrained stiff tone if they could discuss the situation at home later that evening.

The situation above described by a client is not uncommon. Holiday stress, don’t we know it all?

Statistics show that the amount of stress doubles – both in workplace and outside – before Christmas and New Year’s eve holidays. Although most of us accept it as a fact of life, the bad news is that when we get triggered or stressed by one situation, we tend to stay in a stressed state as our brain keeps pumping out stress hormones.

Unless we consciously do something, our body fails to turn down the volume of the stress response following the first stressful event. In this stressed state, we get more overwhelmed, and more prone to diabetes, heart diseases and artery blockages.

Don’t let the chaos of the holidays harm your health!  Here’re some tips for better stress management:

1. Observe and learn when and how your body manifests stress. Does your heart rate increases? Do your palms get sweaty? Do your shoulders go up to your ears, trying to protect you? Do you feel like you’re choking? Hyperventilating? All this information will help you next time you’re stressed.

2. When you feel stressed, do something different. Instead of thinking, breathe. Focus on your body and lungs as you take a deep breath.  Take as many as you need – while focusing on your body and breathing –  to slow you down and to calm down. Change perspective by asking yourself “Is it a life or death situation?” or “What is the worst thing that might happen?”

3. Meditate. Meditation boosts immune system, lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, improves your body’s natural anti-aging, and decreases activity in the brain’s stress centers, while increasing activity in the empathy and memory centers.

4. Listen to music, sing, dance. Hearing a song you love will help you shift perspective and de-dramatize the situation in your mind. For instance, when I hear Cesaria Evora’s voice, a fantastic singer whom I saw in a live concert years ago and who since passed away, I am both deeply touched by the beauty of her music and reminded of the transient nature of our lives. All my challenges shrink and don’t seem worth stressing about.

A story goes that when a shaman in indigenous cultures is approached by someone who feels depressed or depleted, the first question he asks is “When did you stop dancing and singing?”   Are you dancing and singing? If not, why not?  The same goes for laughter and jokes – humor is a great de-stresser.

5.  Be generous and loving. Remember what Christmas is all about.  How do you want to be remembered by your family when your young days are gone?  It’s been proven scientifically that helping others induces relaxation responses in the body. Shift your attention to serving others – those who are in worse off state than you and your family are.  If you reacted to the person or situation from that stressed state, consider going back and apologizing. Remember the wise saying “Do you want to be right or to be happy?”  A sincere apology does wonders to your interpersonal relations and takes away nothing from your power.

6. Start your day with a few minutes of gratitude. Instead of focusing on what you do not have this holiday, focus on what you have. What’s different from last year’s holidays? Let go of your judgements and resentments. No one is perfect (including you and me).

What are your tips for having stress-free holidays?

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