It's the season to be merry, but unfortunately, holiday stress seems to want to tag along with all that merriment. Surveys tell us that almost 90 percent of Americans feel that stress. And we know all too well the physical and emotional side effects that can accompany those feelings: elevated blood pressure, aches and pains, problems sleeping, feelings of extreme fatigue and oh so many other negative symptoms. Be on the lookout for the initial signs of holiday stress so that you can be proactive in stopping stress in its tracks. Easy relaxation techniques can help, and exercise, in a controlled manner, offers a good mix of stimulation and relaxation.
GET A MOVIN': The holidays are definitely not the time to skip out on those exercises you've been doing. The physical stress you are exerting can relieve the mental stress you are feeling. Exercise will reduce stress hormones and stimulate the production of endorphins, giving you the much talked about "runner's high." Once you begin concentrating on your movements, you might think of exercising as meditation in motion.
LAUGH IT UP: A good laugh relaxes the whole body, reducing stress hormones. Laughter Wellness (laughterwellness.org), with its focus on body, mind and spirit, is fast becoming a popular form of stress relief. No joke telling, no comedy. The classes offer therapeutic laughter-training that includes easy whole-body low-impact movements, deep breathing, stretching and laughter.
DEEP BREATHING: The key to deep breathing, also known as relaxation breathing, is to breathe deeply from the abdomen. You will take in more oxygen than you would with shallow chest breathing, which will help you to feel less tense and anxious. Sitting comfortably with your back straight or lying down, place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your stomach. When you take a deep, slow breath, the hand on your stomach should rise while the hand on your chest should not move very much. When contracting abdominals and slowly exhaling through your mouth, the hand on your stomach should move inward and the hand on your chest should show little movement.
YOGA AND TAI CHI: While almost all yoga classes end with relaxation poses, classes that are especially good for stress relief emphasize slow and steady movements, deep breathing and relaxing stretching. Although tai chi has its roots in self-defense, it has evolved into a stress-reduction exercise with gentle flowing movements that require concentration and deep, slow breathing.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can't respond to individual inquiries. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.