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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.

Stress busters

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 (, 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

YOUR MOVE | Demonstrated by Barbi Bozich

Legs up the wall: This relaxes tension in the lower back while stretching the legs and hips.

Begin by sitting with knees bent, beside a wall. Wrapping arms under thighs, slowly roll down onto your back, pivoting yourself until your hips face close to the wall. Extend legs upward with back of legs pressing against wall, feet flexed (bottom of feet facing upward). With hands resting at your sides, palms facing up, close your eyes and breathe deeply through your nose, slowly exhaling through your mouth or nose. Relax for five or 10 minutes. For a supported version, place a bolster or pillow under your hips. To come out of this position, push yourself away from the wall, sliding your legs to one side, then use your hands to help push you into a seated, then standing position.

Upper body side stretch: This stretches the muscles in the legs and back.

Sitting on the floor in a straddle position, bend your left knee, placing your left foot near your inner thigh. Raise your left arm over your head and stretch it toward your right foot, which should be flexed, then reach your right arm across toward your left thigh. Do this several times, then repeat on the opposite side.

Reach up, stretch out: This is a full-body stretch and a balance exercise.

Holding the ball overhead, shift your weight to one leg, with a relaxed knee, and stretch your other leg to the back, toe touching floor. Slowly lower the ball to the floor while lifting your back leg parallel to your hips, head aligned with shoulders. Using the ball for support, roll it a little farther out to lengthen and stretch your body from head to toe. Hold for three or four deep breaths, then return to the original standing position. Repeat with other leg.

WHAT HOLIDAY STRESS? 11/22/15 [Last modified: Sunday, November 22, 2015 10:22pm]
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