Some call it the most wonderful time of the year, others call it the most stressful. The holidays can bring us great cheer, but in our quest to be festive we often find ourselves depleted, between all the parties, family interactions, and indulgence in sugary treats. Add to this short days and longer nights, and pretty soon all you want to do is hibernate like so many creatures are preparing to do this time of year. In this season, or other times where we let stress overtake us, it can be easy to go, go, go at such a pace that we completely use up every last ounce of energy. While this tactic can feel productive in the moment, it can tax both the body and mind in damaging ways that take time to recover from. Think of it like this: if you drive your car until it runs completely out of gas because you're too busy bouncing from appointment to appointment to stop and fill it up, what happens? You end up spending a lot more time on the side of the road dealing with AAA or finding someone to bring some gas to you than you would have if you'd simply taken a couple minutes in the midst of the craziness to simply put some gas – even just a gallon or two – into the tank.
The same goes for your body and mind: taking time – as little as a minute – to refuel can have lasting an profound effects for your whole day. Anytime we consciously stop the busyness and interrupt our stress, we automatically send the body a signal to take a momentary break from operating in its "fight, flight or flee" mode, where we tend to spend a lot of our waking time especially this time of year. When we are able to do this, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for rest, digestion and rejuvenation), which sends powerful signals throughout the body to perform simple maintenance-related tasks that support our health and well-being.
When we push ourselves to our edge day after day, we often become like the car that's run out of gas - we are more prone to get sick, we become irritable and lacking in holiday cheer, or find ourselves completely depleted and unable to keep up at the pace life demands.
In an ideal world, we might take a couple days to retreat in a season such as this, but given all that our modern lives ask of us, instead of hitting the off switch completely, many of us are simply grateful to have a "dimmer switch" to lessen the intensity of our stress.
Here are four great ways to dim your stress this holiday season, all in 30-minutes or less. Choose the amount of time you have and take a moment to practice being instead of doing. All of these activities are great ways to dim your stress and let the radiant light of your true being shine a little brighter:
1 minute: Set a timer, then close your eyes. Take a full, deep inhalation followed by a long, slow exhalation. Continue until time is up, seeing if you can lengthen each progressive in/out-breath pair. When the timer sounds, take just a moment more to notice the effect this quick practice had on your state of being.
13 minutes: Grab a cushion and listen to my guided recording of one of my personal favorite meditations. I learned this one from Pablo Das, who received it from Dr. Rick Hanson, author of the amazing book Buddha's Brain. I've taught this meditation to many people, and so many of them have credited it for getting them through some pretty tough and dark times. This meditation specifically builds up parts of the brain that help us conquer our feelings of lack or deprivation. So if you're struggling because you feel like you don't have enough – or that you are not enough – this practice is for you! Click here to listen now (or right-click the link to download).
20 minutes: Try a mindful walking practice. Allow yourself to be attentive to each step, feeling as your foot connects with the earth. Bonus points if you sync your steps with your breaths! You could simply take a walk near your home or office or get out into nature for some time away from it all. You can even practice mindful walking when you're out in the hordes doing last-minute holiday errands. Allow yourself to go slow and see what happens.
30 minutes: Break out your yoga mat and enjoy this free Rest and Rejuvenate yoga practice with Jillian Pransky. I had the great good fortune to complete a restorative yoga teacher training with Jillian in October, and she is truly a masterful teacher. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!