Suffice it to say this will be a holiday season like no other in our memory. Holidays can be stressful or challenging during ordinary times but in the age of Covid, it is normal that feelings of pressure, stress, or grief may be amplified. When feelings threaten to overwhelm it can be helpful to have a strategy to turn to, a checklist of simple and practical things that help regulate emotions and reduce stress. I offer you a list of simple strategies that you can print and keep handy as a resource to help increase your well being, especially in difficult times. Pick one or two things that resonate and practice them consistently.
- Grounding Exercise: Take a few minutes and direct your attention to noticing your body. Notice how your body feels supported by the ground, chair, or bed beneath you. Find one point of contact and direct your attention there while slowly breathing in and out.
- Breathing Exercises: Focus on breathing slowly for a few minutes, lengthen your exhale to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest & digest functions). The easiest way to do this is with a count, inhale for a count of 4 and exhale with a count of 6. Practice this for a few minutes to help regulate.
- Gratitude Journaling: Make a note in your phone or in a notebook of five things you are grateful for every day. Research shows that actively noting and practicing gratitude increases a sense of well being. Even if it is a struggle, try to identify five things, it could be as simple as noticing the blue sky.
- Acknowledge Feelings: Avoiding feelings, recognizing them, or feeling them, can increase a sense of anxiety, stress, or the feeling one is trying to avoid. In psychology, we use the phrase “name it to tame it”, in recognizing the feeling and allowing it to be, the feeling is also allowed to move through us. So if you are feeling sad about not being able to be with friends or family, it’s ok to feel it. Journal, cry, feel them – and remember that the feelings are like clouds and they will pass.
- Listen: Find a podcast, audiobook, or music you enjoy. Listen while doing chores or exercising. I like Samin Nosrat and Hrishikesh Hirway’s Home Cooking podcast, they are utterly delightful, very “feel good”.
- Plan: Make a plan to do something you look forward to. Maybe that entails planning a long weekend mini-break, or an afternoon off to go to the beach, or a morning hike. Whatever you look forward to is great, put it in your calendar and hold to it as a motivator.
- Move: Exercise! Move your body. By now most know that exercise has benefits on both a physical and psychological level. Aim for a walk, a stretch, a YouTube workout, an online yoga class. If it feels impossible to get motivated or fit it in, break things into increments. Park a little further from the grocery store entrance, take a 5-minute stretch break at your desk, practice a 2-minute wall sit. You get the picture!
- Sleep: This is essential and sometimes really difficult when stressed. Try to create a sleep routine and wind down, a calming tea, reading a book, some essential oils, or a guided meditation may all help.
Hopefully, these tips help offer some relief during these holidays and anytime you may need them. I wish you, wherever you are, a safe and healthy season.