Holiday Stress: Three Simple Antidotes for Recovery

A man relaxes on a couch with music.Stress and the holidays seem to go hand-in-hand. Whether it’s the financial pressures of the season, encounters with family, loneliness at this time of year, or reminders of the past, the holidays seem to bring on an onslaught of stress. More people visit the dentist during the holidays, because they’re clenching their jaws and cracking or breaking teeth. Heart attacks are at an annual high in December and January, and stress is one of the main causes, along with increased alcohol consumption and meals high in salt and fat.

An article put out by Consumer Reports on Health outlines antidotes to stress, all of which improve both mood and physical health. Below are the three categories of ways to recover from stress.

Laughter

The first category is laughter. Laughing changes the channel on a dark mood and has been proven to be good for you, too. Turns out that laughing can cause your arteries to expand, increasing your blood flow. On the flip side, stress causes your arteries to contract and restrict blood flow. Watching a funny movie is an easy way to give your heart a break.

Laughter can impact your immunity, as well. Studies have found that increased laughter is associated with reduced allergies, decreased inflammation and asthma symptoms, and increased levels of disease-fighting cells. Laughing can even reduce blood sugar and muscle pain.

So to get the holiday stress out of your system, surround yourself with funny people, go to a comedy club, rent funny movies, and try laughter yoga (a particular kind of yoga where laughter is at the heart of the practice).

Music

Another option for reducing stress just requires a radio: mellow music. Playing mellow music has been shown to reduce blood pressure and heart rate, two measures of stress. Singing can also have the same effect. So find a nice classical station or some oldies and let the music do the work for you.

Spiritual Connection and Mindfulness

Spirituality is also known to be a major stress-reducer. After all, more often than not, the focus during the December holidays is less on spirituality and more on the pressures and expectations of the season.  Whether it is organized religion, yoga, or meditation, connecting with your spirituality can relieve the burden of stress.

One study found that those attending weekly services at a church or temple had a lower rate of death from heart disease. Mindfulness meditation is being shown in many studies to be exceptionally good for your body and mind. The list of benefits is long. Mindfulness meditation—when done 15 minutes every day—has been shown to combat stress in the following ways: reduce blood pressure, reduce heart rate, reduce muscle tension, reduce risk of heart disease, lift depression, ease chronic pain, and even help people with diabetes.

So whether you prefer to laugh, listen to music, or connect with your spirituality in a regular way, you will be giving your body and brain the gift of recovering from holiday stress.

© Copyright 2011 by Rachel Stein, LCSW, therapist in Northampton, Massachusetts. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dylan

    Dylan

    January 5th, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    If I didn’t laugh I’d never make it through the holiday season! You do have to let loose your sense of humor, especially about the gifts you get in my family. I have aunts that buy me things that would have been great for me twenty years ago when I was still a kid.I’m tactful enough to keep the chuckles inside until I’m out of earshot.

  • Len

    Len

    January 5th, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    I’ve taken to stopping what I’m doing when I’m stressed and finding a comedy show online or on TV to watch. It jolts me out of that frame of mind and for the sake of about twenty minutes, my whole day from then on is improved.

  • Madison F.

    Madison F.

    January 5th, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    Thanks for the article, Rachel. I enjoyed it. Can I ask, is there a best time of day to do mindfulness meditation? I would love to plan it into my daily routine and am not sure when. Would you suggest first thing in the morning or last thing at night perhaps, or does it not matter as long as you squeeze it in at some point?

  • Carl

    Carl

    January 5th, 2011 at 9:05 PM

    If you can’t laugh, your life must be very sad. Laughter is a great release and darn good for you like you said! My sister is very uptight and thinks laughing is childish! She’s all about image. I mean really, what nonsense. And so what if it is? I’d rather laugh my head off without a care in the world than be worrying how it made me look. We’re very different.

  • Roslin

    Roslin

    January 5th, 2011 at 10:40 PM

    Can I add another suggestion to relieving the remnants of holiday stress please? Pay attention to your pets. Stroke them, make a fuss of them and play with them. We often neglect them a bit attention wise during the holiday period because we have so many other things to think about. Now’s the time to make that up to them. Petting your dog or cat is great for lowering that blood pressure too! :)

  • Scott

    Scott

    January 5th, 2011 at 11:00 PM

    I agree. It is almost impossible to stay on edge if you listen to mellow music. And if you don’t have any in your music CD collection there are always the free online radio stations.

  • Ruth

    Ruth

    January 6th, 2011 at 8:51 AM

    Holidays are a time to be happy and although the end of holidays takes all the fun away,I always try and do something that keeps me happy.A happy person is always a healthy person :)

  • deanne

    deanne

    January 6th, 2011 at 11:22 AM

    Once January 1 comes and goes, I am good- instant recovery!

  • DKB

    DKB

    January 6th, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    They say the longer your holiday the worse will be the holiday blues…This is the reason why I always make sure to take more number of smaller holidays than a few long ones…This keeps me on my toes and the technique seems to work well…

  • Eloise

    Eloise

    January 6th, 2011 at 11:57 AM

    Last.fm is an excellent free radio station where you can search for genres or artists, including mellow and ambient music. I enjoy their “chillout” tagged music. You can save playlists of tracks you like and skip ones you don’t. That’s the best feature. I’ve discovered several new artists that way. The “white noise” search selection is good too for nights when I can’t sleep.

  • Claudia

    Claudia

    January 7th, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    A good long walk has always proven to be an excellent stress beater for me.

  • Marianna

    Marianna

    January 7th, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    In the past I would have got upset if things went wrong on Christmas Day. This year when I burned the carrots (!), I laughed and just put on some extra veg. I had promised myself I would have a good time in honor of my grandma. She passed earlier this year and Christmas was her favorite season. Life’s too short to worry about how good your table looks or if you chose the right gifts. Being with the people you love is what counts. Her empty chair at the table was deafening. Don’t get caught up in stressing over trivialities.

  • Brent

    Brent

    January 7th, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    I always feel deflated after the holidays. I love Christmas and once it’s gone, there’s nothing left really to look forward to until next Christmas. My family’s all over the country and it’s the one time of year we congregate in one place. I’m thinking I’ll pitch a summer reunion idea to them. I realized that was why I felt so down in the New Year, because it would be so long until I saw them all again. We’ll see what happens. :)

  • nathan

    nathan

    January 7th, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    I need to control my stress levels all year round or they become unmanageable by the festive season. Making the decision to reduce my stress by looking at it differently changed my life because it wasn’t so much what was going on in my life: it was how I perceived it. I don’t allow things to get under my skin nearly as much as I used to and I feel much better for that.

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