Heading into the holidays is usually a whirlwind of activity. But between cooking, cleaning, shopping, and getting ready for guests, the demands of the holiday season can leave you feeling stressed out.
Meditate? Take a nap? Who has the time or the quiet for that? If the usual advice on how to calm yourself just isn’t cutting it, consider these five easy and surprising ways to reduce stress:
1. Do the Dishes
While looking at a sink full of dishes might seem to cause you stress, you may be surprised to learn that getting rid of that mess will help you decompress. It turns out washing dishes can promote a positive state of mindfulness that serves as a form of meditation that helps you focus on your emotions and thoughts in that moment.
According to a recent study, focusing on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, and the feel of the dishes can help decrease nervousness by 27% and increase mental inspiration by 25%. It’s like a bubble bath for your hands and your mind.
So at your next holiday meal, look like a saint, start doing the dishes and relieve your stress at the same time! Your host will be very grateful.
2. Cool Off by Coloring
Coloring isn’t just for kids anymore, so if you’re feeling stressed, you might want to pick up one of those grown-up coloring books that are all the rage.
An Australian study found that coloring has noticeable physical effects, affecting heart rate and brain waves in a positive way thanks to the repetition, patterns, and detail; they help you to switch off what’s going on around you and focus on the moment. Coloring may also help replace your negative thoughts with positive images, since the part of your brain related to anxiety-related imagery is the same part you need to use to focus on what you’re coloring.
From Amazon to Barnes & Noble, you can find a coloring book that taps into your interests, hobbies and artistic talents not to mention, they make great gift ideas for your stressed out family and friends. Just don’t forget to buy coloring pencils (or markers) and a sharpener. The best part is, it’s an activity you can do with the whole family to keep the little (or big) ones focused and calm, too. And don’t be afraid to color outside the lines!
3. Take a Probiotic Supplement
So you can’t exactly pop a “happy pill,” but you can take a supplement like Probiotic-8 to help ease your stress. The bacteria in your gut can influence your mood and vice versa, so it’s no surprise that a recent French study found that people given probiotic supplements for a month felt less angry and depressed and were able to solve problems better. Another study in Ireland found that mice given probiotics were more relaxed when going through a stressful maze, and they had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than mice who did not receive probiotics.
Since gut bacteria produce half our dopamine and 90% of the serotonin, two neurotransmitters that have a profound impact on mood, taking probiotic or synbiotic (a combination of prebiotics and probiotics) supplements with a variety of bacteria strains may help to modify our bacterial makeup to have more beneficial, mood-boosting (and health-promoting) bacteria. Think of it as a daily defense against bad bacteria and bad moods.
4. Sip a Cuppa
A scheduled mid-day break to drink tea and snack? The British have had it right for some time. Recent studies have shown that drinking black tea four times a day for six weeks can reduce cortisol levels by up to 47%, and L-Theanine, a substance found in green tea leaves, may also help change brain wave activity to help you become more relaxed. Herbal teas like chamomile have also been long-used to promote a feeling of calm. So while you might not have time to prepare perfectly tiny tea sandwiches and scones, if you want to be stress-free, don’t skip the tea.
5. Pet Your Furry Friend or Watch Silly Cat Videos
If you don’t want to be a grumpy cat, maybe it’s time to take a break and watch some funny cat videos online. Research shows that looking at cute images helps promote positive feelings and even results in improved performance in tasks afterward. Laughing at those silly felines can also cut cortisol levels by nearly half and activate the part of the brain that makes you feel calmer and more relaxed.
It’s also been proven that pets are good for our mental and physical health, especially when it comes to stress, because human-animal interactions activate oxytocin, the love hormone, in our bodies. So if you’ve got a pet of your own, cuddle up with your furry companion and let the love flow and the stress go.
If the holiday rush has you feeling frazzled, don’t be afraid to take a break from your usual routine and try something new. It might prove to be more effective, fun, and help you preserve your sanity through the holidays and beyond!
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.