Do you ever notice that the holidays which are supposed to be filled with relaxation and enjoyment, sometimes feel more stressful than actually being at work? Is your credit card smoking from too many swipes? Does your psyche feel more fragile than a handmade ornament?
1. Your can’t muster enough energy for a single jingle. If you can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, let alone go a-wassailing (whatever that means), you could be in need of a psychological speed bump, says psychologist Dan Gottlieb, PhD, psycholgist, frequent National Public Radio commentator, and host of the radio program Voices in the Family (WHYY-FM, Philadelphia). “The speed of our lives is out of control,” he says, “especially at this time of year.”
Try this: Run around, then write. To boost your overall energy, expend a bit of it and get your heart rate up for at least 20 minutes every day with a brisk walk or jog. Exercise can bust sleep-depriving anxiety levels by nearly 40 percent. For better sleep, carry a notepad and jot down the things that worry you, so they won’t fill your head while you’re trying to doze off. Take a warm shower or bath an hour before you hit the sheets. It’ll prep your body for peaceful shut-eye.
2. You’re devouring chocolate-covered candy canes like they were candy.Holiday stress has lots of people reaching for calorie-packed, sugar-loaded feel-good foods, notes Gottlieb. “When things get stressful, we gravitate toward comfort foods, sweets, and carbs,” he says. “It’s a sign your body, your soul, are craving care.”
Try this: Go for fish. Fish-oil capsules contain the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which can boost the same brain chemicals that antidepressants jack up. We like Vital Choice Sockeye Salmon softgels — they’re certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. If you’d prefer to eat an actual fish, dine on Alaska wild-caught or canned sockeye salmon, or mackerel from the Atlantic, twice a week. Those species are good for you, low in contaminants, and their populations are healthy in the wild.
3. You’re Scrooge to your partner’s Bob Cratchit. If you’re snapping and snarling your way through the season, chances are your significant other is getting the brunt of your nastiness. Take a moment to evaluate what you’re doing with your life and how it’s affecting others, Gottlieb suggests, adding, “Is your heart open or closed? Do you need care or do you offer care?”
Try this: Bust out the mistletoe. Consider your significant other as a solution rather than a problem. Hugging and kissing can boost your levels of oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone. And sex lowers anxiety, stress, and blood pressure. That’s important, because December is the time of year when death by heart attack is the most likely.
4. Your mind feels thick as the new-fallen snow. In December, choice-overload is working overtime. Whether you can’t remember where you left your car keys, or you can’t shake an uneasy feeling that there’s something on your to-do list that has yet to be done, you need to take positive action to clear your mind.
Try this: Rise and pause. Take a few minutes each day to train your mind to stay in the moment. “Sit by yourself for 20 minutes every morning, eyes open or closed,” suggests Gottlieb. “Feel the temperature of the room, feel your mind racing, or not; allow whatever emotion you feel.” This practice, called mindfulness, can help you appreciate what you might otherwise miss. “It’s a wake up to our lives,” Gottlieb says. “I looked out the window this morning and saw frost. I thought, ‘How lucky am I that I can take a warm shower?’ That’s what happens when we stop and just breathe.”
5. You’re watching the stock market instead of hanging stockings. Money is a major holiday stressor, especially in the current economic climate. Financial hardships are not to be belittled, of course. But ultimately, money is not what makes us happy. In fact, researchers recently found that catching a happy mood from someone you don’t even know is three times more powerful for creating glee than gaining $5,000 in extra income.
Try this: “Make a contribution to the larger world,” suggests Gottlieb. Volunteering does that, but also think carefully about what truly brings you joy, and then do it every day. Your good mood can spread three degrees, research shows — not only to people you know, but to your friends’ friends’ friends, too!
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Story by Leah Zerbe. This article originally appeared on Rodale.com