As fun and wonderful as the holiday season is, there is a lot to do. Buying presents, decorating, holiday parties, visiting family… it’s easy to become stretched thin and stressed out.
Because of this, it’s important to take time for yourself and to allow the nervous system to reset. Here are some of my tips to help you relax and find a little “Me” time:
Schedule time for yourself
It might seem silly to pencil in time to relax, but we have to make the conscious effort to set this time aside. Sign up for a yoga class, have a self care night, schedule lunch with a friend, just lay on your floor at home. Though these are just suggestions, self-care looks different for everybody. Ask yourself what makes you feel relaxed or joyful and have an intention to do that thing. Put it in the calendar and commit to it. It is just as important as all the other things on your to do list.
Deep belly breaths
Diaphragmatic breathing (aka belly breathing) helps reduce stress by activating the Vagus nerve, which will come up a few more times in this article. The Vagus nerve is a key player in the rest & digest part of the nervous system (parasympathetic nervous system) and helps regulate the body when we’re stressed. It runs from the brain all the way down to the diaphragm, touching many other parts along the way, then reports back to the brain if things are cool and that we can relax. When we use slow, deep, belly breaths, we are signaling that we are safe. If you’ve ever noticed your breath when you’re frantic, it’s likely short, choppy and in the chest.
Practice belly breaths as often as you can to help relieve stress and reduce blood pressure. It’s especially nice to do this before bed. Easiest when lying down but can be done at any time.
How to belly breathe:
Breathe slowly in through the nose and feel the belly get wide and round. Exhale through the nose (or mouth) with the same speed. You can try to make the exhales longer than the inhales. Feel the breath enter and leave the body. Take at least 10 breaths
In a yoga class, the final (and usually favorite) pose is Savasana or “Corpse Pose”. This is when you lie on your back and rest. There are actually many variations you can do to make the pose even more comfortable and soothing. Using props to tuck under the spaces that do not connect to the ground (neck, knees and low back) can allow all muscles to completely relax.
- Take a blanket or towel and roll it up to place beneath the knees.
- Take a thin pillow or blanket and place it beneath the head.
- If you have trouble laying flat on your back for any reason (ie pregnancy, vertigo), makeshift an angled backrest for your spine to be supported on an incline.
- Cover yourself with a blanket to keep you warm.
- Weight down your hips with a heavy blanket, pillow or bolster.
- Place an eye mask on, soothing music or load your aromatherapy diffuser.
Forward folds can help reduce anxiety, calm the mind and help you turn inward. They help release stress by creating space in the spine, stretching both the neck and low back which stimulates the Vagus nerve. Many people do not find forward folds comfortable because they have tight hamstrings or low back pain. The good news is there are many types of folds that can be easy and accessible, whether sitting, standing or lying down.
Here are some suggestions on easy folds.
In a chair
Keep both feet on the floor, or place a blanket on the ground if your feet don’t easily touch for shorties like me. Place your hands on your knees and focus on lengthening the spine as you reach your chest forward past your knees. When you’ve reached your limit, exhale and relax the chest onto the legs, bringing your arms towards the floor. If it feels okay on your neck, you can relax the head down too.
Child’s pose with bolster
If you don’t have a bolster, take a pillow or fold a thick blanket. Bring your knees apart with the bolster (or blanket) between the legs and angle your toes back towards each other. Try to keep your butt heavy on your heels and start to crawl out onto the bolster, again trying to lengthen the spine and eventually laying down. Hands can go where is most comfortable, towards the top of the bolster or maybe underneath. Head can turn to one side but switch to even out the neck.
Against a wall
Great for people with tight hamstrings. Have a chair or some yoga blocks (really anything you can put your hands on) to help keep you stable. Have your back towards the wall, feet a few inches away so that when you fold, your butt still touches the wall. You can have your feet hip distance (more on the hamstrings) or wider (more to the inner thighs) , but make sure the feet are parallel with the toes pointing forward. Place your hands on the chair or blocks as you fold and bend the knees if the feeling is too intense.
Sing a song
Any song! Singing creates vibrations in the larynx that can stimulate the Vagus nerve. Whether it's singing, humming or chanting, creating vibrations in the body are almost like a massage for your organs and nerves. There have been studies that show how chanting deactivates parts of the brain that are associated with depression and also regulates the amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain.
Now, I grew up chanting at temple every Sunday and did not feel myself getting any calmer. In fact, I was probably more antsy waiting for it to be over. But as I’ve reintroduced it to my adult life, I can honestly say it makes me feel great. Part of me has to get over my roommates hearing me belt out random sounds but hey, if you're shy, just hum. If you also went to temple and haven’t chanted in awhile, I highly suggest chanting a few of those oldies but goodies. There is a nostalgia and familiarity that also helps calm the mind. At least for me.
Please remember I’m not a doctor but just a person that wants to help you chill out. I hope you’ll carve out some time for yourself this holiday season so you’ll be fully charged going into 2022.