7 Commandments of Seasonal Stress Reduction

Sure, the holidays are full of cheer. But with the social obligations and gift shopping, it’s also packed with stress. In fact, a survey from the American Psychological Association found that 8 in 10 people expect to feel anxious sometime during the season. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend the holiday time in a Grinch-like mood. Follow these stress reduction commandments to remain calm and merry.

1. Take a deep breath. Breath work stimulates the vagal response, a nervous system reaction that has a calming effect, explains Julie Chen, M.D., an internist in San Jose, Calif. She recommends inhaling to a count of four and exhaling to a count of seven for a few minutes. 

2. Get moving. Even a short stroll or workout can relieve tension. It can also encourage the release of feel-good brain chemicals called endorphins, says Chen. So carve out a little time to take a walk or workout with a relaxing yoga DVD.

3. Prioritize your time. Cookie swaps, holiday cocktails, gift exchanges -- all of these holiday activities are loads of fun. But piling on too much can leave you feeling exhausted and stressed. Instead of responding “sure!” to invites immediately, check your schedule first and be honest about how much you can handle. And don’t feel shy about declining. A simple “thanks so much, but we can’t” works; you don’t need to go into too much detail.

4. Sip some tea. Whether you prefer green or black, a cup of tea is soothing. According to a study from the University College of London, people who drank a mug after completing a frustrating task experienced a 47 percent decrease in in their level of the stress hormone cortisol.

5. Whiff some lavender. Research shows that this fragrant herb can calm frazzled nerves. So light a candle, spritz some air freshener or plug in a diffuser filled with this relaxing scent.

6. Don’t forget quality time. When you’re rushing to tick off that to-do list, it’s all too easy to let the quiet moments fall to the wayside. But remember that the true meaning of the holidays is spending time with friends and family. While you’re at it, give that loved one a big hug: Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that a 20-second embrace can lower your blood pressure and stress levels.

7. Eat your fruits and veggies. Along with the ham and sugar cookies, don’t forget to load up on apples, carrots and spinach. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that people felt calmer and happier on the days they ate at least seven to eight servings of produce. Make sure to incorporate fruits and vegetables into every meal and snack.