There’s nothing quite like the holidays. Food, family, friends — what more could you want? But shopping, planning, and prepping can be stressful, too. Wouldn’t it be great to have all the fun of the season, without any of the anxiety? You can! Here are some simple ways to beat holiday stress, so you can fully enjoy the festivities.
Cut yourself some slack.
Do you push yourself to bake the best pumpkin pie ever, then get frustrated if it’s not perfect? Write a note that reads something like, “Cut yourself some slack — you deserve it!” Post it somewhere you’ll see it often, like on the fridge. Australian scientists say showing yourself compassion keeps unrealistic expectations in check, allowing you to enjoy the holidays frustration-free!
Breeze through tense times with holiday songs.
Staying relaxed in high-pressure moments, such as when hosting a houseful of relatives, is as easy as cueing up some fun tunes. Try listening to a holiday station on a free streaming music service like Pandora or Spotify, or assemble your own Thanksgiving playlist. A new Finnish study shows that much-loved music spurs the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. This reduces the output of the stress hormone cortisol by 20 percent, which significantly improves mood.
Gaze at grandma’s painting to beat holiday stress.
Italian research proves that folks who gaze at a painting or sculpture — like the watercolor your grandma passed down to you— for a few minutes when stressed see a 60 percent drop in cortisol. Art focuses your mind on the present and makes nagging issues seem insignificant.
Keep everyone cheerful with a fan.
You can rest easy knowing family and friends will enjoy themselves with a simple trick: Place a fan at the edge of your kitchen, facing outward so it’s blowing delicious cooking aromas into the rest of your home. Breathing in familiar scents of the season spurs a more than threefold increase in happiness, Virginia Commonwealth University scientists found. The aromas evoke warm, nostalgic feelings that make people feel more connected to one another.
Another tip? Set out treats! Just offer brownies and everyone will get along. Sweets make folks kinder to one another, a University of Texas study found. People associate sweetness with pleasantness, so a sugary flavor prompts them to act congenial.
Think fast on your feet by standing tall.
Figuring out how long it takes to roast a 10 half-pound turkey to be ready in time for dinner, or the amount of ingredients needed to triple Aunt June’s famous green bean casserole recipe is enough to make 62 percent of us seize up with math anxiety. The simple way to make it easier? Stand or sit up straight. San Francisco State University investigators discovered that math problems feel 31 percent easier when you have good back posture. That’s because it boosts confidence while also improving abstract thinking, enhancing your ability to juggle multiple numbers and equations at once.
Another way to boost your mind power is to brew a cup of coffee. You don’t even have to drink it! Simply smelling the aroma of freshly brewed java ups alertness, which makes you significantly better at solving tricky problems, reveals research at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Bonus: A separate study found just seeing a coffee cup is enough to boost your energy.
Conquer a task list by relaxing first.
Busy day? Schedule a few 10 minute breaks to lie quietly with your eyes closed. Constantly being on the go ratchets up stress, which ends up tiring you out and slowing you down. Luckily, a few minutes of “passive rest,” where you lie still while awake, tames stress and ups relaxation by 50 percent — results on par with a massage, a German study found. This means once you get up, you’ll be ready to go full steam again.
And smile big! A wide grin activates anti-stress facial muscles that slow your heart rate by nearly six beats a minute, a University of Kansas study found.
Beat holiday stress and tiredness with this combo.
To avoid the fatigue, fogginess, and insomnia that come with long-distance holiday travel, try this: After you arrive, take 3 milligrams of melatonin at 4 p.m. The next day, open the curtains for an hour between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Canadian scientists say this works better than either method alone at resetting your body clock so you stay energized.
Another way to beat holiday stress is by including a women’s multivitamin or probiotic. Research suggests a daily prebiotic prevents fatigue by feeding “good” gut bacteria that make you resilient to time changes. One to try: Now Foods, Prebiotic Bifido Boost Powder (Buy from iHerb, $12)
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.