Monday, December 19, 2016

Tips for Holiday Stress Relief

This afternoon, after a week of intense studying and three grueling finals, I finally get to go home to spend Christmas with my family! Granted, I live only about 20 miles away from where I go to college (I'm from a tiny suburb outside of Boston), but I'm excited to get to spend a month close to some of the family and friends that I haven't seen in weeks.

However, as much as I love the holidays, I have to admit that the thought of being home for a month is just as nerve-wracking as it is exciting. Why, you might ask? Between the three blogs I've written since I was fifteen, I don't think I've ever shared this online, but here goes: my parents are divorced. Nowadays, that shouldn't seem like such a big deal. Something like 50% of marriages end in divorce these days, right? But that doesn't make it any easier for the kids and families who go through it, especially during the holiday season.

Growing up, other kids tended to assume that the holidays were somehow better because my parents weren't married anymore. And you can't really blame them - to a kid, two houses = two sets of presents. Many of my friends tried to tell me I was "lucky" because I got double the presents, but in reality, I would have given that up in a heartbeat to be able to have a big family Christmas. (Also, what they didn't know is that you actually don't get double the presents - you just get half the normal amount at each house.)

Now that I'm older, I still wish that I didn't have to have two separate Christmases, but some of that old sadness has been replaced by stress. Especially now that I'm in college and don't have to follow a custody schedule, I don't know how much time I should spend at each house, where I should eat dinner, or which house I should let my little brother open his present at.

And it's not just college kids from divorced families who have to go through holiday stress. Some of you might have ten or more family members cramped into a tiny house for the holidays. Some of you might have your long flight home cancelled by snow. Some of you just might not know what to get your boyfriend or brother or dad for Christmas (in which case, check out my Gift Guide for Him!).

Either way, the holidays aren't perfect. As much as we'd all like our Christmases to be like the ones we see on Pinterest and Instagram, sometimes, the holidays can be a bit more stressful than they are holly and jolly.

Thankfully, Christmas break is the perfect time to catch up on some self-care that you might have missed during the busy finals season! That's why today, I'm taking a (too short) study break to share with you five fun and festive ways that you can relieve your stress during the holidays. I've even taken the liberty of labeling them with some of my favorite Christmas lyrics to hopefully spread a little instant holiday cheer :)

Deck the Halls 

Is it just me, or is decorating the Christmas tree one of the most relaxing parts of Christmas? There's something so therapeutic about the ritual of hanging ornaments from every bough, perching that wreath on the front door, and wrapping tinsel garland around the stair rail. Plus, I always feel more relaxed when my environment is beautiful and put-together. So, one afternoon, drive yourself out to your local Target Dollar Spot, pick up some cute 'n' cheap decorations, and lock yourself in your room for a couple of hours. Turn your room into a winter wonderland that you can use to get away from it all, whether the problem is that your family's getting into an argument about opening presents on Christmas Eve or that you can't listen to that damn carol one more time.

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

This song conjures the best sights, sounds, and smells of cozying up by the flickering fireplace. In my opinion, it's impossible to feel stressed out when you're thinking about that. Even if you don't have a fireplace in your house, you can capture that warm and cozy feeling with a wintry meditation practice. Put on your softest socks and your thickest infinity scarf, wrap up in an electric blanket, and nestle a hot mug of cocoa or tea between your fingers. Sip your drink mindfully and just take a moment to bask in the winter warmth. If you're really missing that glimmering flicker of flames, download the meditation app Calm, which comes with a soothing fireplace scene to watch and listen to.  

The Best Way to Spread Christmas Cheer... singing loud for all to hear! It turns out that Buddy the Elf knew that he was talking about. Research shows that music has incredible power to release stress by slowing our heart rate, lowering our blood pressure, and diminishing those awful hormones. That explains why jamming in your car to Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" always makes you feel so zen. So, next time the holiday stress starts to get to you, don't be afraid to turn on your favorite Christmas carols and start belting them out! You can even get friends and family involved, and turn your stress relief sesh into a full-blown impromptu Christmas bash. 

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

Believe it or not, the dim winter months can even lead to depression in some people, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, the kind of light we use is just as important as having light at all. Studies show that bright, fluorescent lights can lead to intense mood swings, while soft lighting offers more emotional stability. So, according to science, the solution for ending family drama this holiday season could be as simple as turning down the lights and letting the soft glow of the tree illuminate your home! What better excuse to go to Target and stock up on white Christmas lights?

Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?

Finally, getting active boosts your endorphins and helps you focus on something besides all that stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, if you live in a cold winter climate like I do (that 60-degree day yesterday aside), you know that the thought of driving to the gym feels impossible when there's six feet of snow on the ground. Thankfully, there's a solution to your wintertime woes. Instead of giving up on exercise altogether, turn to some of your favorite snow day activities from when you were a kid. Ice skating on a local pond, rolling snow piles into families of snowmen, and hiking up a huge hill just to sled down are just as valid forms of exercise as lifting weights or running on the treadmill. Get your snow pants on, not your gym shoes, and get ready for the funnest workout of your life!

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