The holidays are a wonderful, fun and exciting time of the year. Time is spent in planning, decorating, making special foods and finding the perfect gift, not to mention the family get-togethers, the parties and travel. We can’t forget the weather and all the fury Mother Nature can throw at us. Just keeping up with the latest toys and this week’s wish list is a full-time job. We also try to include the real meaning of the holiday we celebrate. Whether we light candles and have special rituals that include the written word and music, games or exchanging presents, we can sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed. We become stressed out, even though some of the stress is good stress.
So what do we do? We could stay in bed and just ignore the whole month but that’s not very practical. We need to find something more useful. One idea is to try some stress management techniques.
When we are getting tense, one recommendation is to do deep breathing exercises. They are easy to do and can be done discretely. Make yourself comfortable by sitting in a chair or lying down. Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, breathing deep into your diaphragm. You should be able to feel your diaphragm expand. You could put a hand over your diaphragm to feel it moving up and down. Hold your breath for a few seconds and slowly release your breath through your mouth. Do this several times. If you have thoughts that are interrupting your relaxation, just breathe out and think that they are going away when you exhale. Don’t do this too quickly or you may end up feeling light headed. Repeat several times.
A second recommendation is progressive relaxation. Tighten your muscles, hold for 10 seconds or as long as you are comfortable then relax them. Start wherever you feel tension or start at your feet and work your way up your body. With your feet, hold the tension for a few seconds and then relax them. Go to your ankles and do the same thing; continue up your legs, to your stomach, to your arms, your neck and your head. Don’t forget to do your face. It’s a law of nature — you can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time.
A third suggestion is to create a special place that you can think about and be safe. Think of some place you like to go or think you would like to go. It doesn’t have to be real. It can be an imaginary place. Some people like the beach; some people like the snow and some people like being on the water to name a few. It can be any place that you feel safe and comfortable. While doing the breathing exercise as suggested above, close your eyes and think about all the things that you like about the place. Picture it in your mind. For example, if you’re at the beach, do you hear and see the sea gulls? Can you hear the water lapping on the shore? Can you smell the salt-water spray? Can you feel the spray? Can you feel the sunshine beaming down on you? Can you taste your favorite drink? Do you feel the sand under your feet? Remember this is your place. It involves all your senses. Let the tension just disappear as you think about it. When you are ready, open your eyes and gently come back into the room.
There are many other easy things that you can do that don’t involve elaborate equipment or much time to help you relax. The holidays will always have some stress, but we don’t have to let it overwhelm us. Try some of these techniques.
If you are having difficulties relaxing or would like additional suggestions, call Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall’s Employee Assistance Program coordinator at (703) 696-6860 and we can explore some additional techniques.
This article originally ran in the Pentagram on December 3, 2020.