HOW TO RELAX DURING THE SILLY SEASON
There are so many reasons to love the festive season; celebration is in the air, everyone is winding down towards the end of the year, and we all get to enjoy more warm weather, picnics, Christmas parties, delicious food, and time outdoors that result in many cherished new memories with family and friends. Despite all the love and joy, do you ever feel a bit like you’re dragging yourself to the finish line? Or feeling a little overwhelmed and time poor? This is completely normal! Given the large volume of events to fit in (particularly for those still working through the holidays), it’s no wonder so many of us are starting to feel a little drained and in need of some serious TLC. Read on to learn more about the physiology behind this fatigue, as well as 8 tips and techniques to help you relax, connect and chill during this crazy time (or any time!)
The Stress Response:
Despite the love and joy that fills the air at this time of year, the accumulation of workload, events, present shopping, travel, family pressure, and more (particularly on top of the stressful 1-2 years we have all experienced) may result in many of our bodies experiencing some level of physiological and/or psychological stress. Due to this build-up, we may move beyond the necessary acute stress response and into a more detrimental, chronic stress response (or even burn out). This is indeed evident through recent studies, which show that burnout amongst workers has grown significantly since pre-pandemic times. When we are continuously exposed to stressful stimuli or events, the stress hormones released from the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis during acute stress (including cortisol) continues to rise and overburdens the system, which may impair communication between the immune system and the HPA axis and lead to the future development of numerous physical and mental health conditions, including chronic fatigue, metabolic disorders (e.g., diabetes, obesity), depression, and immune disorders. If chronic stress persists, this continuous activation of the nervous system causes wear-and-tear and an inability to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol (hypocortisolemia), which is linked to the feelings of fatigue and exhaustion that people experience during burnout.
Managing a Busy Schedule during the Silly Season:
Our desire to soak up all things fun and festive may be feeding into our own overwhelm and fatigue! Below we have a handful of little tips to keep in mind when trying to navigate the silly season:
Allow yourself to say no:
Sometimes we feel obliged to attend events and bring a certain level of enthusiasm, or our FOMO gets the better of us and we agree to things that we otherwise wouldn’t have. This is your reminder/permission that it is okay to say no sometimes! Maybe you say no to the last round of drinks and head home at a decent hour, or you say no to drinks with the girls on wednesday night, knowing that you’ll see them on Friday night. Find a balance that suits you.
Seeing multiple people at once:
Trying to squeeze in celebrations with a range of different people but running out of days? As the old saying goes, why not ‘kill two birds with one stone’ and combine multiple family/ friends in the one outing! You may be saving everyone some time if you are already all acquainted, or you may be gifting others the joy of a new connection- either way, everyone wins!
Know your limits:
Some people thrive off constant social stimulation and outings, whereas others need some alone time or a nice quiet night in order to recharge in order to be completely present in their next social situation. Take some time to reflect on how you have felt during previous busy periods of social interactions, and work to identify how many outings in one week is best for you. Then, revisit our first tip (‘Allow yourself to say no’) and give yourself permission to reorganise or change some of your upcoming plans.
8 Tips and Techniques to Connect and Chill:
All this talk of fatigue and overwhelms has us exhausted- time to talk more about how to relax, reconnect and chill! Below we have 8 science based tips and techniques to help balance your stress response, increase happiness, slow the heart rate and generally improve overall health!
1. Hobbies and Creative Pursuits:
Hobbies bring a sense of fun and freedom to life. They force you to enjoy time for yourself to disconnect from your life stresses and reconnect with the true you. Hobbies provide an outlet for stress and something to look forward to after a long/hard day. Research shows that people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from stress, low mood, and depression in both the short and long term- hobbies can provide immediate stress relief, which has been shown to flow onto a range of health and psychological benefits, like improved focus, happiness and a longer life. A study conducted by several psychologists of about 1,400 people found that people who said they engaged in enjoyable leisure activities had lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference and body mass index- wow! Another awesome benefit is the association between creative hobbies and positive work-related traits, including increased work satisfaction, significantly lower burnout rates, increased creativity on projects and a better attitude on the job.
Did you know that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg asks prospective employees about their hobbies, as he claims that hobbies and side projects are one of the best ways for people to show passion and leadership in their professional lives.
Find an activity that you can be completely immersed in that makes you feel some sort of joy. It may be a creative endeavour, an active activity, or something that involves learning. Some examples include: Crochet, sewing, cooking, woodwork, bird watching, stamp collecting, scrap booking, painting, language, gardening, makeup/hair/nails, family trees, reading history, hiking, dancing, music.
2. Meditation and Breathing Exercises
Us humans operate best when we breathe deeply and purposefully, filling our systems with nourishing fresh air and then expelling what we don;t need through the breath. Unfortunately, this kind of breathing is rarely our default setting. Instead, many of us have become shallow (or thoracic, breathers)- we inhale short breaths without engaging our bellies and diaphragms, then release sharply, taking in less air. Over time our breathing patterns have shifted to this suboptimal thoracic breathing as a reaction to emotional and environmental stressors (including life pressures, temperature, pollution, noise, and other causes of anxiety). Despite this, we have the power to improve our physiology and bring our bodies back into their nourishing, natural state of deep breathing!
With intentional practice, our physiology moves towards calm and clarity. Deep breathing causes the vagus nerve to signal your nervous system to lower your stress hormone cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure. Research also shows that a regular deep breathing practice improves focus and creativity. We can even improve our stress response in acute situations- taking just ten deep breaths can assist with relaxation and provide a sense of calm!
How to: There are many ways to practice Meditation and breathing exercises. We recommend practicing deep belly breathing for 5-20 minutes each day (or any period of time that you can!) Sit or lie in a comfortable position with your spine straight and long. Begin breathing into your belly (allowing it to expand), then continue filling your lungs with air. Then release slowly and allow your belly and chest to empty and go down. You may even like to put your hand or an object on your belly so you can watch/feel it expand and release. Do this for as few as 5 breaths, or up to 20 minutes or more. Below we have also included a diagram for how to practice ‘Nadi Shodana’/ Alternate nostril breathing, which is Sanskrit for “subtle energy clearing breathing technique.” This technique carries a larger supply of oxygen to the blood than regular breathing, and helps soothe the nerves, still the mind, and balance/purify the subtle energy of the body.
3. Being Present and Grateful:
When we are completely present within ourselves and our environment, we have the ability to be our truest selves, to connect deeply and to experience an even higher level of joy. Being truly present and practicing gratitude have been shown to enhance feelings of happiness, balance the stress response and improve concentration, focus, attention, memory and listening.
How to: When spending time with others (or yourself), take a moment to observe every sense: what can you see? What do you smell? What can you hear? What can you feel on your skin? What emotions are you experiencing? Another way to be more present and practice gratitude is to internally consider something you love about each person you are spending time with, or the place you are in, the food you are eating etc.
Regular exercise has been shown to enhance our tolerance to stress, balance cortisol (stress hormone) levels and increase levels of our happy hormones serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Regular exercise can also make us happier by promoting better sleep and enhancing confidence and self-esteem. Even a little bit of exercise produces a happiness boost- research has found that people who are physically active for as little as 10 minutes a day or who worked out only once a week had higher levels of happiness than people who never exercised.
How to: You will notice that we have called it ‘movement’ rather than ‘exercise’, this is for a good reason! The goal is to move your body, whether that be through intense exercise, or a more leisurely activity. The best exercise is any movement you enjoy and can see yourself participating in long term. Try to move daily, ideally outdoors and with others (research shows the health and mood benefits of exercise are amplified when done in a group setting). You may even like to mix up your movement- the more variety the better! Some examples include yoga, hiking, swimming, gym, running, walking the dog, playing on the playground, team sports, shooting hoops with a friend, skateboarding, rollerblading, surfing.
5. Time in Nature:
Spending time in nature is one of the loveliest antidotes for stress. A depth of research shows a large range of health benefits attached to time outdoors, including lowered levels of stress hormones, reduced anxiety, improved mood, lower blood pressure, enhanced immune system function, increased self-esteem, improved concentration, reduced risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, and increased vitamin D levels. Time outdoors (particularly in the morning) can also balance our hormone levels and circadian rhythm (through the effects of sunlight penetrating the skin). ‘Grounding’ (Walking barefoot on the ground) has been shown to reduce jet lag symptoms.
How to: Aim to incorporate nature into your daily life, as well as planning larger days out in nature! Look for beautiful beaches, parks or walking trails to visit on weekends otr in your spare time. For a naily nature hit, walk outdoors barefoot in the morning and let your feet connect with the earth or grass, or go for a walk or run (even if it’s to grab a coffee or get some groceries). You can still incorporate nature into your daily routine even if you live in the city! Research shows that observing a simple shrub or walking down a tree lined street in a city will produce some of the same benefits.
A lack of sleep is associated with low melatonin and therefore may lead to damagingly high levels of stress hormone cortisol, which can negatively impact our mood, increase stress levels and lead to symptoms of depression, anger, anxiety, irritability and inability to cope with stress. We have a whole blog on this topic, which covers more of the science of sleep as well as tangible tips and hacks to improve your sleep to in turn cultivate more energy, clarity and calm!
How to: Visit our blog on sleep for more tips: https://www.slimbynature.com.au/blog/weight-loss-tips/sleep/
7. Social Health:
Although you’ll likely find yourself in many social situations at this time of year, it’s important to prioritise and lean on your closest connections for support if you need it! Research has found that perceived social support plays an important role in subjective well-being. One study found that perceptions of social support were responsible for 43% of a person’s level of happiness. It is important to remember (particularly at this time of year where you may be in social situations with larger crowds than usual) that when it comes to social support, quality is more important than quantity. Having just a few very close and trusted friends will have a greater impact on your overall happiness than having many casual acquaintances. Research has also shown that women battling breast cancer who had a supportive circle of friends were four times more likely to survive than those who did outlive their socially isolated counterparts. Further research has shown that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop chronic illnesses as they age.
How to: Take some time out to give the most special people in your life a phone call, meet them for a walk, or shoot them a text to say hello and send some love. Always be protective of these strong connections and take time to nurture them. Another way to support your stress response via social health is through touch- a 20 second hug is enough to release oxytocin levels that are sufficient to reduce our stress and improve our moods.
8. Reduce Screen Time:
Although some screen time is inevitable in our modern lives (work computers, phones for essential communication), spending excess time staring at screens and artificial light drops melatonin levels, which is directly linked to raising the stress hormone cortisol. Also research shows that the overstimulation of devices, particularly social media, is linked to higher levels of anxiety, therefore, it only makes sense to cut back as much as we can to help us relax during this crazy period of time!
How to: Avoid looking at screens in the first hour of waking, and for at least 1-2 hours before bed, then cut back on any other unnecessary screen time as much as possible. Another important tip is to keep technology out of sight during time spent with family and friends. This can make us happier by strengthening our human connections- studies show that just the presence of a phone during a conversation significantly reduces one’s sense of connection, even if the phone didn’t ring or vibrate.
Remember to breathe deeply, experience every wonderful sensation, take time for yourself, and to move daily this festive season! Calm and clarity are achievable, and we hope that this article help you identify some tips and techniques that you can implement to find a little more peace this silly season.
Happy Holidays! ♡ Team SBN xx