The holidays are a wonderful time, full of family and fun, but we all know they can be hectic as well. I know for me, making time for exercise and adequate sleep becomes harder than ever between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Throw in a few too many rich foods and just staving off the common cold can become a real challenge. With so much to get done and so many people to see, it can be hard to stay healthy, let alone relax during these busy months.
But relaxation is more important to our health than most people realize. The American Institute of Stress estimates that 75 to 90 percent of all visits to primary care physicians are for stress-related problems. Long-term stress causes all kinds of damage to the body, including increased blood pressure, weight gain and a weakened immune system.
This holiday season, why not make a resolution early and keep the stress in check? You can start with these three tips.
Get Moving: Regular exercise offsets stress.
You’re probably familiar with the “fight or flight” stress reaction that originally evolved to help humans deal with dangerous situations. The problem today is that our bodies try to apply this physical response to stressful situations that are more mental and social.
When we’re running late and stuck in traffic, our body starts pumping out extra adrenaline to deal with the stress. But there’s nowhere to go and no way to release all that pent-up energy. Regular exercise can help bring our bodies back into balance by increasing our heart rate and improving circulation and oxygenation, which uses up some of that stress-related energy.
Aerobic exercise is best for stress relief, according to several experts featured in a recent WebMD article. Not only does it increase heart rate and circulation, but it also releases endorphins, which produce a feeling of well-being. Non-aerobic forms of exercise, like yoga and tai chi, can also reduce the effects of stress by slowing our breathing, increasing strength and flexibility, and producing many psychological benefits.
Whatever kind of exercise you choose, you just have to make time for it—no excuses. Try waking up early or incorporating it into lunch. Getting 20 minutes of physical activity in the morning can boost your overall cognitive ability, and continuing to move around throughout the day (even just a few minutes of walking every half hour) can help keep your immune system healthy.
Think Positive: Expand your sense of possibility.
It’s easy to say, “think positively.” But does it really work? Research by Barbara Frederickson, PhD, suggests that it does. “Negative emotions narrow your mind and focus your thoughts,” as described in this HuffPost article about her work.
If you’re stuck in traffic, your first response might be some form of road rage. You might begin driving recklessly or gesture rudely to another driver. Either way, your behavior is more likely to increase your stress than it is to solve your traffic problem. But positive thinking might have an entirely different result.
Frederickson’s studies have shown that experiencing positive emotions such as joy, contentment and love actually expands your sense of what’s possible. When you think positively, your mind is open to more options. Instead of getting angry at traffic you can’t control, you might choose to think about family or reflect on your accomplishments that day. In the long run, positive thinking encourages you to build new skills and discover resources that can help you in many areas of your life.
So how can you cultivate a positive attitude, even during stressful times? Schedule meditation, journaling and play into your busy life, just like you schedule meetings, other responsibilities and exercise.
Soak It In: Spend some time in an infrared sauna.
We’ve already talked about how exercise helps balance the effects of adrenaline in our system. But when we’re stressed, our adrenal glands also produce cortisol. Optimal amounts of this “stress hormone” can save our lives in true survival situations by regulating non-essential functions such as sex drive and immunity.
However, when we experience ongoing stress, our body releases cortisol continuously. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol can increase our risk of chronic disease, affect our mental health and brain functioning, and have many other serious effects.
Fortunately, as this article describes, infrared sauna therapy has been proven to help the body maintain healthy levels of cortisol. Though cortisol levels stay about the same during sauna sessions, they typically drop immediately after.
Sunlighten’s proprietary Solocarbon® heating technology is up to 99 percent efficient and delivers more therapeutic infrared sauna heat per square inch than any other sauna on the market. Infrared saunas don’t reach the temperature extremes of dry saunas. Instead, they provide the soothing warmth of radiant heat, which gently raises your core temperature to promote muscle recovery and total relaxation.
Especially during the holidays, sauna sessions can provide some much needed “you” time, whether for meditation or quiet reflection.
Start Now: Make a holiday resolution.
We just celebrated Thanksgiving, which for me always signals the start of the holiday season. This year, I’m making a resolution to make time for exercise, meditation and sauna therapy, even if it means crossing a few less important to-do’s off my list. I hope you’ll join me in making a commitment to relax a bit more and truly enjoy family, friends and good health this holiday season.
What are your tricks for staying relaxed and healthy during the holiday season? Tweet your tips @Sunlighten!