12 Months of Wellness

Find ways to de-stress

12 Months of Wellness

As we wrap up our 12 Months of Wellness, we use simple ways to de-stress. Create a "me time" ritual, delegate chores, or try deep breathing to lower your stress level.

In December, our 12 Months of Wellness series ends with neither a bang nor a whimper but, rather, with some relaxing deep breaths. Our goal this month is to de-stress during the hectic holiday season. We’ve had a busy year—exploring home, work, and nature. Now it’s time to relax.

Stress less to feel your best

Stress isn’t all bad: moderate levels can increase our alertness during a run, when giving a speech, or at work. When this sensation turns to ongoing distress, however, weight gain, fatigue, and chronic illnesses can result. According to Statistics Canada, more than one-quarter of working Canadians experience uncomfortable levels of stress on a daily basis.

During the winter months, our pursuit of holiday gifts and family time may ironically be more demanding than relaxing. “People’s expectations are often too high, and they start scurrying around to meet those expectations. This is a time of year for celebration, not a competition,” says David Posen, MD, stress specialist and author of Is Work Killing You? (House of Anansi Press, 2013).

Long evenings and crisp, cool days should be a time to play in the snow, sip hot chocolate, and—most importantly—reclaim relaxation. We’ve provided some weekly suggestions to make this year-end as restful and focused on wellness as possible.

Keep in touch

Our 12 Months of Wellness journey is coming to an end, but we’d love to hear about your progress. Share your insights on our alive.com blog, on Facebook, or by using the Twitter hashtag #2013alive.

The alive team has also been tracking our progress with updates on Twitter (@aliveHealth)), Facebook (facebook.com/alive.health.wellness), and alive.com blog posts. Tune in to download December’s goal-tracking sheet and see how we’ve been de-stressing.

Mix and match

One person’s stressor may be another’s downtime—so personalize your 12 Months of Wellness by adjusting goals to suit your de-stressing style.

  • Offer to take on an extra task; you may be the perfect person to ease someone else’s stress.
  • Turn “me” time into “we” time by doing yoga as a family, watching a relaxing movie, or playing a board game.
  • Engage in faster-paced aerobic exercise such as biking or jogging.

Week 1: December 1 to 7 – Delegate some ongoing chores
Learn how to let go

Groceries to get, parties to plan, presents to purchase—there’s a lot going on in December. It can be tempting to take on too many tasks. And with our to-do lists dominating our days, this may leave little time for relaxation.

Posen admits that a common refrain, especially among his female patients, is that “they have to do everything to make sure everybody is pleased and satisfied, and meanwhile, they’re overwhelmed and can’t enjoy any of it.”

Let go—by saying no

  • Assign household chores—dishes, laundry, vacuuming—to different family members.
  • Plan a potluck rather than tackling an entire menu on your own, having guests bring different menu items to ensure a range of dishes.
  • Give up your holiday hosting duties for one year, allowing another family member the privilege.

Week 2: December 8 to 14 – Create a daily “me” time ritual 
From yoga to reading, embrace self-care

As Ferris Bueller noted, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” This doesn’t mean we should all skip school (or work) to sing in a parade … but we can create moments of life-appreciating peace by pressing pause at least once every day.

Finding time for personal relaxation can refresh and re-energize. In one study of postsecondary students, a daily practice of yoga over 12 weeks reduced anxiety during an exam.

Find what makes you happy—and do it every day

  • Energize in the morning or unwind at night with daily sun salutations.
  • Sink into a hot bath with relaxing essential oils.
  • Escape into a world of fantasy, epic romance, or mystery with a feel-good book.
  • Sip herbal tea (ideally in front of a crackling fire) to warm and tickle the taste buds.

Week 3: December 15 to 21 – Get enough sleep   
Slumber for stress relief

Set yourself up for stress-fighting success by sleeping for the recommended seven to eight hours per night. A survey of Canadian social trends found that stressed individuals tend to sleep less due to time constraints. About half of respondents reported sacrificing shut-eye to meet obligations in their daily lives.

“But sleep deprivation—in and of itself—can create stress in the body,” adds Posen, who recommends straying from a consistent sleep schedule on no more than one or two nights per week. “Adequate sleep is even more important during the holiday season, because there’s so much more that people feel they have to do.”

Yawning may also signal the need to de-stress in dreamland. One study linked elevated levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—to more frequent yawns. For those whose eyelids droop during a busy afternoon, a mid-afternoon nap may fight fatigue and relieve stress; siestas—popular in Mediterranean and Central American countries—are associated with relaxation and low mortality rates.

If you can, nap (for no more than 30 minutes) during the day to promote productivity. But if your workday doesn’t leave time for a mid-afternoon snooze (and after showing your boss this article, she still isn’t convinced to introduce an officewide policy on afternoon naptime), you can still make use of the following tips.

Free yourself from stress—by catching some ZZZs

  • Set up a consistent sleep schedule that works for you.
  • Invest in natural or organic cozy comforters, sheets, and a soft mattress to make your sleeping space soothing.
  • Avoid looking up the latest news on your tablet or checking your emails right before bed, as artificial light can disrupt natural sleeping patterns.

Week 4: December 22 to 28 – Learn deep breathing techniques and meditation    
Inhale the good, exhale the bad

The beauty of breathing is that we all do it anyway—no mat, workout gear, or years of training needed! Still, not all inhales and exhales are equally stress relieving: “Certain techniques of breathing have been developed through yoga to enhance our physical and mental well-being,” says Farhad Khan, founder and owner of Maa Yoga Studio in North Vancouver, BC.

Recent research has confirmed the benefits of pranayama, the yogic art of breathing: after 12 weeks of practising breathing techniques for 30 minutes on three days per week, busy health care students reported significantly reduced levels of stress.

Practise pranayama—in the car, at work, or on the couch

Khan recommends beginning with a simple breathing technique such as ujjayi pranayama. The following pranayama exercise can be done in seated meditation for a minimum of five minutes “to calm a busy body and mind.”

  1. Sit in a quiet space, ideally with legs crossed.
  2. Begin to inhale and exhale through your nose, trying to maintain an even flow of breath.
  3. Constrict the back of your throat as if whispering the sound “haaaa” or creating fog on a mirror with each breath.
  4. Focus on the gentle action at the back of the throat as you continue to breathe deeply.

Week 5: December 29 to 31 – Review how your resolutions went
Reflect on your achievements and goals

Perhaps you discovered something new about yourself or your community, found bliss in an unexpected place, bought a plant, or reorganized a messy space. Whatever the results of your individual 12 Months of Wellness journey, we want to celebrate our collective achievements.

Did you manage to set goals that were SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely? If you kept a record (perhaps using our monthly goal-tracking sheets), review your progress: what worked, what didn’t, and what might you want to do differently next year? Congratulate yourself for prioritizing wellness this year, just as you might after meeting a deadline or acing a presentation at work. Then make sure to tell us all about these insights (see “Keep in Touch” sidebar on page 35 for details).

And most importantly: don’t forget to relax!

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