Our bodies have different ways of coping with different types of stress and that seems to get more intense during the holidays. We have patterns of reactive habits we hold in our body that signal different things at different times. For instance, when I’m about to go holiday shopping I grip my toes, when I’m driving long distances my neck and jaw get tight, when I’m trying to relate with new clients I slouch.
During holidays I found this stressful body language not only created mental chaos but interrupted my workouts as I wasn’t as flexible nor was I energized enough to endure an entire workout. In order to provide myself with different coping strategies I had to retrain my brain to be on alert for those moments that I was unnecessarily tensing up.
To do this I raised my awareness of how my body felt tense, nervous, relaxed or tired at different points during my day. Then as soon as I found a stressful moment that had me clenching any part of my body I would breathe into the tension. With each breath I took, I’d ask myself what it was that was making me tense.
This mind body exercise not only made me aware of what my body was experiencing physically but what I was feeling in relation to many different parts of my life. I found a variety of events and experiences that contributed to my discomfort. In one day I felt pressured at work and then later that night anxious about the mix of company I had invited to a holiday party. The next morning I was worried about getting up to early enough to make cupcakes for my son’s holiday part at school.
This is a frequent issue around the holidays. The holidays often resemble a marathon. The more people you know, kids you have and groups you are involved with the more likely your schedule is going to be packed. From shopping for the holidays to entertaining your in-laws, the holidays can be a stress frenzy that has a huge negative impact your body. The key here is to be able to pre-program your day to endure with grace and ease anything that comes up.
These are some details of the mind body exercises I used to help me manage daily holiday stress and keep my workouts on target:
Do the body check in that I mentioned above. Take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Visualize that you are able to breathe directly into the area that is tight and perhaps overworked. As you breathe into this area imagine the hard tense muscle begin to melt as though you were watching a stick of butter slowly melt in a heated pan.
Slowly stretch the associated muscles and continue breathing into the area until you feel a sense of release. Ask yourself what issue is the source of the tension, is it a valid fear? Is it something you can control or not? Can you focus on the uplifting good part of it or not?
Think about the stressor is it something you can control? If it is, give the fear or stress a number from one to ten. One being the least significant impact on your life and ten the most. If the issue is a five or higher, think of three ways you can turn it into a one and then do it. If the issue is something you can not control try to release your thoughts about it. Imagine the stressor as an image floating in a bubble and watch as it lifts up and out of your brain and into the atmosphere. You, no doubt, will survive.
If you don’t have time for a workout, schedule time in to just sit and gently move and stretch. Allowing yourself to process your days events, breathe deeply or meditate. This can be the difference between a frenetic draining schedule and one that is more manageable. The effects that stretch and meditation have on our body’s mind is the ability to discern priorities and solve problems. When we quiet the mind or allow ourselves time to experience our body movement, it allows us to be and think in a more creative space. It’s that creative space where solutions to problems appear.
If you find you are so blessed as to have the motivation and time to workout (and I hope you do), try pre-packing a gym bag before work and keep it in the car. make sure you include a snack (like nuts or trail mix), an energy drink and music you love. This will give you no excuses not to workout. Even if you make it to the gym and miss a class you still have the energy you will need and great music to keep you going.
Regardless of what you have to accomplish it’s good to have a back up plan so you can navigate the holidays with grace no matter what the circumstances are. Remember the holidays were originally meant to regroup, visit loved ones, make precious gifts and celebrate! Allow yourself the time and space to enjoy it stress free!