For some of us, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most stressful! Traveling to see family can wreak havoc on our stress levels if there are small children involved and holiday shopping can be a real bummer if you’re on a tight budget.
It’s no secret stress is not good for you. The stress you feel, holiday season or not, can affect you in ways you may never have thought about. Beyond feeling tired and overwhelmed, stress can contribute to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, infertility and diabetes. Boo to all of that!
The good news is you can reduce stress and improve your overall health in very easy and (you’re welcome) inexpensive ways. Here are 12 ways for you to relieve stress for free.
Deep Breathing Exercises
Taking deep deliberate breaths can actually interrupt the production of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the hormone your body produces when stressed. Too much cortisol, in the amounts commonly found in the chronically stressed, can cause all kinds of issues, including insomnia, brain fog and thyroid malfunction. To interrupt that cycle of cortisol production, take 10 deep belly breaths, expanding your rib cage and abdomen as far as you can.
Listen to Music
Music and mood are closely linked, so next time you are feeling stressed, try listening to music that makes you feel good. This might be soft music you can relax to or loud music you can rock out to. The key is to find what kind of music improves your mood.
Stretch it Out
When you’re stressed, your body gets tense. To help mentally release the tension, sometimes it helps to physically release the tension. Doing some stretches or yoga poses will help break up that tension and improve blood flow. Incorporate deep breathing with your stretching for even more stress relief.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Human contact is a powerful thing. Something as simple as a hug from a loved one can help relieve stress. Studies have shown human contact can even boost your immune system! Next time you start to feel overwhelmed, slow down and reconnect with the people you love. You will not only be helping yourself but everyone you come in contact with.
Get a Good Laugh
Laughter really is the best medicine. It’s good for you physically and mentally and is a great stress reliever. Watch the latest episode of Scream Queens, read the funnies in the newspaper, or call up a friend who always has a funny story to share. Laughing can improve your mood, reduce pain and improve your immune system. Go, find something funny right now!
Meditation is not just for monks and yogis. Everyday people can benefit from mediation, too. This practice can improve your overall physical health as well as mental well-being. To meditate, simply find a quiet place to sit or lie down, close your eyes, and breathe naturally. Focus on how your body feels and the rhythm of your breathing. Do this for several minutes at first and then work your way up to longer periods.
There is a saying that goes: “Fail to plan. Plan to fail.” Don’t put yourself into a state of stressful emergency with lack of preparation.
If you find yourself stressed every morning because you’re rushing around trying to find socks that match or running out the door with dry toast because you didn’t have time to make a healthy breakfast, try planning ahead more. Lay your clothes out the night before and prepare your breakfast ahead of time. Simple changes can lead to major stress relievers.
Fresh air and nature can do so much to improve your mood and relieve stress. Exploring the outdoors can actually keep you from thinking negative thoughts. The next time you find yourself wrapped up in stress, take a walk in the woods or through a serene park and focus on the positive.
Eat Good Foods
This one sounds simple but unless you invest time in planning out healthy snacks and meals for yourself, you may find yourself reaching for food that is not good for you. Salty and sugary snacks cause insulin spikes and inflammation, both of which can affect your mood. If you’re prone to stress eating, having healthy food on hand is a necessity. Eating junk food when you’re feeling down only worsens the symptoms of depression.
Stick to Your Budget
So this may not technically be “free,” since it’s about spending money, but blowing your budget can lead to stress and anxiety that need not be created. Stressing about money is bad for your health. Whether you make $50,000 a year or $500,000, creating a budget and sticking to it can help reduce financial strain that leads to stress.
Put the Phone Down
Take a few hours away from the phone, tablet, laptop, computer and all other technology. Being addicted to your cell phone can cause stress. If you’re constantly checking your phone for social media updates or texts, you are stressing yourself out. Put the phone down and connect with people face to face or try some mediation exercises to re-center.
Keep a Journal
When you’ve got a lot on your mind, sometimes it helps to get it out and put it down on paper. After you get the words out of your head, it can help you gain perspective. Keeping a journal can also help you recognize stressful patterns in your life. Do you always stress about the same thing every month? Acknowledging it can help you find ways to better cope with it.
Life can be stressful, especially during the holidays, but you don’t have to carry it around with you. Taking simple steps that focus on your health and well-being will take you a long way into leading a stress-free life and a stress-free holiday season.