’Tis the season to be jolly, right? Absolutely, but it’s also the season to carry longer to-do lists, plan parties, go to parties, bake cookies, and shop around the clock. Keeping your cool can feel impossible. “When we pack on all the additional requirements of the holidays, that’s what drives us insane,” says Dawn Groves, Iyengar instructor and author of Stress Reduction for Busy People. This year, instead of powering through the season with a nose-to-the-grindstone approach, follow our easy tips and find out why some call this the most wonderful time of the year.
Survival Tip #1 Have a plan
Works Best At the mall, in traffic, at the airport, at the grocery store
“Your plan will give your mind and body something to do when stressors hit, so you’re not helpless,” Groves says. Before entering a crowded mall, setting out on a busy road, or navigating the jammed aisles of the superfoodmart, remember your plan. For example, say, “This season, whenever I get anxious, I am going to exhale.” Then, when the situation hits, take three or four deep breaths from low in your belly, exhaling twice as long as the inhale. Inhaling drives a fresh supply of oxygen to your frenzied brain, while exhaling calms the nervous system, Groves says. If you’re waiting in line with kids, they’re getting antsy, too, so include them in this exercise. Tell them to inhale for a count of three and let out a big, audible sigh together.
Survival Tip #2 Do a small, simple thing
Works best: When you wake up or before you go to bed
During this hectic time when you need yoga most, chances are you’re doing it the least. Still, you can use this month to start healthy habits and help your practice grow, Groves says. “Set your mind to do something wholesome during this time you often feel out of control.” Keep it simple, Groves says, by spending 10 minutes Monday through Friday with your “tush on the cush” or practicing two yoga postures. You can always increase it, scale it back, or incorporate strategies like using music or meditating in the bathtub. “Doing this one small thing is going to make a difference in how we roll through the season. Come January 1, you will forget about all the time you waited in lines, but you will remember these small things you did consistently that had an enormous benefit.”
Survival Tip #3 Perfect your posture
Works Best Standing in line at the mall, airport, or grocery store
“Our bodies maintain so much anxiety, it’s hard to release our minds without loosening our bodies,” Groves says. Instead of scanning those $500 Stuart Weitzman ankle boots while waiting in line, scan your body. Here’s how:
1. Stand with feet hip-distance apart, toes pointing forward, and micro-bend the knees.
2. Extend spine by lengthening from tailbone through crown of head, slightly tucking pelvis, and keeping chin parallel to floor.
3. Shift your weight from one foot to the other until you feel evenly balanced on both feet. Roll your shoulders up to the ears, then back and down.
4. Place one hand on lower back and feel the natural curve of the spine. Breathe.
“Paying attention to your body takes your mind off the got-to-go-got-to-get energy of waiting in line,” Groves says. “You’re not going to check out any faster if you’re huffing and puffing than if you’re breathing and feeling the alignment of your body, so you may as well relax and learn how to be in a hurried situation in an unhurried manner.”
Survival Tip #4 Meditate any time, anywhere
Works best At the mall, airport, or when you’ve got a full house
“The mind thinks an average of 10,000 to 20,000 thoughts per day, but the anxious mind triples that number,” says Kellye Davis, author of The Bliss Principle: 5 Easy Ways to Reduce Stress. If you’re at the far end of that spectrum, start practicing Dharanas, where the mind focuses on one thing. “Dharanas are centering techniques that use situations in everyday life to reach a state of blissfulness or calmness,” Davis says. Use these mini meditations (1 to 3 minutes) whenever you need them. Try these three:
1. Open-eyed meditation
Find a seat. Look down at people’s feet as they walk by. Breathe deeply and evenly in and out through the nose as you focus on feet passing, allowing your mind to fall still during that moment. “It’s the movement outside of you and the stillness inside that quiets your mind,” Davis says.
2. Close-eyed meditation
Sitting down, close your eyes and focus on the color blue. Imagine a blue wave in the ocean rising and falling with the rise and fall of your breath. “In color therapy, blue soothes the emotions,” Davis says. And, recent scientific research says it lowers blood pressure, too.
3. Sound meditation
With your eyes closed, tune in to all the noises around you—people talking, babies crying, music blasting—until it becomes one buzzing sound of activity. “Allow yourself to fall into the sounds until they become a resting point for your mind,” Davis says.