Reduce Your Holiday Stress

4 Ways to Shift From Jumpy to Joyful

First, we got crushed by Hurricane Sandy-nature's way of making us pay attention to climate change. A week later, we're whipsawed by the most deeply divided election of modern times.
The major outcome: Our gross national stress levels are off the charts. It's a natural reaction to a supernatural amount of death and destruction, heroism and horror, deadlock and dysfunction. And wait! This just in: The holidays are officially in full swing!
And that's why I want to focus on a few things you can do-right now!-to relieve some of the tension we all feel as the days roll on, as the heartbreaking devastation of Hurricane Sandy continues to unfold, as the polarizing politics of our 2012 election continue to play out.
Bad stuff happens. You can't escape it. You can live thousands of miles from the Jersey shore or the Fox News Studios, and still, stress-real or imagined-will do its damage. It constricts your heart, tightens your back, stiffens your neck and beats up your brain in mysterious ways. Most doctors agree that unrelieved stress is a factor in more than 75 percent of all illness and disease. Yikes!
So here are four of my favorite quick fixes-things you can do to shift your mood and boost your well-being. Forget your troubles, c'mon get happy isn't a solution-I know that!- but it is a strategy that brings you momentary relief. And that's how we live, moment-by-moment.
If you can find joy in this moment, the ancients tell us, watching your breath, calming your mind, your life will be happier, healthier and less frazzled:

GET MOVING! Exercise is one of the best stress-busters there is. And unlike a night with Capt. Morgan or Jack Daniels, you won't wake up with a head the size of Rhode Island. Just do it. Take a vigorous walk. Jump on your bike. Swim 20 laps. If you're too stressed out to spend 30 to 60 minutes in motion, no problem; tell yourself you'll do a quick 10-minute workout, and then watch what happens. Once your breathing kicks in, your stress will melt faster than a Snickers bar in a gym bag, and you'll keep going, because deep down, everyone wants to be happy.

KEEP AGRATITUDE JOURNAL. Let's say your guy lost the election and you're miserable about where the country is headed. Or you're still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and don't know where to turn. Turn inward. Sit down before you go to bed or when you wake up, and write down five to ten things in your life you're grateful for. Do this everyday for at least two weeks, and see what happens. When we focus on the positive, our destructive negative emotions lose their strength. Gratitude always trumps fear, anger, hatred. If this sounds like so much hogwash, I'd be grateful if you'd just give it a try.

GET INVOLVED. We all have problems...and one way to keep them in perspective is to reach out and help other people who are hurting more than we are. Doing good will make you feel good, so don't delay for a moment. Feed the hungry. Teach a kid to read. Write a check to the Red Cross. Find a cause you believe in, and commit to making a difference. A bonus is becoming part of a community of people who share your values, a feeling of connectivity that enriches and extends your life.

TAKE TUB THERAPY. There's nothing like a good hot soak to wash away the heebie-jeebies. First, set the scene: Dim the lights, pour in some bubbles or a fragrance you find relaxing, ignite a candle or two, play some music that soothes you...and then close your eyes. Take a few deep, calming breathes. Where is your tension? Scan your body for tight spots. Your neck? Your back? Let the warm water float your tension away. Emerge from your bath feeling refreshed and ready for whatever challenges lie head.

What do you do to stay positive when your world is handing you a Sandy? Read Rumi? Get a massage? Email me at myenergyexpress and share what works for you. Marilynn Preston-fitness expert, well being coach and speaker on healthy lifestyle issues-is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country.

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