By Laura Mills
It’s easy to put myself last when gift giving. What I give myself is often hardly a gift anyway; stress, that unwelcome yet persistent part of the holidays, sneaks in and gets cozy as I list, decorate, shop, wrap, rush and socialize. Unfortunately, over the years I’ve realized I harbor a certain over-confidence in my ability to manage stress (“Stress? Never! I teach yoga, for goodness’ sake!”); at the end of the most hectic days, I consistently find that the hardest part of stress management is remembering to do it.
Undoubtedly, I keep up with stress management best when I make it a regular part of my day. One habit I’ve developed is just stopping and intentionally breathing—slow and deep, low into my back and belly, and then exhaling completely—for at least a few minutes. I aim to do this just after I wake up, or else just before bed, but sometimes I do it also at my kitchen sink, in my parked car, in line at the grocery store, or any other time I feel stress encroaching in the form of tight shoulders, headache, or a quickening heartbeat. After very little time I notice a difference…at the very least a clearer head with which to approach whatever’s happening in that moment.
Of course, an irony of stress management is that trying to keep up with it might initially cause stress. None of us needs one more thing to do in December, after all…. But stress management, like so many other worthwhile pursuits, is a practice. Therefore it’s something we become more adept at with time. I’ve been approaching it lately not as another “to do” on my list, but rather as a means of undoing the effects of hectic days. I hope you try it, too, for as the days shorten, the nights darken, and the ever-busy holidays approach, it’s more important than ever to take care of ourselves. At the beginning, try just a little…and then, as you become more comfortable and more regular with it, add a little more. Even a small amount of stress management will make a difference, leaving more space in life for cheer, holiday and beyond.