The most wonderful time of the year? Sure, if you aren’t stuck in a never-ending line to buy your nephew a new Nintendo Switch or buried under a pile of work you’re trying to finish before the new year. In fact, studies show that the holidays can be the most anxiety-inducing time of the year: According to a survey from Healthline, 62 percent of respondents found the holidays somewhat to very stressful. So much for yuletide cheer!
But it doesn’t have to be all bah humbugs. Taking just a minute for mindfulness can ease angst and lower stress. Heather Bragg, founder and CEO of the Chicago-based early childhood education center Learning Decoded, shares a handful of simple stress-busters to help you keep calm and carry on during the holidays’ high-stress situations.
Here’s how to find your Zen in 3 common blood-pressure-raising scenarios.
Situation: Your Aunt Ruth is espousing some seriously questionable political beliefs during your holiday feast
The one-minute stress-buster: Play “opposite actions.” This could also be called an exercise in taking the high road. “You’re thinking of your emotion: What’s anger telling me right now? What’s frustration telling me to do right now? Then pick something that’s the opposite” to focus on instead, explains Bragg. For example: “My frustration is telling me to tell the person off or defend myself; the opposite action would be to smile and nod.” Or, to calmly excuse yourself. Bragg cautions that this particular approach can be difficult, but can also reap big rewards: “They’re trying to push my buttons, so I’m going to see if I can push their buttons in a positive way.” (Of course, smiling and nodding works best if you’ve been asked to keep the peace. But if you can call Aunt Ruth out on her politics without getting side eye from your mom, have at it.)
Situation: Your endless to-do list coupled with all the social engagements on your calendar is leaving you frazzled and feeling like a failure
The one-minute stress-buster: Make a priority chart. Whereas a to-do list lumps all your responsibilities into a big, messy pile, a priority chart helps you tackle the most pressing tasks first, letting your brain focus on problem-solving rather than constant priority-sorting. Bragg uses just such a chart to keep herself organized: “It’s horizontal, so the left side is for high priority, middle column is middle priority, and the right side is low priority. I use Post-its and I’ll jot one task on each Post-it; that way you can move them around. It’s amazing how when we have a list it can seem overwhelming—we don’t know how to start. But if you have a chart, you can move left to right and you have your starting point.” And your endpoint will hopefully be close behind—sans stress.
Situation: You’re at the mall feeling ragey about the long lines and rude sales associates
The one-minute stress-buster: ABC mindfulness. This technique will “give your brain something to chew on so it doesn’t ruminate on the chaos around it,” says Bragg. Begin by picking a category: food, animals, cities. Then cycle through the alphabet, essentially playing a solo version of Scattergories. “If you think of food: A, asparagus; B, broccoli; C, cookies; D, donuts. It’s a great way to take yourself out of your own head.” If that requires just a bit too much mental focus, Bragg also suggests color-breathing: Visualizing yourself inhaling a crisp cool color like blue or green and exhaling a fiery warm hue like red or orange.
For next-level stress relief, find the best way to conquer anxiety according to your Myers-Briggs type. And then cut this word from your vocabulary for good.