The holiday season is a joyful time, but it can also be very stressful and busy. If you’re finding it difficult to embrace the Christmas cheer, it may be time to prioritize self-care. Here, we offer some simple strategies to keep you feeling merry and bright — even on your busiest days
Ease anxiety with pajama time.
If you struggle to unwind when the holidays are in full swing, going through your bedtime routine as soon as there’s a break in your evening instead of waiting until it’s time to hit the sack can instantly cut anxiety by up to 65 percent.
Scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston say taking five minutes to wash your face in warm, sudsy water, then putting on cozy pajamas and socks signals your parasympathetic nervous system to slow your heart rate, reduce blood pressure and tame stress hormone release. Bonus: You’ll cut insomnia risk by 67 percent.
Chaga tea boosts energy.
The season’s get-togethers — plus the planning, cleaning, and cooking that go along with them — double your risk of feeling run-down. But research in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests sipping 12 ounces of chaga tea daily can boost your energy and stamina by 35 percent — without disrupting sleep the way an extra dose of coffee can.
This mushroom extract has an earthy, almost coffee-like flavor and is rich in polysaccharides that gently stimulate the central nervous system and encourage your liver to burn food for energy.
Sniff peppermint to banish belly woes.
Later meals, heavier fare, and on-the-go eating are common over the holidays — and they trigger bloat and indigestion for 60 percent of us! A tummysoothing Rx: Inhale the aroma of peppermint for 60 seconds before each meal.
Canadian researchers say the mint’s volatile oils prompt the release of digestive enzymes, plus calm the brain’s anxiety center to slow eating and reduce air swallowing. No wonder smelling this familiar aroma wards off tummy mishaps for two in three women studied — plus cuts symptoms by 50 percent if they do flare.
Ear massages cure crankiness.
Holiday busyness, disrupted routines and lack of “me time” can make us edgy and irritable, but taking two minutes to firmly massage your ears (start at the highest point and work slowly down to the lobes) will help you feel 45 percent calmer and cheerier for 90 minutes. The reason? University of Miami researchers say stimulating acupressure points in your ears encourages the release of mood-elevating endorphins.
Organize your lists to beat burnout.
We love seeing family and friends at this time of year, but social burnout can tax the nervous system, leaving you worn out for up to 24 hours afterward. To bounce back in record time — increasing your energy and alertness by 55 percent — carve out a few minutes of alone time to organize and rewrite your to-do lists.
Neurologist Daniel Amen, MD, says looking ahead and planning how to use your time stimulates your brain’s focus-enhancing prefrontal cortex.
Do stair stretches to fight aches and pains.
Now that we’re spending more time on our feet, our legs get achy. But scientists from the University of Connecticut say stair stretches cut the risk of leg swelling and soreness by 57 percent (by increasing blood flow).
Four times daily, stand on a stair with your heels hanging over the edge (hold the handrail for balance) and let your heels drop as far as they comfortably can; hold for 30 seconds, then stretch up onto your toes for two seconds. Repeat three times.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.