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Seven quick mindfulness techniques to help alleviate holiday stress

While most of us look forward to the holiday season, it can also be a major source of stress. We’ve borrowed several fast and easy mindfulness techniques you can use to help reduce stress when your “Ho-Ho-Ho!” turns into “Oh-No-No.”

  1. Recognize the signs. Knowing you’re stressed is the first step toward calm. Pay attention to what your body tells you when you’re stressed: Your heart races, your fists clench, your face flushes, you grit your teeth—we all have our own go-to fight-or-flight responses.

  2. Give your emotion a name. Are you angry? Afraid? Sad? Anxious? A UCLA study showed that attaching a label to an emotion lessens activity in the amygdala—the part of the brain that controls the fight-or-flight response—and helps you “hit the brakes” on that emotion.

  3. Breathe. “4-7-8 breathing” is a popular method for calming stress. (Some people also swear it helps them fall asleep.) To try it, place your tongue against the back of your top teeth and keep it there as you:

    - Exhale completely through your mouth with a whooshing sound, then close your lips.

    - Inhale silently through your nose to a count of four.

    - Hold your breath for a count of seven.

    - Exhale completely through your mouth with a whoosh to a count of eight.

    - Repeat three times. 

  1. Use a mantra. “This too shall pass.” “Happy place.” “It’s just one day.” Repeat any meaningful word, motto, prayer or saying to yourself mentally (or under your breath) until your heart rate evens out.

  2. Exercise. Some people take a walk or run when they’re stressed. Others scrub floors, fold laundry or stack wood. It doesn’t matter what exercise/chore you choose; the idea is to get your body moving and immerse yourself in the activity.

  3. Take 10. Sometimes you need to remove yourself from the scene and find a place to be alone for a few minutes. Your car, the bathroom, a supply room, even a closet can give you the space to bring your breathing back to normal.

  4. Notice five things. When your anxiety goes into overdrive, try this exercise to calm your mind by focusing on your environment instead of your racing thoughts. Take deep, regular breaths, look around you, and make a mental note of:

    - Five things you can see

    - Four things you can touch

    - Three things you can hear

    - Two things you can smell

    - One thing you can taste

 Don’t worry about doing these techniques the “right” way, because there isn’t one—it’s all about what works for you to ease your stress. Experiment with these exercises and hold on to the ones that work for you. And if you’d like to find more stress-busting ideas, simply Google “quick mindfulness techniques.”

Above all, don’t let stress ruin your holidays. Because darn it, you deserve your “Ho-Ho-Ho!” moments as much as anyone else. You’ve got this!