Newswise — For many, the holidays are affectionately considered the most wonderful time of the year. But for some, the stress of the season can simply be too much to bear.

Let’s face it: no matter what camp you’re in, the holidays can be heavy. From holiday shopping and travel to countless gatherings with friends and co-workers, family dinners, or thoughts of loved ones not with us this year, these months can make even the most jolly among us feel a little frazzled.

But there are a few tips and techniques you can employ right now to keep holiday stress in check.

We caught up with Anne Weisman, director of well-being and integrative medicine with UNLV’s Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine and faculty member with the international Center for Mind-Body Medicine. As a practitioner and educator, Weisman has spent more than a decade caring for patients in clinical settings. She’s now teaching future physicians, nurses, and other health care providers how to incorporate non-pharmacological techniques into patient care, and she’s delivering workshops to educators throughout the Las Vegas community.

According to Weisman, the pandemic has brought new interest in the important roles that mental health and wellness play in overall physical health. 

“Wellness as a concept has lived at a superficial level for so long, but COVID really dropped it into our laps in a big way,” Weisman says. “We’re now focused more than ever on what wellness really means, and what we’re doing to facilitate it. The pandemic opened our eyes to how interconnected we all are to each other and to what it means to feel well, to feel connected.”

Here, Weisman offers five techniques that anyone can do – at home, in the office, or even in the car – to reduce holiday stress, anxiety, and burnout and fill your own personal cup with a little holiday cheer.  

And best of all, they’re free.

Just Breathe

I love teaching this. It’s so simple, and so effective. It’s really the foundation for all of the techniques. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Just a few breaths can calm your nervous system, lower your blood pressure, and bring you out of that acute state of anxiety and into a more settled state.

Soft breathing calms the nervous system and naturally brings our bodies out of the “fight or flight” response that stress can bring. I like to use the words “soft belly” – soft on the inhale, belly on the exhale. But play with words that call to you. I encourage people to think of a word, energy, or intention – breathe that positive intention in, and exhale what you want to get rid of.

Shake it Off

Active meditation is so much fun, and it’s especially effective if you’re feeling rundown or overwhelmed. It’s as simple as shaking or dancing. The important thing to think about here is movement, so if you’re not into dancing or shaking around, take a walk if you’re able.

All vertebrates, when they’re spooked – think of your dog or cat – literally shake it off and move on. We’re no different. But we’re pretty sedentary. Active meditation gives people a way to shake off that extra energy. Listen to some music and dance! It may seem silly in the middle of a work day, but it forces you to move your body and let go for a moment. If you don’t dance, listen to music or get out in nature. Even something as simple as eating lunch outside can make a world of difference.

Focus on the Moment

One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to be where your feet are. Come into the present moment, feel the world around you. Life only happens one moment at a time.

Mindfulness means bringing our full attention or awareness to something. One of my favorite ways to do this is with food. After some soft breathing, find a bite-size snack and develop an origin story. Really think about it. In my group training, we talk about the food we selected, and what part of the body we are feeding right now. Is it our physical body (hunger), our emotional body (feeling), our mental body (rejuvenation)? Then we imagine where that food came from and all the processes it took for the food to get from its origin to our mouth.  

This technique engages all of the senses and does so in a slow, meditative way. It’s the antithesis of multitasking. It’s about bringing your focus on one thing at a time, which has an amazing calming influence.

Grab Some Crayons

Some techniques require a little more time and planning, but the benefits can be significant. Drawing is a vital part of our small group sessions and is an awesome way to access your subconscious.

Start by drawing yourself as you are right now. Take just a few minutes, and you can use crayons or markers, or even just a pen or pencil (though I strongly recommend using color). Next, draw yourself with your biggest issue or concern right now. Take a moment and reflect on this image. Finally, draw yourself with that issue resolved.

What many people discover with this simple and fun activity is that they’ve found their own way through their issues, and they’ve done so in a gentle and exploratory way. There are really no rules, which is fun.  This could be a good solo activity, but it’s great for families and even co-workers. You’ll be amazed to see similar themes emerge, bringing people together and helping us realize how similar we are.

Talk to Your Problem

Another technique is to imagine your stressor as an embodied thing, and have a dialogue with it. It can feel weird, but it works and it’s worth a try.

Start first with soft breathing, and then allow an issue, problem, or concern to come to you. Imagine that issue is an embodied thing sitting in a chair beside you. Then you talk to it, or write to it. Allow the dialogue to unfold. It’s a way to access our subconscious and really get underneath things happening in your own body. Then, take some deep breaths and move around. However you move, get your energy going. Find a way to replenish.

Bonus Tip: Divide and Conquer

There are so many things going on in our heads, and in our lives, and tackling the issues in our lives can feel overwhelming.

One way to remind yourself about these techniques is to use a physical cue to remind yourself to employ the techniques. It could be entering the garage when you get home from work. Or as you’re walking through the doors at work. Think about what you’re carrying with you, and what you need to leave behind. This extends to our own lives and our work lives. As you sit around the dinner table or conference table, check in with people. Talk about how you are right now, in the moment. Talk about what’s working well, and what isn’t. Then, pick just one issue you can remedy before the next time you meet. This seems so simple, but it’s so vital. 

The best thing about all of these techniques is that when my nervous system is settled, I can more easily connect with others. The more we can spread and share these techniques, the calmer and more connected we become. For me it’s the path forward.