5 easy ways to relieve holiday stress

Is holiday stress wreaking havoc on your nerves? These useful tips will teach you to destress by tuning into your senses to achieve complete bliss.

By Astrid Van Den Broek

Easy ways to relieve holiday stress
©iStockphoto.com/Foremniakowski
Whenever Michele-Renee Charbonneau needs to ease her stress around the holiday, she steps into her sewing studio, sits down at her white Bernina Aurora 440 QE sewing machine, turns on an audiobook and works on patching together a quilt. Her sewing space is a place where the machine’s comforting hum, the book’s gentle cadence and the fabric’s texture can soothe the mind of this mom of three young boys.

"It's like all the stresses and cares just slip away," says Michele-Renee, who lives in Ottawa. "All I have to do is touch the fabric, sew a seam, finish a block and I feel bliss."

While there are many tried-and-true stress-relieving techniques out there, Michele-Renee has tapped into one key secret: You can call on your five senses to ease this season's pressures. While her stress-reliever involves the sounds and textures of sewing, you can tap into the power of tasting, hearing, smelling, seeing and touching to – almost in an instant – get through the harried holidays.

1. Enjoy the power of positive touch

Touch a tennis ball. No, reaching out for the ball itself won’t relieve your stress, but rolling it under your foot or between your upper back and a wall offers a sense of relief from tight muscles. (Better yet, persuade a family member or friend to give you a quick shoulder, temple or foot rub.)

"It’s the power of positive touch," says Dennis Caouette, a registered massage therapist in New Westminster, B.C. "Research shows that massage therapy helps release specific hormones into the body that are connected to relaxation. As massage is performed, it affects the nervous system, which in turn affects your blood pressure and the release of hormones. So it has an effect on the neurological system, the circulatory system and hormone levels."

2. Drink soothing cups of tea

Taste a cup of black tea, says Gina Sunderland, a registered dietitian in Winnipeg. Tea leaves are full of L-theanine, a unique amino acid. "L-theanine has been found to change brain-wave function in areas of the brain responsible for calmness," says Sunderland. "L-theanine is also thought to actually improve mental functioning and concentration while calming us."

Try a mandarin orange or handful of frozen blueberries, strawberries or raspberries. "These foods are all high in vitamin C, which has been found to naturally lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress and inflammation," says Sunderland. You could also nosh on calming fare such as whole grain bread and pasta. The complex carbohydrates found in these foods boost your serotonin, which helps people relax and even sleep better. "Research shows that common foods we enjoy can actually help calm us," adds Sunderland.

The cortisol conundrum: Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by our adrenal glands when we’re under stress. "Cortisol activates our fight-or-flight reaction, or sympathetic nervous system response," says Bronwyn Hill, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. "This causes the release of sugars into the blood, increases heart rate and breathing, and suppresses inflammation and immune system activity. It also gives our mental faculties a temporary boost."

Cortisol is also volatile, says Hill, meaning it can spike and plummet rapidly. Relieving stress is one way to lower your cortisol levels, which in turn lowers that buzz or pressure that comes with worry and tension.

Chronic stress triggers longer periods of elevated cortisol; persistently elevated cortisol is a factor in developing conditions such as hypertension, hypothyroidism and insulin resistance, which can lead to excess belly fat.


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