Self Care

Less Stress Holiday Season Part 2

November 8, 2022

Mindset Advice and Tips for the High Stress Moments.

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Last week we covered the baseline habits for helping manage stress in your life, especially around the holiday season. Read the whole thing here but if you want the cliff notes version I’ll just say this… hydrate.

Today the focus for less stress is the mindset side of it. My kids are home at the moment and I can hear the four year old tooting away on the toy recorder and even my noise cancelling air pods aren’t cutting it. I might have to put those new over the ear air pods on my Christmas list.

That leads me into tip number 1 for a less stress mindset…

Binaural Beats/LoFi Chill Music

Binaural beats in the alpha frequencies (8 to 13 Hz) are thought to encourage relaxation, promote positivity, and decrease anxiety. Binaural beats in the lower beta frequencies (14 to 30 Hz) have been linked to increased concentration and alertness, problem solving, and improved memory. (source)

I have the Asana Rebel app and there is a playlist called “Chill Beats” and it is quickly becoming my work time playlist. Because my work consists mostly of sitting at my computer and writing I can pop my headphones in and let the playlist run for an hour before I take a bounce break (see tip number 2 below).

Spotify or Pandora have Binaural Beats or LoFi Chill Music playlists/stations that you can tune in to. Play one anytime you can feel yourself getting overwhelmed or when you need to focus on a task. A repetitive playlist will do the same thing – like a movie soundtrack or album. Your brain is able to predict what is coming so it actually uses less mental energy on the listening task which frees up space for your brain to do other tasks.

Repetition also gives us a sense of control which can be relaxing when we’re juggling all the extra holiday everything.

Bouncing/Rebounding

Rebounding is the water cooler term for an adult bouncing on a mini trampoline in the middle of the day.

The action causes large muscle groups in the body to contract and relax repeatedly. When this happens, the brain gets a signal from the body that it’s time to release neurotransmitters that can cause you to feel more alert. Boosts confidence. It’s an empowering feeling to fly through the air on a rebounder. (source)

If I had a much bigger home with a giant home office space I would have a little mini trampoline set up in that room. Along with alllllll my Beautycounter products (they’re just so dang pretty to look at and having all the makeup out makes me feel like an actress who has someone to do her makeup for her).

But alas my vintage secretary desk sits nicely in the corner of our dining room so I don’t have room for a mini trampoline. What I do instead is little bounces like a tennis player waiting to receive a serve. Up on my toes, arms loose and shaking out. A few neck rolls. I aim to do this every hour while I’m working but it’s so easy to do it anytime.

Here are a few times when out-and-about that I’d bounce:

  • Just found a parking space on Saturday at Costco (or a good one if you live in the suburbs and the parking lot is ginormous)
  • Just found a parking space at Trader Joes.
  • While cooking dinner (and the kids ask when dinner is for the 900th time)
  • Waiting in line at the grocery store (knowing the total is going to be 4-8% higher than usual)
  • Waiting in line at the post office/shipping store. (knowing the return in my hand is already almost late)
  • Before, during and after a spending/budget discussion with your spouse.

Vagus Nerve Stimulation

If bouncing up and down in line at the grocery store isn’t your scene you can opt instead for Vagus Nerve Stimulation.

Let’s back up. The vagus nerve is one of our 12 cranial nerves. They come in pairs and help link the brain with other areas of the body, such as the head, neck, and torso. They’re numbered in Roman Numerals so we can also call the vagus nerve, cranial nerve X or the pneumogastric nerve. This puppy is responsible for various internal organ functions, including:

  • digestion
  • heart rate
  • breathing
  • cardiovascular activity
  • reflex actions, such as coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and vomiting

It plays a role in the autonomic nervous system, which controls actions people do unconsciously, such as breathing and digestion. It may also form a link between the gut and the brain, playing a role in what scientists call the gut-brain axis.

The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat and because it helps to regulate breathing taking deep belly breathes is one way to trigger it. By taking deliberate slow breaths (some ideas below) you are signaling to the vagus nerve that you’re chilling out which it then translates to the rest of your system that it’s time to chill out. Heart rate will drop, digestion will resume (did you know that the flight, fight, freeze or fawn response stops digestion and other bodily functions so you can put all that energy into survival? “Rest and digest” is when those functions return, including the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that helps organize emotional reactions.)

Deep breathing isn’t the only way to stimulate the vagus nerve. Singing, talking and laughter can do it too.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Karaoke.

Who’s with me?

Deep Breathing/Breath Work

If you’re my “Hi, I’ve been living under a rock for years” person allow me to bring you up to speed… Deliberate, deep breaths reduces stress.

It is as easy as in through your nose, out through your mouth.

Why? Well breathing through your nose helps your lungs be more efficient in absorbing oxygen. It also activates the lower part of the lungs when we are doing deep breathing exercises. Breathing through your nose also serves as an aerobic exercise for your lungs to help them function from 80% to 100%.

Breathing is best done through your nose when you’re at rest (it keeps you more hydrated and the nose filters out dust and allergens too). Exhaling through your mouth can have a cooling sensation for your body and it can also stimulate the vagus nerve if you direct the air out in a HAAA like you’re fogging up the car window on the way to Grandma’s.

Breathing out through the nose can help you to focus.

And there are TONS of ways to go about breath work. My favorite is the in-for-5, out-for-5 breath. Count to five while breathing in through the nose and count to five while breathing out through the nose. Then right away again in for five, out for five.

Doc teaches Ted Lasso the 4-7-8 breathing technique. In for 4, hold for 7, out for 8.

Alternate nostril breathing is popular too. (This is how you do it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l11qFpRqhIQ (this is how you do it))

That whole video was so relaxing. I’ll be back in a few mins 🙂

Be Present

Think of watching a kid open a gift and the pure unadulterated joy they exhibit. I know in about 1.23 seconds they’ll be reaching for the next box to open but while they’re in the moment of opening they’re all in.

They’re present.

Our brain actually likes to create problems for us to solve. But if we try to do one thing at a time and not ruminate on what might happen, instead dealing with things as they come, we’ll end up feeling a lot less stressed.

Michael Jordan famously said “Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken?” in other words – why worry about the timing of the Thanksgiving meal when you haven’t cooked it yet.

(although, my recommendation is to cater the whole thing… it’ll really reduce your stress level on the day)

When you’re with the people you love… just BE there. I know it is tough. I know the plans and what needs to happen with the chores and getting the costumes for the winter performance creep in. What I tell myself is this:

“Oh HI Worry-About-Having-the-Stocking-Stuffers-Purchased-in-Time. Thanks for showing up. I’d like to actually spend today decorating the tree with my family so I’ll deal with you tomorrow when I sit down to organize some other things. Bye.”

It’s almost like a rushing someone off the phone.

Which you should also put away. It immediately zaps you from the present every time you pick it up! I am active on social media but I am not constantly on Instagram. I take my photos sometimes days in advance, draft the caption in my notes app and then I set aside time to be on the app and to post.

Be A Perfectionish

Anyone else out there a textbook perfectionist? We should have meetings where we get to present perfectly arranged cheese boards and desserts and then talk about how things didn’t go according to the impossible standard plan we dreamt up in our heads and how we reacted. 

Well the first step is admitting there’s a problem so Hi, I’m Erin and I’m a recovering Perfectionist. 

Perfection isn’t something I strive for as ardently as before. I still have high standards when I am producing something but a lot of imperfectionist progress came during COVID Lockdowns. When we all needed to stay home in March I was far too focused on the pandemic to care about being perfect. In April and May I was far too focused on homeschooling and navigating the social-emotional journey we were all on to care about being perfect. In June we got to move and I was far too focused on getting the house set up to care about being perfect. In July and August I was far too focused on getting outside as much as possible to care about being perfect.

In September and October with more time spent inside I began to feel the anxiety and pressure of maintaining perfection again. I was irritable. I was moody. I was too focused on all the wrong things. 
It was about then that another Pandemic Life silver lining came to light.

Our household is much better at our “Oh Well” statements.  

Instacart shopper bought parsley instead of cilantro? Oh well… that’s annoying. These tacos will have a mediterranean flair.  

The glass kitchenaid mixer bowl fell out of the cabinet and broke? Oh well… that was surprising. These things happen.

That 1,000 piece impressionist painting puzzle is basically impossible to complete? Oh well… that’s almost infuriating. Time to pass it off to a friend and ask them how frustrated they are in two weeks! 
(shout out to Katy for lending me that puzzle and only telling me 6 weeks later that she’s never completed it and to Meghan who is letting it live on her kitchen table while her husband and nanny do their best)

Anyways, “Oh well” comes in pretty handy.

Especially with young kids around and you can be accused of treason for cutting their sandwich the wrong way.

I make use of my “oh well” statement a lot.

“My son, who is wearing torn sweatpants and a 4th of July t-shirt is covered in butter from his noodles at lunch before the pictures with fancy Bloomingdale’s Santa… oh well.” (the photographer did an excellent job of hiding him behind his sister for that photo)

“The catered turkey is taking longer to warm up than I had planned and everyone is sitting around the table waiting… oh well.” (they can wait. or eat salad)

It takes a lot of mental energy for me to get to that place of acceptance. I have people pleasing and perfectionist tendencies and have piled a lot of my self worth into what other’s think of me. I feel like therapy and self care in the last five years has helped me to tip the scales to putting my self worth in my own hands but the holidays and family dynamics can be turbulent.

I’ll also be journaling, meditating, reading romance novels and taking baths to help me keep my mental health strong during the holidays.

If you haven’t yet, swing back to Part 1 of the Stress Less trilogy and get excited for Part 3 next. I’ll be sharing the actual tactical things I do to help me manage stress.

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