Deck the Halls with Relaxation: Stress Management Activities

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With the holiday season approaching, we can easily become stressed and anxious! The holidays and end of the year can trigger painful memories, feelings of inadequacies, exhaustion, and worry! There are presents to buy, parties to attend, not to mention dealing with family members. While therapy helps to deal with the underlying causes of anxiety and stress, it can be helpful to have a few tools to deal with them in the moment.

When we become anxious or stressed, our brain activates the sympathetic nervous system, aka “fight or flight”, in which our heart starts racing to pump blood to our extremities, our chest hurts as we try to get out enough oxygen, our stomach hurts, our mind starts to race to find the potential threat, and a whole bunch of other physical, mental, and emotional symptoms as our bodies prepare for the “threat.” This happens even when it is a perceived threat not an actual attack. However, to our minds and bodies feel like it is very real in the moment, and it is very hard to turn that off!

However, there are activities that can help us to slow down the sympathetic nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When we can slow down the physiological symptoms of stress and anxiety, then we are better able to calm down and view the situation, thoughts, and feelings objectively and non-judgmentally. There are a ton of mindfulness activities to try to find one that fits with you! Some activities to start with are diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation techniques.

Diaphragmatic breathing focuses on breathing in a way that helps slow down your respiratory system in order to regulate your heart rate and rhythm. Progressive muscle relaxation helps to release tension in the body. An added benefit of leaving your physically calm is that it allows your mind to slow down and focus on something outside of what is causing the anxiety.

All of these exercises take a lot of practice. Just like you would not expect one time at the gym to get you in shape, it takes practice to help these exercises work properly. I would recommend trying to practice it a few minutes a couple of times a day especially when you are not feeling anxious or stressed. The more you practice the quicker and more easily it works! Below are some links to guided breathing and muscle relaxation techniques. You can even download some on your iPod, phone, etc.!

Breathing Exercises


Progressive Muscle Relaxation