When Clark Griswold gets a disappointing holiday bonus in the cult classic film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it’s just the beginning of a stressful holiday season.

There’s a near-death experience with a log truck. A power surge nearly burns down the house. The holiday-dinner turkey is a disaster.  A killer squirrel and rabid dog tear the house apart. There’s a sewer line explosion, and more stressed-out extended family moments.

Does that sound anything like the holidays mixed with COVID-19?

If you’re feeling a little stressed out during the holidays, you’re not alone. Left unchecked, holiday stress can lead to overeating, weight gain, depression, anxiety, too much alcohol and other problems. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Here are some healthy and easy ways to beat holiday stress:

1. Breathe deeply. Take a deep breath. Inhale and fill your lungs with air. Hold it for about 5 seconds. Then puff up your Man breathing deeplycheeks and exhale, blowing all the air out your mouth forcefully. Just a few breaths can improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. But a daily breathing practice of 10-20 minutes is even better.[1]

2. Meditate. Stop multi-tasking, and calm your body and mind. That’s the foundation of meditation. Research shows that mindfulness and meditation can reduce stress and anxiety.[2] And it’s no secret that’s needed during the holidays. Not sure how to create a meditation practice? There’s lots of free guided meditations online.

3. Exercise. It’s usually one of the first things to go during the holidays when your schedule gets packed with other things. But exercise may be one of the most important things to check off your to-do list to reduce stress. Research shows that regular exercise may be as effective as medication for mild depression and anxiety.[3] Aim for at least 30 minutes a day. Pick an activity you enjoy like walking, jogging, running, lifting weights, or swimming.

4. Practice gratitude. What if you spent more time during the holidays thinking about what you’re grateful for…instead of what you want, what’s missing, or problems you have. Research suggests, you’ll feel better, be happier, and ever reduce your risk for chronic diseases.[4] One of the easiest ways to do this…keep a journal. Write down 3 to 5 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Help others. It’s the least obvious way to reduce stress during the holidays. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense. If you’re already stressed out and short on time, won’t taking time out of your schedule to help other only make things work. It turns out, that’s not the case, according to a recent study.[5]

“Our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days,” says Yale University researcher Dr. Emily Ansell.

If you want to keep stress levels under control during the holidays, make time for these activities to beat. Healthy eating and adequate sleep will help, too. You’ll feel better. And the holidays will be a little brighter.

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