My 10 Essential Holiday Stress Melters

“When you practice extreme self-care and put yourself first, you are then fully available to others without resentment or anger.”

– Cheryl Richardson

‘Tis the season we’re supposed to enjoy time gathering and celebrating with family and friends. But, given the ongoing viral threats of COVID, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and flu, traumatic world events, plus all the added expectations, anxieties, and stressors of isolation, travel, gift-giving, and finishing year-end projects, these holidays may be anything but relaxing. When you are also dealing with the emotional pain of lingering grief, the season can be bittersweet or downright sad. Having a tool kit of free and easy stress-melters can make a sad season more bearable and even festive.

My mom loved Christmas: decorating the tree, singing carols (especially after a little eggnog), and giving the right book to loved ones. We had so much fun giggling, cooking, and singing along with “Jingle Bell Rock”. Mom died just before the holidays in 2013 and while I went through a deep and full grieving process, it’s still hard to celebrate the season without her.

Still, I am able to enjoy the holidays by honoring her spirit and tending to my own emotional wellbeing. I wanted to share the top things I do to take care of myself year-round and particularly during stressful times and the holidays. My hope is that you might find one or two things that you can adopt to melt stress and lighten your mood. Good news that each is simple, pretty quick, and free.

These are my ten essential stress-melters:

Breathe deeply and slooooowly

The fastest path to relaxation may be right under your nose: conscious breathing, as in just five slow and deep belly breaths. The tough part is remembering to do it, so find an anchor that works for you. My anchors include when I start meditating and before I fall asleep. I also do “4-16-8 breathing” where I breathe in for 4 count, hold for 16, and exhale for at least 8. Any way you choose to breathe deeply and consciously in through your nose is a tranquilizer for the nervous system.

Belly laugh

When I was struck with MS at 19 and I was numb from the neck down for six weeks, a family friend gave me Norman Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness in which he recounts healing from a mysterious autoimmune illness with high doses of vitamin C and laughter. My parents and I adopted the laughter strategy and spent evenings watching sitcoms, I Love Lucy and Cheers, all in an effort to reduce fear and uncertainty. It helped! Laughing causes a release of feel-good endorphins, which also relieve pain and may improve immune function, new research indicates.1 OK, having a friend to laugh with is best, but I still love belly laughing at silly stuff like America’s Funniest Home Videos, even when I’m home alone.

Go for a hike

No matter the weather, I prioritize getting out for a hike or a long walk in nature. Research confirms that spending time in nature has a long list of health benefits including decreased feelings of depression and anxiety, and increased feelings of self-esteem and compassion.2 I love doing “walk ‘n talks” with girlfriends locally, or with a faraway friend who is walking at the same time and also using a phone with earphones. It feels nourishing and uplifting to connect with a good friend in nature.

Take a bath

About half the population is deficient in magnesium, the calming mineral that’s involved in 600 bodily functions, including energy creation, improved sleep, and blood sugar regulation.3 In addition to taking supplemental magnesium, I eat foods high in magnesium like leafy greens, broccoli, cacao nibs, and avocados, and I take hot Epsom salts baths to soak in magnesium sulfate and a few drops of calming organic lavender essential oil.

Meditate — even for 5 minutes

Even though the science is definitely in on meditation: decreases stress, anxiety, depression, increases resilience and empathy, and it increases the size of your brain!4 etc. this one did not come easily to me. But, with intention and practice, I have finally found what works for me: I use a mantra and sit for 20 minutes at least once a day, usually first thing in the morning. Adding to that I use a Muse device to track how calm I am during each meditation. Bluetooth technology and neurofeedback of birds chirping in my ears let me know I’m calm, whereas crashing waves tells me my mind is active. What’s cool about Muse is that it’s helped train my brain to be calmer and “win more birds” with practice. Give meditation a try – even for 5 minutes. Don’t think you have 5? Start with 1.

Tap it out

For me, tapping is one of the best and fastest stress-relieving tools. Just tapping strategic spots on my face while acknowledging my fears aloud helped me to deliver the eulogy for my mom with more grace and peace. Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Rick Leskowitz, calls Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or “Tapping,” “the most impressive intervention I’ve encountered in 25 years of work.”5 Tapping seems to work by addressing anxiety and stress at the source by changing your brain chemistry and altering neural pathways. Check out the footnote above to watch four war veterans overcome PTSD; and watch EFT videos with Brad Yates or Julie Schiffman to learn how to tap out stress, grief or anxiety in less than 10 minutes.

Forgive everyone

Studies show that forgiveness can lead to huge health rewards including: lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; reducing pain, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.6 My favorite forgiveness practice is a short but powerful ancient Hawaiian prayer called Ho’oponopono: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you. Just saying the four lines – in any order – when thinking about people I love, and even more importantly when thinking about those I have trouble with, melts my heart. And that heart melting openness is the path to forgiveness, which is so healing. I make sure to include the prayer for myself!

Hug yourself

I love the stress-melting effect of hugs. Science confirms that hugging boosts the immune system, decreases stress, and even improves heart health.7 8 Aim for 3 hugs a day. Animals count too. You’ll get bathed in oxytocin, called the “elixir of health” by Dr. Kelly Turner, Ph.D. & author of Radical Remission. Don’t have a partner or pet? Hug yourself. Seriously.

Reach out

We are social creatures and we are not meant to be isolated. Science shows that social isolation — even feeling alone — can be more harmful than smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. 9 On the other hand, social connection improves immune function, helps speed healing, and even increases longevity. And the good news is you don’t need a big network or lots of friends. The benefits of social connection come when you feel connected. Who could you reach out to today? Chances are you’ll be helping yourself and the other person.

Honor your grief

When I was growing up, if I ever got sad and cried, my dad would tell me to stop crying. He might even tell me that other people had it worse than me, which hardly made me feel better; especially when I felt grief about the loss of a relationship. As I got older I realized that grief is normal and healthy and that my dad’s lack of empathy was not a skillful response. I’ll be honoring my mom by cooking, decorating, and singing Jingle Bell Rock loudly. Give yourself permission to cry, laugh, enjoy yourself, mourn, and honor your grief. Most of all, give yourself compassion.

Which stress-melting practice resonates with you? The one that works will be the one you actually do. So what will you do for yourself today? That’s a gift you can give yourself to elevate your mood any time of year. And when you elevate your own mood, chances are good that you’ll lift other people’s spirits, and that’s a gift for everyone.

Take good care!

P.S: Want my help reversing an autoimmune condition?

If you live in the continental U.S. and are ready, willing, and able to invest in your best health, I offer Functional Medicine Total Health Transformation Programs over Zoom in collaboration with a skilled naturopathic doctor (ND). Get on my calendar for a free 30-minute discovery call.

Image Credit: Harishan Kobalasingam
1 Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke, Mayo Clinic, Reference
2 Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation, Bratman, G., et. al., Current Issue > vol. 112 no. 28 > Gregory N. Bratman, 8567–8572, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510459112, Reference
3 Reference
4 Benefits of Meditation: 10 Science-Based Reasons To Start Meditating Today INFOGRAPHIC, Emma Seppala, Ph.D, Reference
5 Trauma Update: On The ‘Tipping Point For Tapping’ Therapy, Boston’s NPR Station: Reference
6 Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Reference
7 Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness, Cohen, S., et. al., Psychological Science, Reference
8 10 Science-Based Health Benefits of Hugging, David “Avocado” Wolfe, Reference
9 Reference




Recent Posts



Beat Autoimmune
#1 Amazon Bestseller

This comprehensive book is the first to explore all six of the critical lifestyle factors that are the root causes of autoimmune conditions – and the sources of regaining health. Foreword by Mark Hyman, MD

Download the Eat to Beat Autoimmune Optimal Food Guide and Stay Connected

Author picture

Palmer is a certified Functional Medicine Health Coach who has helped thousands of people reverse autoimmune conditions based on her own two-decade battle to successfully beat multiple sclerosis (MS). She’s the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling book, Beat Autoimmune, which has a powerful foreword by Functional Medicine pioneer, Mark Hyman, MD.

About Palmer