‘Tis the season we’re supposed to enjoy time relaxing with family and friends. But, given added expectations of gift-giving, shopping, traveling, cooking, and finishing up year-end projects, sometimes the holidays can be anything but relaxing. When you are also dealing with emotional upheaval like lingering grief, the season can be bittersweet or downright sad.  

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. My hope is that you might find one or two things that you can adopt to lighten your mood. Good news that each is simple, pretty quick and free.

Here are my eight essential stress-melters:

“Practicing regular, mindful breathing can be calming and energizing and can even help with stress-related health problems ranging from panic attacks to digestive disorders.”

– Andrew Weil, MD

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    Breathe deeply and slooooowly

    The fastest path to relaxation may be right under your nose: conscious breathing, as in just five slow, lower belly breaths. The tough part is remembering to do it, so find an anchor that works for you. My anchors include when I’m stopped at traffic lights and when I’m stuck in traffic. I also do “4-16-8 breathing” daily where I breathe in for 4 count, hold for 16, and exhale for at least 8. This breath-holding is a variation of the 4-7-8 breath favored by integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil who calls it the relaxing breath. Any way you choose is a tranquilizer for the nervous system.

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    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.1Stress relief from laughter? It’s no joke, Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456?pg=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.

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    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.2Nature 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, http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.abstract 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.

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    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.3https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2017/09/06/magnesium-deficiency-effects.aspx 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 organic lavender essential oil.

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    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!4Benefits of Meditation: 10 Science-Based Reasons To Start Meditating Today INFOGRAPHIC, Emma Seppala, Ph.D, http://www.emmaseppala.com/10-science-based-reasons-start-meditating-today-infographic/#.WFvz1LYrJ-U 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.

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    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.”5Trauma Update: On The ‘Tipping Point For Tapping’ Therapy, Boston’s NPR Station: http://commonhealth.legacy.wbur.org/2013/07/trauma-update-on-the-tipping-point-for-tapping-therapy 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.

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    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.6Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It, Johns Hopkins Medicine, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_connections/forgiveness-your-health-depends-on-it 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!

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    Hug more

    I love the stress-melting effect of hugs. Science confirms that hugging boosts the immune system, decreases stress, and even improves heart health.7Does Hugging Provide Stress-Buffering Social Support? A Study of Susceptibility to Upper Respiratory Infection and Illness, Cohen, S., et. al., Psychological Science, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614559284 810 Science-Based Health Benefits of Hugging, David “Avocado” Wolfe, https://www.davidwolfe.com/10-health-benefits-of-hugging/ 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.

Have you experienced links between stress and your autoimmune experience? 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. Before you go, please accept our FREE gift: Your Optimal Food Guide ebook, which can help you figure out which foods can help you reverse autoimmune conditions or just optimize your health.

p.s.s. And, if you are proactively seeking to heal from any autoimmune condition and want community, support and valuable information, please join our free, private Facebook group: Transcend Autoimmune.

For more science and strategies to deal with stress, check out Relax to Heal from Autoimmune Conditions.

Image Credit: Heidi Sandstrom. on Unsplash
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8 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for this useful article, Palmer. I can attest to your love of laughter. It’s one of the things I love about you! I think you forgot to put playing basketball on this list:)

  2. Hi Palmer! this is so great and so timely! I love the tapping video. Here is a virtual hug ME(((((YOU)))))ME. Hope that sparks some good oxytocin in both of us!!! I will still do my 3 real hugs!). Please give your husband my warm regards!! Have a safe and wonderful holiday!

  3. Dear Palmer,
    Thank you so much for your sharing. I had my first attack 2 weeks ago and very fortunately my neurologist diagnosed that I’ve got Asian form of MS named NMO. I must admit the way how the numbness developed was exactly same as yours in your teen. No one can understand how weird and scary it felt. I am now being treated by 2 very good neurologists in Hong Kong. But I am determined to change my lifestyle and diet so that I do not need to rely on medication for the rest of my life. Thanks to my god sister, she found your you-tube video, very encouraging. It gave me alternative outlook for my future. This is still the starting point for me. A lot to learn and digest. But thanks again for your sharing.

    • Hi Gabrielle,
      Thanks very much for reaching out. I’ve never heard of NMO, but I’m sorry you’ve had such weird and scary symptoms.
      I am so glad you found my video and that you feel hopeful. You’re right, there is lots to digest, but you can do it!
      Did you check out the science and blog posts on my website? http://www.beatautoimmune.com/about/
      Keep educating yourself and take good care!
      Palmer

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