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Holiday scene: The snow is falling outside. A family can be seen through the window of a lovely home with a fire blazing in the fireplace. Christmas music is playing in the background, family and friends are gathering around the dinner table with smiling faces. There is a feeling of holiday joy and peace.

During the holidays, it’s important to remember the need for stress management and self-care

Cut to another reality: It’s the holiday season and many people are struggling with the loss of a loved one, loneliness and isolation or the stress of financial burdens. Others may feel overwhelmed and anxious with the added pressures of gift giving, visiting relatives or just missing family and friends.

If you are feeling stressed about the holidays you are not alone.

Remember Self-Care

During the holidays, it’s important to remember the need for stress management and self-care. At Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, we recommend a practice that includes a daily routine of gentle yoga, breathing, relaxation, meditation and imagery. These practices can have a powerful effect on how you react and respond to stress.

Multiple studies in the last decade, including research conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, the Medical Director of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, have found that daily stress management practices, including yoga and relaxation, have demonstrated a reduction in stress in addition to reducing risk to heart disease.

Five 3-Minute Stress Management Techniques

1.Gentle Movements

These will help you to stay centered and grounded. They allow you to listen closely to your body so you don’t push yourself past what is healthy. These movements can help to relieve tensions that build up in your body.

Practice now:

  • Sit in a chair and let your arms rest down along side your body.
  • As you inhale, squeeze your shoulders up next to your ears.
  • As you exhale, drop them and let go of a loud sigh through your mouth.
  • Do this 3 to 5 times and then roll your shoulders slowly and gently in both directions. Close your eyes and relax deeply. Imagine all the tensions in your shoulders exiting through your fingertips.
  • Allow the weight of the world (and the holidays) to be lifted off your shoulders.

2. Breathing

Slow and smooth breathing can pacify the nervous system and calm the mind. Just a few full deep breaths in the right moment can help to up regulate the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the relaxation response). A 2005 study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that yogic breathing can balance the autonomic nervous system, and can therefore alleviate anxiety, depression, everyday stress, post-traumatic stress and stress-related medical illnesses. Breathing will return you to a more balanced and peaceful state of being.

Practice now:

  • Sit in a chair or lie on the floor.
  • Begin to exhale and let all the air out of your lungs.
  • As you inhale, expand your abdomen, and then expand the ribs and then your chest.
  • As you exhale contract your chest, then your ribs and then your abdomen.
  • Lightly squeeze your abdominal muscles to release all of the air from your lower lungs.
  •  Repeat.
  • Practice 3 to 5 of these complete yogic breaths.
  • Let your breath return to normal.

 3. Relaxation

This practice powers down your body and mind and allows you to reboot your entire system. A 2009 study by researchers published in the Minnesota Medicine Journal outlined the various molecular and physical effects of relaxation practices, including lowering blood pressure. This practice will give you the rest you need in times of stress.

Practice now:

  • Sit or lie down. Gently close your eyes.
  • Imagine sending a wave of relaxation over your body from top to toe each time you exhale.
  • Imagine peeling away another layer of tension with every breath.
  • Feel yourself relaxing deeper.
  • After several breaths, imagine your body powering down just like your computer or phone. As if the whole body is going to sleep while the mind stays awake and alert but deeply relaxed. Rest in this deep state for a couple of minutes. Allow yourself to emerge as if you have slept for hours.

4. Meditation

Multiple studies now show that meditation improves our ability to concentrate and focus. For example, a 2004 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology found that caregivers to patients with dementia felt more effective and less anxious and depressed after participating in a yoga and meditation program.  It alleviates mental fatigue and can help you shift your response to stressful situations. 

Practice now:

  • Sit quietly in a chair or on the floor.
  • Gently close your eyes.
  • Let your attention rest in your heart. Breathe as if your heart is breathing.
  • As you exhale slowly, internally repeat the word “calm” as if your heart were speaking it.
  • Repeating this over and over as you exhale.
  • If the mind wanders, shift back to your heart and the word “calm.”
  • After a few minutes, slowly open your eyes.
  • Return to this practice as needed throughout the day.


Picturing what you want and how you want to feel allows you to imagine a positive outcome. A study published in the American Journal of Nursing found that imagery encouraged patients’ healing process and improved their sense of autonomy in relation to the management of their disease. Imagery lets you see past your stress to a more productive and peaceful resolution.

Practice now:

  • Close your eyes and settle in your own body for a moment.
  • Begin to reflect on a stressful situation you are experiencing.
  • Now imagine a positive outcome.
  • Begin to affirm the steps to creating this specific positive outcome.
  • Now see it in your mind’s eye as if it were already so.
  • Let the image dissolve into every fiber of your being.
  • Allow yourself to relax into the positive feeling and positive outcome you have created.

This holiday season when you are feeling the impact of stress, try these helpful 3- minute practices to care for yourself and regain your balance.

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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