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December 19, 2016

Having a Happy Holiday Season, Therapeutically Speaking

Ironically, the holiday season is a very stressful time of year. Although stress is not necessarily unavoidable, there certainly is a way to tolerate it effectively. Here are some key therapeutic tips to ensure you can have a holly jolly holiday!

Mindfulness: Square Breathing
It is important to be aware of what is happening to your breathing when you’re stressed, anxious, upset, etc. Your body is tense so your breathing becomes shallow. Either, you’re holding your breath more often or your breathing too quickly (hyperventilating) so you’re not breathing effectively. Square breathing helps you to take long, slow, deep breaths which helps reduce tension in your muscles, allowing more oxygen to get to the brain which will help you think more clearly in a state of distress. By incorporating square breathing in your day, you will feel calmer afterward. The purpose is to allow oxygen flowing to your brain so you do not remain in a state of distress and can think more effectively how to address your stress.

Here’s what it looks like:

1. Breathe in (inhale) counting 1-4 in your head.
2. Hold your breath counting 1-4 in your head.
3. Breathe out (exhale) counting 1-4 in your head.
4. Practice this four times in one sitting and four times per day or more if needed.

Distress Tolerance: Self-Soothing
Learning to self-soothe is a great way to distract yourself from stress or when you’re having a bad day. The key in self-soothing is being aware that you need to do it in order to tolerate your stress more effectively. By utilizing your five senses of the body, you’ll find yourself feeling better because you’re allowing yourself to tolerate stress instead of allowing it to get the better of you and taking control. The five senses of the body are: Sight, Sound, Smell, Touch, and Taste.

Here are some examples of how you can use your five senses to distract yourself from stress:

Sight: Reading, watching your favorite Christmas movie (s), looking at pictures, Christmas photo cards, Star gazing at night

Sound: Listening to Christmas music, your favorite style of music (i.e. hip hop, pop, etc), using a sound machine to listen to nature sounds, rain, etc. Making yourself laugh, hearing others laugh (more on this below).

Smell: Your favorite fragrance, scented candles, essential oils, the smells of the season such as cinnamon, pine, nutmeg, your favorite smelling hand lotion.

Touch: Pets, rocks, fabric, hugging your loved ones, holding hands, your favorite smelling hand lotion.

Taste: (Be careful here!) favorite hard candies to suck on such as candy canes, comfort foods, Starbucks holiday flavored coffee (my favorite is Peppermint Mocha), etc.

Releasing Endorphins: Laughter
Research indicates laughter triggers the release of endorphins, our body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and happiness as well as can temporarily relieve pain. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies which improve your resistance to disease. Laughter also helps regulate the nervous system. In addition, you can burn calories from laughing! Even infants know how to laugh and can recognize a smile from birth. Therefore, laughter is not only therapeutic, it is great medicine! What a terrific way to ensure we stay physically healthy during a stressful time of year so we can maximize on holiday happenings.

Here’s a way to release endorphins:

If you find yourself stressed, anxious or upset….
1. Make yourself smile and stay this way for at least 10 seconds or longer until you find your body relaxing, which you should.If you’re around others, they will take note of your smile and most likely smile back or comment on it in a positive manner.
2. When you hear laughter, move towards it.
3. Seek out people who tend to laugh easily.
4. When you see people you know laughing, laugh along with them even if you have no idea what they’re laughing about.
5. Make yourself laugh out loud for at least 20 – 30 seconds. You can do this on your own, but doing it in front of others will be even more powerful. Your laughter will be contagious!!!

Learn more about Avance Care’s Behavioral Wellness and Counseling program!

Wishing you the happiest of holidays! 
Jeanie Chang, MA LMFTA

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