By Lisa Reddy
The end of the year brings with it a multitude of stresses. From post-holiday dinners to chasing deadlines to catching up with family and friends, it’s no wonder so many burn out before the year is over. But there are ways to combat stress, leaving you refreshed and happy to start 2017.
Move your body
Sure, the weather may be frightful and that couch and Netflix oh-so delightful, but a quick jaunt or leisurely stroll around the block can do wonders, post-holiday dinner. An accessible activity, free of equipment, the benefits of walking are numerous: not only can you work off some of those extra holiday calories, but a few gulps of fresh air can also boost your immune system, Ather Ali, assistant director of Complementary/Alternative Medicine Research at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, told HEALTH.com.
Meeting up with a friend can help shave off a bit more stress, but if they’re too busy, the Running Room offers walking clinics all over Canada, from 5 km to marathon walking. Bryan Smith, the Running Room’s Toronto area manager, says these clinics not only offer clients a workout, but also a fun and engaging social environment.
“[While walking], folks are equals and their workout is their reason for attending and they are free to engage and talk about whatever,” he says. In turn, he explains, there is a psychological stress relief, which is especially important this time of the year.
Take a bath
A quick shower may be more time-efficient, but nothing eases a tough day (or a stressful family dinner) like a sudsy soak in the tub. For an added boost of stress relief, add a cup of Epsom salts, which, when absorbed through the skin, provide the body with magnesium, a mineral that reportedly not only soothes muscles, but also has a relaxing effect on the brain. A splash of therapeutic lavender or bergamot oil makes the whole experience more spa-worthy.
But if escaping your in-laws and cousins requires more than a shut door, try floatation therapy, where the user floats in salt water in an enclosed tank. With float studios located across Canada and the U.S., the practice, also known as sensory deprivation, has gained momentum and recognition over the past few years, as an effective stress reliever and immune booster.
As the year draws to a close and the nights quickly seep in, chances are your body is not absorbing quite as much vitamin D as it was in say, July. Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” a vitamin D supplement can offset some of the winter doldrums and mild depression found in the Northern Hemisphere. A diet rich in fatty fish and eggs may not require quite as much vitamin D, so check with your doctor first.
But there is another level to the vitamin D-stress relationship: chronic stress levels can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb vitamin D. According to Psychology Today, vitamin D is the only vitamin that acts as a hormone, affecting the genes that regulate immune function and the brain. Ultimately, managing stress levels through other means, such as diet and relaxation, will aid your ability to properly absorb and metabolize vitamins and nutrients.
Meditate and breathe
The thought of sitting and breathing deeply may seem like a waste of time at this busy time of the year, but taking a moment to relax and focus on your breath slows everything down.
“Meditation teaches us to connect to what is happening in the present moment and to start to let go of worry about the future and regrets about the past,” says Morgan Cowie, an instructor at Toronto’s Breathe Yoga Studio, which offers guided meditation and yoga classes.
Through meditation and practicing mindfulness, she says, we can change more than our outlook.
“[Meditation allows us to] trust ourselves more and we can find ease and acceptance rather than the all-too-human desire to control each element of our experience,” she says. “All of this results in lower stress levels and greater possibility for joy in simple but profound moments.”
Though the benefits of meditation are often scrutinized, there are reports that sitting quietly and focusing on the present for even a short amount of time can do wonders for stress, depression, and anxiety. A 2014 study published by the scientific journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that even 25 minutes a day of mindfulness, over a three-day period, had a profound effect on client reactions to stress.