4 Tips for a Better Holiday Season

The holiday season is here. For many the mere thought creates panic or an anxious state of mind. No one can promise that all will go smoothly and everyone (especially you) will be happy. There are things you can do to make the season easier, brighter and merrier. Check out these 4 Tips for a Better Holiday Season.

1.  Begin with Practicing Gratitude. 

Research shows that people who express gratitude can experience happiness that may last for up to a month! An experiment conducted by Robert Emmons Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at UC Davis, and author of The Little Book of Gratitude (2016); Gratitude Works! A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity (2013); Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier (2007); Words of Gratitude Mind Body & Soul (2001); and The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns: Motivation and Spirituality in Personality (1999); found that subjects who made a daily list of things they were grateful for showed higher levels of optimism and enthusiasm, exercised more regularly and made greater progress on personal goals.

This is powerful! I do this regularly only instead of making a list, I simply think about all that I am grateful for before I get out of bed in the morning. My day begins on a good note and I’m much more enthused and energetic. Compare this to waking up, groaning, and thinking about how much you don’t want to go to work, prepare for the holidays, begin cooking, go to a meeting, whatever it is you may dread. How do you feel if you think negatively first thing in the day? You are certainly not in a positive frame of mind. In fact, it’s beginning your day filled with negativity. You can change this. You can make a choice of what you think, what you are thankful for, and begin your day feeling good. Believe me you will be much more productive, engaged and happy.

2.  Breathe.

This may sound easy and perhaps not necessary to add since we all breathe everyday, all day. What I’m talking about is to stop…take a slow deep breath in through your nose and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat 3-5 times. Be completely in the present moment with your breath.

When you breathe like this you are turning on your parasympathetic nervous system.That is the part of you autonomic nervous system that slows down your heart rate and breathing, lowers your blood pressure, and sends extra blood to your stomach and intestines so your body can digest the food in your stomach. This is often called the rest/restore and digest response. It conserves energy and allows your body to restore itself and heal.

The parasympathetic nervous system balances the sympathetic nervous system which controls the body’s response to a perceived threat and is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. When you are stressed or anxious about the holidays or any event (traffic jams, a complaining customer or boss, cranky child) all trigger the autonomic nervous system and prepares your body for fight or flight. Now that is good when it is a true emergency. However, our busy lives, tight schedules, never ending tasks, unrealistic expectations of ourselves, and limiting self-beliefs keep the autonomic nervous system on. Our bodies are not meant to be in the agitated state chronically. That causes a lot of damage to our bodies and if not controlled, can lead to chronic illness. 

When you feel yourself stressed and anxious, you cannot always think clearly or be creative. You may be more prone to snapping at others and saying things you later wish never were said. Notice what is going on in your body and mind. Then….simply breathe slowly.

3.  Prioritize & Visualize.

Determine what is most important for you and your family for a happy holiday. Dig deeper….what is the feeling you want, what is really important? Write that down. Think about it. What about that is so important to you? What would you gain if your holiday was just that? What would you lose if your holiday was just that? In a few words write what is most important for a happy holiday. Keep that in you mind, post it on the refrigerator, your bathroom mirror, by your bed…anywhere and everywhere you will see it to remind yourself. Now close your eyes, breathe deeply, and visualize that holiday. Visualize what it will take to have the holiday you’ve always wanted. Feel that vision throughout your body. How does it make you feel? Where do you feel lightness? Notice where in your body you are relaxing. Let the tension fade away. Do this visualization everyday to keep it close and remind yourself.

Now compare that to your list of all the things you would normally do, or try to do. How does that make you feel? Notice the tension that may be starting in your body. Notice the thoughts you are having and how they are affecting your body. STOP! Now go back and visualize the holiday you really want and experience how that feels. Go to that list and cross off all the things you do not need to do if they don’t contribute to your best holiday. For example, baking all those cookies and pastries. Do you really enjoy doing that? If the answer is no, or you would if you really had the time, cross it off the list. Consider other options…only making 1-2 types of cookies, or buy them! Or maybe not have any at all. Have a healthier holiday.

Be ruthless with this list. Don’t think or expect yourself to do everything! It’s all not necessary or possibly even doable. Sometimes it really is the small things that matter. Simplify this holiday season and have time to actually enjoy it!

4.  Be Realistic.

This is a really important step to do. Truly be realistic in what you not only want for your holiday, but what is truly reasonable to do or have. For example, maybe you wish your mother could be there, but she passed away last year. She cannot be there. However, you could honor her memory at this time of year. Maybe share stories of past holidays with her with your family. Or perhaps you cannot get back to your family for the holidays this year. That is what you want most. Realistically, you cannot be there. Get creative. What can you do that still honors the traditions in your family? Or what can you do to start a new tradition…one that makes you feel good and smile?

Sometimes what is really the best is to simply be with your family and/or friends. What really matters is the quality time with them, not all the trappings of commercialism. Be there, truly there, in the present moment with them - that will make a beautiful holiday and memory.  

I strongly encourage you to find time for yourself. Be present, breathe, turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and relax. Simplify. Create space for yourself so you can be your best in all the holiday moments and those leading up to them.

Wishing you health, happiness & joy!

8 Surprising Ways to Get Your Mojo Back...Reenergize

Need to re-energizeLearn 8 simple tips that can help busy people reenergize during busy days. My life is great…I have the career I wanted, a supportive spouse, smart kids, two cars, but I am exhausted and not enjoying all that I have, let alone functioning at my best. Does this sound familiar?

 

Believe me, I’ve been there! My busy life is terrific, but I’ve gone through those times when I am not feeling wonderful, let alone healthy. This is a common experience among busy adults. We are up early and already feeling as if we are behind and tired. And, this is only the first 15 minutes of the day!

 

There is plenty of research out there that proves that as humans we can only really stay focused  and perform well for approximately 90 minutes. Then we need to seek restoration. Taking short focused breaks can help you get your mojo back. Turns out managing our energy is more important than managing our time!

 

If you want to feel you can perform at your best all day, achieve improved health, and feel greater happiness, then you need to manage your energy. This happens by increasing your energy capacity in four key areas: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

 

Rub the sleep from your eyes and take a deep breath. Here are some tips for getting your mojo back. Some may even sound counterintuitive - just try them!

 

  1. Go outside for 5-10 minutes. I can hear you now, “What? I don’t have time to go outside because I have got to do …..”  Just take five minutes, go outside and breathe deeply.
  2. Every 90 minutes, get up, move to a new place (outside is great) and get a change of scenery for a few minutes.
  3. Stand up and do some simple stretches.
  4. Set a timer every 60-90 minutes. If you tend to get “lost” in your work and lose track of time,  let the timer remind you it’s time to move, stretch, and breathe.
  5. Switch gears. If you are struggling to get a task done, stop and go do something different! When you come back, you will be amazed at how refreshed you are. Now try tackling that “difficult” task!
  6. Eat a healthy snack and drink water.
  7. Change “channels” mentally and emotionally.
  8. Tap into your deepest core values. What is most important to you? Create a sense of purpose in your life.

 

Try some of these for a week or two and notice what changes for you. I believe you will find that you actually begin to enjoy your life, your family, and your work more. You will increase your energy throughout the day and actually do a better job of whatever the task is at hand. Taking the time to breathe and reenergize may be one of the most important things you can do for yourself.

 

Shirley Michl is a Certified Integrative Health Coach and owner of Intentional Wellness, LLC. Schedule a free 15 minute telephone consultation today.

FREE Webinar: "3 Strategies to Manage Overwhelm"

Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the demands in your life? Is stress running your life? Are you just surviving day-to-day instead of thriving? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you will want to join me on a FREE webinar - "3 Strategies to Manage Overwhelm!"

This will be a live webinar on May 7th, 2014 at 12 noon EDT.

You can expect to receive 3 practical strategies that you can apply immediately! Why continue to feel overwhelmed and stressed, when you can feel in control and know that YOU can do something to get your life in better balance.

Sound good? Let's get started! Here is the link to register for this webinar http://www.intentionalwellnesscoach.com/3-strategies-manage-overwhelm/

If join me live on this webinar you will receive a special offer to join my "Re-Ignite Your Spark!" online group coaching program at a $100 savings!

Manage Your Stress Before It Manages You

stress painAre you tired of feeling stressed and overwhelmed? If so, please join me on my free webinar to learn simple, practical techniques to deal with the stressors in your life. It is happening on Feb 26th at 1:00pm EST. Click on this link on that day to join us http://gowoa.me/i/PyqOnly a limited number of people can attend, so don't delay, sign up today!

I am one of 31 personal development experts for Join a New Year's Revolution. You can register and join this group for FREE and have instant access to our free eBook and daily webinars during February. Check out my chapter 12 - "Dear Stress, Let's Break Up!". http://joinanewyearsrevolution.com/

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Relaxation Tips for Stress

iStock_000009910758 The busy holiday season is coming! Do you find yourself already feeling the pressure of planning for the holidays, working to wrap-up your 2013 work year, planning for 2014, and all the other events of your life? What would it be worth to learn relaxation techniques that are good for you and will help you deal with stress? Sound good? Let's get started.

How do you relax at the end of a stressful day? What do you do that helps you wind down, unwind and become calm? Many of us relax by zoning out in front of the TV. Sound familiar? Actually this does very little to reduce the effects of stress on our bodies and mind. To effectively reduce stress, we need to activate our body's natural relaxation response. Yes, we do have natural responses! In a nutshell, you can do this by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga. These activities can greatly reduce everyday stress and boost your energy and mood.

Stress is necessary for life! We all need some stress for our productivity, creativity, learning, and our survival. Stress is only harmful when it becomes overwhelming and interrupts our healthy equilibrium our nervous system needs for balance. Unfortunately, overwhelming stress has become increasingly part of our everyday lives, especially during the upcoming busy holiday season. When stress has thrown your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques can bring it back into a balanced state by producing the relaxation response. This is the state of deep calmness.

When you experience too much stress it overwhelms your nervous system and your body produces chemicals that prepare you for "flight or fight".  Now this is good if you are in an emergency situation where you need to act immediately. But it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stressors of everyday life. This is where the relaxation response slows down that heightened state of readiness and brings your body and mind back into a state of equilibrium.

Contrary to what you may think...the relaxation response is not lying on the couch, sleeping, or self-medicating yourself. It is a mentally active process that leaves your body and mind relaxed, calm, and focused. Learning how to do relaxation techniques is easy, but it does take practice. Many stress experts recommend setting aside 10-20 minutes a day for your relaxation practice. If you want even more stress relief, set aside 30-60 minutes. That may sound like a daunting commitment...don't stress out! Many of these techniques can be incorporated into your daily schedule, practiced at your desk, over lunch, or as part of your daily morning routine. Even doing these techniques for 5 minutes can help you achieve a relaxed state.

There is no single relaxation technique that is best for everyone. When choosing a technique consider your own needs, preferences, fitness level, and commitment to doing the practice. Here are different techniques to choose from or combine to fit your needs and preferences.

Technique 1:  Breathing Meditation 

Deep breathing is the simplest technique to learn and can be done anywhere, anytime. It is a very powerful relaxing technique, and provides a quick way to get your stress levels down. Deep breathing is an important part of many other practices as well, and can be combined with other relaxing elements.

The key to deep breathing is to breathe deeply from the abdomen, getting in as much air as possible in your lungs. You should feel your abdomen rising when you are breathing deeply. The more oxygen you get, the less tense, less anxious, and more relaxed you feel.

  • Sit comfortably with your back straight. Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in through your nose. The hand on your stomach will rise. The hand on your chest should not move much.
  • Exhale through your mouth, pushing out as much air as you can while contracting your abdominal muscles. The hand on your stomach will move in as you exhale.
  • Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to inhale enough to make your stomach rise and fall. Count slowly as you inhale and exhale.

Technique 2:  Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

This technique is a two-step process where you will tense and relax different muscle groups in the body. With regular practice, progressive muscle relaxation helps you learn what tension, as well as complete relaxation, feels like in different parts of your body. This awareness is very useful in sensing the first signs of tension and stress. As your body relaxes, so does your mind! Try combining deep breathing with progressive muscle relaxation for even more stress relief.

Progressive muscle relaxation starts at the feet and works up to the face. For the sequence of muscle groups, see below:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation Sequence

1. Right foot*                                6. Left thigh                            11. Right arm and hand

2. Left foot                                    7. Hips and buttocks             12. Left arm and hand

3. Right calf                                  8. Stomach                              13. Neck and shoulders

4. Left calf                                    9. Chest                                    14. Face

5. Right thigh                             10. Back

*If you are left-handed you may want to start with your left foot.

  • Loosen your clothing, take off your shoes, and get comfortable.
  • Take a few minutes to relax, breathing in and out in slow, deep breaths.
  • When you are relaxed, shift your attention to your right foot. Take a moment to focus on the way it feels.
  • Slowly tense the muscles in your right foot, squeezing as tightly as you can. Hold for a count of 10.
  • Relax your right foot. focus on the tension flowing away and the way your foot feels as it becomes loose.
  • Stay in this relaxed state for a moment, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • When you are ready, shift your attention to your left foot. Follow the same pattern of muscle tension and release.
  • Move slowly up your body, contracting and relaxing the muscle groups as you go.

Technique 3:  Body Scan Meditation 

This is very similar to progressive muscle relaxation,  only instead of tensing and relaxing muscles, simply focus on the sensations in each part of your body.

  • Lie on your back, legs uncrossed, arms relaxed at your sides, with your eyes closed. Focus on your breathing, allowing your stomach to rise with each inhale and fall as you exhale. Breathe deeply for two minutes to begin feeling comfortable and relaxed.
  • Focus on the toes of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel while continuing to focus on your breathing. Image each deep breath flowing to your toes. Remain focused on this area for one to two minutes.
  • Move your focus to the sole of your right foot. Notice any sensations you feel in that part of your body and imagine each breath flowing from the sole of your foot. Continue to focus on your right foot for one to two minutes. Now move your focus to your right ankle and repeat. Move to your calf, knee, thigh, hip, and repeat this sequence on your left leg. Follow that by moving up the torso, through the lower back and abdomen, the upper back and chest, and the shoulders. Pay particular attention to any area of the body that you feel pain or discomfort. You may want to focus on those areas a bit longer.
  • Focus now on the fingers of your right hand and then move up to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm, and shoulder. Repeat for your left arm. Now move through the neck and throat, and all areas of your face, the back of the head, and the top of the head. Pay close attention to your jaw, chin, lips, tongue, nose, cheeks, eyes, forehead, temples and scalp. When you reach the very top of your head, imagine your breath reaching out beyond your body and imagine yourself hovering above you.
  • Spend some time in silence and stillness, noting how your body feels. Open your eyes slowly and stretch.

Technique 4:  Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is about "being" in the moment, fully aware of how you feel and your experience both internally and externally. Most of us are so busy "doing" that we are seldom in the present moment. This means we are missing a huge part of life! We are often thinking about the past, especially blaming and judging ourselves, or we are worrying about the future. This type of thinking can lead to stress. However by staying calm and aware of the present moment, we can bring our nervous system back into balance. You can incorporate mindfulness while you walk, eat, exercise or meditate. Mindfulness has long been used to reduce stress, pain and illness.

Key Points of Practicing Mindfulness

  • Quiet environment. Choose a quiet place in your home, office, garden, or outdoors where you can relax without distractions or interruptions.
  • Comfortable position. Get comfortable sitting in a chair or on the floor. Avoid lying down so you don't fall asleep. Sit with your spine straight, feet on the floor. Or sit cross-legged or in lotus position.
  • Focus point. This point can be internal, a feeling or an imaginary scene. Or it can be something external, such as a flame or a meaningful word or phrase you repeat throughout your meditation. You can either close your eyes or softly gaze downwards. To help your concentration, you may find it helpful to focus on an object.
  • Observant, noncritical attitude. This is so important to remember as you practice mindfulness. Don't worry about distracting thoughts that may show up in your mind or worry if you are doing it "right". If and when those thoughts pop up, don't judge them or yourself, accept it, and turn your attention back to your point of focus.

Technique 5:  Visualization

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a variation on traditional meditation that allows you to use all your senses - vision, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This typically involves imaging a place/scene where you feel at peace, free to let go of all tension and anxiety.

Choose whatever setting is most calming to you. It may be a quiet forest, a mountain, a beach, or a favorite childhood spot. Visualization can be done in silence, while listening to soothing music, or with a recording of a guided imagery session. You could even download sounds to match your chosen place.

Practicing Visualization

Find a quiet, peaceful place and sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, feeling yourself becoming more relaxed with each breath. Now picture your calming place. "See" this place as vividly as possible in your mind. Picture everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Visualization works best if you incorporate as many sensory details as possible. Try to use at least three of your senses as you practice. Choose images that appeal to you or are special to you.

Example: Walking along a forest path

  • Walk slowly along the path and notice the colors and textures around you.
  • Spend time exploring each of your senses.
  • See the trees, their leaves, bushes, flowers and any animals that may be around.
  • Hear the birds singing, the breeze in the trees.
  • Smell the pine trees and flowers.
  • Feel the breeze in your hair and on your skin.
  • Taste the fresh, clean air.

Enjoy the tranquil feeling that comes over you as you slowly explore your chosen place. When you are ready, gently open your eyes and come back to the present. Don't worry if you zone out or lose track of where you are during a visualization session. You may even experience some stiffness or heaviness in your limbs, involuntary muscle movements, or yawn. These are all normal responses.

Other Techniques:  Yoga and Tai Chi

Perhaps you will find that you would get more benefits from practicing stress relief in a class with a group of people. Then either yoga or tai chi may be your best choice!

Yoga involves moving and stationary poses combined with deep breathing and meditation. It not only reduces stress and anxiety, it can also improve flexibility, strength, balance and stamina.

Tai chi is a self-paced series of slow, flowing body movements. These movements emphasize concentration, relaxation, and the conscious circulation of vital energy throughout the body. It is a way of calming your mind, reducing stress, and conditioning your body.

Tips for Making Relation Techniques a Part of Daily Life

The best way to start and maintain a relaxation practice is to make it a part of your daily routine. Before you tell yourself that you can't squeeze in one more thing into your busy life...please read these tips, give them a try, and know that many can be practiced while you are doing other things!

  • If possible, schedule a set time to practice each day. Set aside one or two short periods each day to practice. I have found that it is easier for me to practice first thing in the morning before all the other responsibilities of the day get in the way. Plus it starts your day in a relaxed, peaceful state of mind that makes your day better!
  • Practice relaxation techniques while you are doing other things. Try deep breathing anytime during your day while working, doing dishes, laundry or working outside. Mindfulness can be done while walking your dog, walking, waiting in line, or eating. If you commute to work, you may want to try meditating.
  • If you exercise, improve the relaxation benefits by adopting mindfulness. Instead of zoning out to music or staring at a TV as you exercise, try focusing your attention on your body. While exercising focus on coordinating your breathing with your movements and become aware of how your body feels as you go through each exercise.
  • Avoid practicing when you are sleepy. These techniques can be so relaxing that they can make you very sleepy, especially if done at the end of the day.  You will get the most benefit if you practice when you're awake and alert. It's also not a good idea to practice after eating a heavy meal or while using drugs or alcohol.
  • Expect ups and downs. Don't be discouraged if you skip a few days or even a few weeks. It happens. Don't judge yourself negatively. Just get started again and build up your momentum.

Contact me if you have any questions or would like to schedule a call!