Healthy Beginnings

Beating the blues: Taking a holistic approach to alleviating holiday stress

Practicing yoga can provide us an emotional road map toward self-awareness.

With stress often comes anxiety or depression, and when that unwelcome trio visits over the holidays, it can make the season anything but merry.

Between more time with the family, money blown on pricey gifts and the chaos of holiday travel, it’s no wonder we start to feel a little frazzled. What’s worse is the sense that this is a time for holiday cheer, which creates pressure that only compounds our stress.

But there is a bright side. We can check those underlying issues of stress and depression with a mind-body-soul approach that will positively impact your quality of life, no matter what the calendar says. Here’s how.

 

The Mind

Pushing away bad feelings without properly addressing them may be a go-to move — especially over the holidays — but it robs us of the innate wisdom that comes from parsing those emotions.

Think about it. When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, it’s a sign that something is physically, mentally or spiritually out of alignment. Take it from the Sufi poet Rumi: “The wound is the place the light enters you.” The only catch? It’s a process that starts only with the willingness to see our feelings — good and bad — from a place of loving compassion.

I highly recommend the book “The Language of Emotions” by Karla McLaren. It’s a useful tool that can help you navigate the process of figuring out the message your emotions are trying to deliver.

Depression often asks the question, “Where has my energy gone? Why was it sent away?” Anxiety (or fear) helps us become extremely focused on the issue at hand and invites us to consciously decide next steps.

Pretty amazing when you change the perspective on those bad emotions, isn’t it?

By granting ourselves the time and energy to feel these emotions, validate them, and begin to process them, we’re beginning the process of identifying negative-though patterns.

These are areas where we tend to get stuck. And the problem usually isn’t in what happens to us, but in our reaction to those experiences. One of the most valuable lessons we can learn is the ability to screen our thoughts for shaming, blaming or unkind stories, so that we can begin retelling those stories with compassion and hope.

 

The Body

The physical benefits of exercise are well known. Just think about how you feel after a really great workout — sweaty, spent, but often exhilarated with a sense of accomplishment, right?

Still, scientists are only just beginning to really unpack all the ways that regular cardiovascular activity and strength training help promote everything from life satisfaction and greater confidence to an all-around sense of internal wellbeing.

According to Dr. David Muzina, founding director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Mood Disorders Treatment and Research, “exercise makes our bodies release endorphins, chemicals that produce a sense of wellbeing and joy.” This feel-good hormonal release benefits sleep quality and mood, big benefits for everyone, but especially for those of us struggling with stress, depression or anxiety.

And who doesn’t have the occasional days where they feel down? So make doing some form of exercise — running, kickboxing, weight lifting, or even simply walking — a priority every day of the week. It can be tough to get started, but you’ll always feel better for the effort.

 

The Soul

The ancient and worldly practice of yoga benefits us mentally and physically, but that’s not all. Maybe the most powerful aspect of yoga is in how it gives us the tools to progress mindfully, even off the mat.

Something as simple as paying attention to the breath has such an enormous impact — it helps to regulate the stress response system and lower blood pressure, decrease stress hormones like cortisol, and improve respiration and circulation throughout the entire body.

The practice of yoga also gives us an emotional road map toward the discovery of self-awareness. Practitioners can work toward greater internal peace as they navigate through the chaos not only during yoga practice, but in their day-to-day lives as well.

 

Breathe, Plan, Move

The journey to wellness isn’t always easy, and the holidays can make it even more challenging. But it’s always worth it. Today, it may feel impossible to try out a yoga class, eliminate toxic processed food, or begin a workout regimen.

But it’s far more painful to close the door on healing practices that have the potential to greatly improve your quality of life.

Seeking the help of a counseling professional may also accelerate the healing process, but it’s important to remember that all of the answers are already inside of you.

Happy Holidays!

Jo Harvey Weatherford, M.S., teaches an advanced counseling class at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is the Director at Freestyle Fitness in Reno. For more information, visit fsfitness.net or call 775-742-1559.