Healthy Beginnings

Exercise, meditation and gratitude: Three ways to beat holiday stress

A quick (and easy) meditation session can help melt the stress away.

There you are, sitting on your couch, planning out all of the gifts you want to purchase for your family members and friends you really like, while thinking of all the parties you’ll either be going to or preparing for, all the food you’ll have to cook, all the joyous mall crowds you’ll have to venture into … and BOOM!

You feel the faint onset of a headache, your heart is beating faster than it should be for a sitting human being, and the joy you were feeling for the holidays has vanished.

So how do you turn this holiday stress around? What can you do to beat the stress that seems so overwhelming from a season that is supposed to be filled with joy, laughter and love?

Well I am so glad you asked! Here are three ways to beat holiday stress.


1. Exercise:

We have all heard that exercise is necessary for stress reduction. But why is exercise necessary to reduce stress?

There are two direct reasons. First, exercising reduces stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Secondly, exercising increases the production and release of endorphins, serotonin and dopamine — some of the hormones that make us feel good.

So how do you achieve the right amount and type of exercise to get the stress-reduction benefits? If you don’t feel you can fit in the recommended 30-60 minutes per day of moderate-intensity exercise, five times per week, there is good news!

Just a 10-minute workout session of moderate- to vigorous-intensity can elicit similar benefits for stress reduction. If you can accumulate three or more 10-minute sessions per day, not only will your holiday stress greatly reduce, but so will that extra belly cushion from the holiday cookies. Also, your overall health and wellness may vastly improve.

During those 10-minute sessions, incorporate more functional movements done as a circuit, such as squats, sit-ups, push-ups, lunges, jumping jacks and planks. These will provide more of the stress-reduction response you are looking for.


2. Meditation:

Meditation acts in a similar way to exercise in the stress-reduction response. Meditating for as little as 10 minutes can produce the same response by lowering adrenaline and cortisol levels, while increasing the release of serotonin and dopamine.

So now the fun part: How do you meditate? Don’t worry. You don’t need candles or chimes or incense burning. My favorite meditation is to get out my phone, find some nature sounds online, sit comfortably on my couch, set the timer on my phone to 20 minutes and press start.

While I sit there with my eyes closed, I don’t have any expectations. I don’t try to control anything … I just sit listening to the sounds of nature while I feel my breath move in and out of my belly.

When thoughts come into my awareness, I acknowledge them and then just let them go and return to enjoy listening to the nature sounds. That’s it!


3. Gratitude:

Last, but most definitely not least: gratitude! That’s right … being grateful. Practicing gratitude is the quickest way to get us from what we have to do and all the associated stressful feelings, to what we already have and all the peaceful, loving feelings.

The holidays are not a time for giving out of necessity, but giving out of love. They are a time of joining together with whomever you consider your family and sharing in the giving of love.

By remembering that you have the money to make a delicious meal for others, that you have the car to drive to their party, that you have functional legs to walk in the mall, that you have eyes to read your Christmas cards, you have beaten the holiday stress. This month, make this your practice: start each morning saying five things you are grateful for, even if they are the same five each day.

As you silently proclaim what you are grateful for, FEEL the gratitude in your heart and move forward with your day. Let your morning start with gratitude and let it carry you through each day.

May this be the best holiday season you can remember, all because you made the deliberate choice to beat holiday stress through exercise, meditation and gratitude.

Zach Tavcar, B.S., is a certified exercise physiologist and wellness coach who is currently accepting clients at The Change Place in Carson City and Reno. For more information, visit or call 775-342-8838.