Preview: chocolate’s involved!
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Holiday stress is normal, but in this anything-but-normal year, we’re all feeling especially pressured. Here’s how to reframe negative thoughts, boost your energy through movement, and take a much-needed break to simmer down in the moment and promote resilience against stress in the future. Use these expert tips for all our holiday seasons from now through New Year’s… and maybe even beyond! Because we all could use a little lowering of our stress levels.

1. Text a friend

You know that really funny thing that happened last year? Or that inside joke you share? Send a little reminder for a little lift. “Taking a moment to really connect with someone, talking about shared interests or fond memories, can help remind us of good times and what makes us happy,” says Lara Effland, LICSW, regional clinical director of Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center.

2. Go off-line

Disconnect from social media, advises Laura Iu, RDN, and a yoga teacher in New York City. “If you’re constantly focusing on what everyone else is doing, it’s really hard to be present and well-rested,” she says. Plus, scrolling puts you in a state of self-comparison. It’s okay that it’s Sunday and your cinnamon rolls came from a can.

3. Take a breath

A deep inhale through your diaphragm and a long exhale reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol when compared to breathing at a quicker cadence, according to a study in Frontiers in Psychology.

Woman meditating
Credit: GETTY/Westend61

4. Sip green tea

Make a steaming cup of green tea to beat an afternoon slump, says Umadevi Naidoo, MD, director of Nutritional & Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of This is Your Brain on Food. Green tea contains L-theanine, a phytochemical that promotes relaxation, research shows.

5. Give yourself a pep talk

Hosting a small holiday gathering? Rather than assuming it will all go perfectly as planned (and then getting stressed out if you hit a snag), practice some "optimistic thinking," suggests Jenny Yip, Psy.D., board certified clinical psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at USC Keck School of Medicine. This style of thinking frees you from perfectionism. For example, you can wake up and say: I have planned to the best of my abilities, and whatever happens, I know I'll find a solution to deal with it. "This is an effective and proactive mindset," she says.

6. Groove

For a quick boost, dance to your favorite song, suggests Effland. The combination of music and physical activity has been found to dissipate tension and increase energy. Michael Bublé Christmas is waiting—even if it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.

7. Treat yourself

Give yourself a sweet snack but make it a smart one: Eat a small bowl of blueberries with lemon zested on top, and a square of extra dark chocolate, says Naidoo. “These are healthy, brain-boosting foods,” she says.

8. Practice some self-compassion

 “Self-compassion is treating yourself the same way you would a dear friend,” says Iu. How to do it? “Practice speaking kindly toward yourself, especially towards your body and your food choices,” she says.

9. Name something you’re grateful for

It’s not just for pronouncing at Thanksgiving dinner! As it’s easy to get wrapped up in the negative (especially this year), take a moment to write down something you’re thankful for that day (big or small), which can shift your focus to a more positive outlook, suggests Effland.