Is there very little white space on your calendar from the end of November through the first week of January? From attending holiday concerts and cocktail parties to booking hair appointments, buying gifts, and ordering the holiday feast, do you feel overwhelmed? Does your throat constrict and heart race when you think of all the preparation required for the most wonderful time of the year?
Whether it’s a car swerving into your lane on U.S. 41 or reviewing a daunting to-do list, the reaction in the body is similar. According to the Mayo Clinic, when humans encounter threats—or even minor hassles—the hypothalamus, a tiny region at the base of the brain, prompts the adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. This is a normal human reaction that helps the body face challenging situations.
Short term, these reactions are not concerning because the hormones increase your pulse, keep you awake, and make your brain alert and focused. So, take advantage of that burst in energy your body provides at these times and attack your tasks. When stressors are always present, however, and you constantly feel under attack, the body is overexposed to cortisol and other stress-induced hormones. This can increase the risk of anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive issues, muscle tension, and more.
Dr. Vanessa Jaszczerski, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Naples, confirms that the body requires regular periods of relaxation. During the hectic holiday season, carving out me time may seem impossible. But, as the late American journalist Sydney J. Harris said, “The time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.” So, considering options that don’t require reservations, appointments, or major planning may be in order.
Visit the Beach
Take advantage of what exists in your backyard. Stroll the shoreline, and if you dare, jump in the mammoth saltwater basin. Sea air is charged with negative ions. And, despite their name, these microscopic molecules, found in extremely high concentrations near the ocean, are positive influences on the body. They pass through our skin cells and enter our lungs via the air we breathe, increasing serotonin levels that in turn help make us feel great.
Walking barefoot in the sand is believed to have stimulating effects on our bodies and minds. Our feet contain nerves and pressure points that when activated help calm and relax us. Jennifer Khosla, a mind-body wellness practitioner and founder of Naples-based wellness company Lean and Green Body, credits grounding—direct physical contact with the earth—with lowering her stress, saying “it rids me of any anxiety I may be experiencing and helps me to stay present in my life.”
The smell of salty air, the sound of waves lapping at the shore, and the touch of the sand all combine to activate the parasympathetic nervous system that controls the body’s ability to relax. There’s a reason why resorts are often found near the ocean!
Strike a Pose
Practice yoga—whether in a studio, on your lanai, or on your bedroom floor. Tania Savolle, a registered yoga teacher with more than 600 hours in yoga training, teaches at Practice Yoga, a studio in Naples. Savolle considers her yoga practice—something she has done for 28 years—as a time for self-care. “It provides me with energy and makes me feel good—mentally and physically,” she says.
One of the many benefits of yoga—“a 5,000-year-old philosophy, science, and way of living,” explains Savolle, is that “it quiets the busy mind and turbulent fluctuations of our thoughts, allowing clarity and mental ease to be attained. Yoga is especially useful during stressful times because you grant yourself a time out; you take a pause from your life, leaving the noisy world outside to check in with your inner world.” Over time and through practice, says Savolle, that inner world becomes a haven and peaceful place to call home.
“The continued practice of quieting the mind connects you to your true self,” relates Savolle, who also notes that “yoga is a perspective of life that encompasses love, generosity, honesty, and compassion, as well as an attention to self on a deep and profound level.” In her words, “the more loving we become toward ourselves, the more loving and tolerant we become of those around us”—which is especially useful during those times we are required to be with others.
Joel Waltzer, a board-certified dermatologist in Naples, has practiced yoga for more than 20 years. Learning to sit in and experience uncomfortable moments in yoga has taught him to do the same when life circumstances are challenging. Mastering difficult poses with the body provides proof and reminders that you can get through future uncomfortable situations. You can train your mind, through the practice of yoga, to understand a difficult situation will soon pass, that you will succeed in getting through a difficult conversation or uncomfortable moment.
Breathe with your mouth open. It’s a simple yet profound concept Eliza Kane first learned while opening a Lululemon yoga studio 13 years ago in Los Angeles. Intrigued, she began exploring breath work and has been a practitioner ever since. Kane shares information about breath work, which is still a relatively new practice, on her website (elizakane.com) through a blog she authors; she also offers free guided breath work meditations or the opportunity to book virtual sessions. She frequently travels to both Florida and Colorado to host in-person seminars or to lead teacher-training seminars.
Breath work can be particularly beneficial when we’re overstimulated. Our bodies contract, and we are not present in the moment. To ease stress and let go, Kane promotes an open-mouth breathing technique where you push your breath, or life force, deep into the lower abdomen.
Breath work is unique compared to other forms of meditation as it not only works to slow the mind but also “soothes the nervous system, clearing it of frenetic, chaotic, and stressful energy,” says Kane. The result is a more relaxed presence. “One is able to really enjoy the festivities and celebrations happening around them,” she adds. Kane recommends practicing breath work from 15 to 20 minutes at a time but notes, “you only need as little as seven minutes to notice a shift.”
Holidays can conjure many emotions; suppressing them doesn’t make them go away. In fact, emotions tend to feel heavy, and holding on to them is exhausting. Acknowledging emotions helps to process them: “Give yourself space to feel and honor them,” says Kane. “Breathing helps keep you feeling more vital, even in moments of sadness or anger.”
Our minds are like computers, and when we have too many programs running and files open, everything slows down. We start to feel overwhelmed, and as Kane points out, we can even crash like computers.
“Pausing to reset, or even just slow down, helps keep the mind clear, helping people feel alert and decisive on what actually needs to be done and what can be let go,” explains Kane. Breathing does this, but as with anything, consistency is key. “Create a practice,” she suggests. “Sneak out regularly—I call it siesta time—shut the blinds, lay down, and breathe.”
Another unique element of this breathing practice is that the second inhale is taken into the upper chest—the heart center. Kane explains that, in today’s world, most people have guards up around their hearts. “When you are able to focus in on the heart and allow the heart to soften and open, you experience appreciation for the love that does surround you, and you are much more likely to savor all the good in your life and not be bothered by the small stuff that inevitably happens around the holidays,” she says. “You can give and receive the love that is so much a part of the holiday season.”