Even though it is the festive season, things aren’t exactly slowing down. On the contrary, things just seem to be speeding up and becoming more stressful! That end of the year report is due any day now and you haven’t really started writing it yet. The family is coming over for Christmas and you have to stock up the pantry to make sure everyone has more than enough to eat, but just remember cousin John is lactose intolerant and aunt Elsa doesn’t eat red meat. You still have to buy gifts for the children, but between work and everything else… And so the list goes on and on. Don’t you think it is time to slow down, get some rest? If so, read on and we’ll show you how to relax this festive season.

Calm your mind

Yes, we know that it is difficult to fit all the extra food and gifts into the budget. We know that work is stressful and that you can’t stand your sister in law. But ask yourself if it is really worth lying awake over? Will it make the budget any less tight if you fret over it for another half hour before you start dozing off? Is your sister in law going to become an easier person to get along with if you keep on mulling the latest fight you and your spouse had about her over in your head? Overthinking the remarks your boss made about your draft report won’t bring about the changes he or she asked for.

You need to relax. Breathe in deeply through your nose. Extend your spine towards the ceiling and keep your shoulders relaxed. Exhale. Pulling in your stomach muscles, feel your diaphragm expelling all the air from your lungs. Repeat. Good. Keep this rhythm going.

Now that you’ve established a relaxing breathing cycle, let’s explore some ways in which you can relax your overactive brain.

Think about your thoughts

A person in dark glasses and a gray hoodie lying relaxed on green grass

“What? Think about my thoughts? What are these people at The Mattress Warehouse saying?” You are probably thinking something along these lines, right? What do we mean when we say you should think about your thoughts? It is simple really. Distance yourself from those issues that are tangling up your mind. Try looking at your problems from outside of yourself. Ask yourself objective questions about what is making you anxious.

For instance, ask yourself why your sister in law is giving you so much trouble. What aspects about her personality is it that sets you on edge? Or maybe you are more stressed about your job. Ask yourself, what is it that your boss said that got you so upset? Was it the tone of voice or the content of what he or she said? Ask yourself if it is worth worrying about?

Sure it sounds lame, but give it a try. You might be amazed at the outcome! It might even help you to solve, or at least address the problem and to relax.

Write it down

Making lists are very underrated! If you are stressing because you might forget about cousin John and his lactose problem, write it down! Think of your mind as a computer. It only has so much RAM to run on and if you keep all the applications open at the same time, the system starts lagging. If you save and close all the applications not currently in use, the system runs smoothly again.

Writing down the things you need to remember serves two purposes. It makes it easier to remember what still needs to be done, and it allows your brain to focus on what is important right now. This leads to improved decision making and lower levels of anxiety. You won’t constantly be wondering about what you might have forgotten. And guess what, if you forget something, relax! You wrote it down, remember?

Act out

Stop thinking about all the gifts that you still have to buy. Take the list that you’ve made, go to the shops and buy the gifts! Put your thoughts and problems into compartments, decide which ones can be solved now and solve them. Take one step at a time, no house gets built over night. You first have to plan, then you dig the foundations and then you start laying the bricks. One at a time. Approach your troubling thoughts in similar fashion.

People stacking rocks and pebbles on the beach

Remember, if you don’t do anything about your problems, they won’t just disappear! You will stay stressed and relaxation will elude you. So start with the small things first and make work your way to the top.

Relax your body

After wrapping those gifts that you went out and bought, and unpacking the Christmas groceries, it is time to relax your body.

No, you don’t have to go to the spa to get your body to relax. Anyway, how will you pay for the spa treatment after just spending that ridiculous amount of money on cousin John’s almond milk? You also do not need an hour for training or yoga. All you need is five minutes, a comfortable chair, a golf ball and some herbal tea.

Massage your hands and feet

Not a physiotherapist or a professional masseuse? Don’t sweat it! Giving yourself a hand or foot massage is really not all that difficult. First off, take your cup of steaming hot herbal tea (try a chamomile or lavender blend) and head over to your favourite chair by the window. Kick off your shoes, place the golf ball on the floor, sit down and take a sip of your tea. Careful, don’t burn yourself!

Once you’ve settled in nicely, put one of your feet on the golf ball and slowly roll it under foot. Focus on the bridge of your foot and the pillows of your feet. Repeat this movement with the other foot.

Okay, so now that your feet are occupied, apply some lotion to your hands and start slowly rubbing the muscle at the base of your thumb. Be firm, but don’t press too hard. Your hands are quite fragile and you do not want to bruise or break one of the 27 small bones that can be found in the human hand. From the base up, work your way to the tip of the thumb, pulling the end of the thumb away from the hand slightly before moving on to the next finger. Repeat these steps on all of the fingers.

If you are not convinced that giving yourself a hand massage will help you to relax, a study done at the Kagawa Prefectural University of Health Sciences in Japan showed that a hand massage significantly decreases anxiety levels. Interestingly this same study showed that people are more willing to communicate with other people after receiving a hand massage. Maybe you should consider giving your sister in law a hand massage for Christmas?

Walk it off

Let’s say you do not like herbal tea and you don’t have a favourite chair by the window. Or maybe you do have a chair by the window, but the window looks out on the oppressive grey office block next to your oppressive grey office block. How do you relax your body under such glum circumstances?

Take a quick break and walk around the block. Not only will this allow you some time to soak in the sun (which, coincidentally, is good for you), it will increase blood circulation throughout the body. More blood circulating through the body means that more oxygen will reach your tired brain. Once again, this will improve on decision making capabilities and relieve some fatigue.

Another great thing about walking outside is that you are forced to pay attention to your surroundings. Thus you have to think about something other than your work or the fight you and your spouse had last night. Even if it is just a quick walk through an area that you are familiar with, it will still help you to relax.

Stretch to relax your muscles

Sitting all day can become quite tiresome. If you are reading this article sitting behind your desk at work, you will know what we are talking about. Those pains in your lower back and neck are just killing you! Maybe it’s not your desk job that brings on the back ache, but the mattress or your bed. If that is the case, head over to our website and check out our amazing selection of beds and mattresses. There are some great festive deals on at the moment that might tickle your fancy!

In the Journal of Behaviour Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry authors CR Carlson and company showed that stretching the arms, shoulders and neck can reduce levels of sadness, anxiety and tension in healthy persons. So if you were thinking that stretching is just for cats and dogs, think again.

Here are some easy to do stretches that you can try out. You don’t even need to go to the gym to do them. Just stand up behind your desk and try out this stretching sequence.

A man stretching his hands over his head while working in an office

1.Roll your shoulders

While inhaling, roll your shoulders forward and up. Exhale while you bring your shoulders to the back and down. With easy breathing, repeat this move a couple of times. Now reverse the movement, but keep your breathing pattern the same. Relaxing, isn’t it?

2.Stretch your shoulders

This is an easy one. Sit or stand up straight and reach your right arm across your body. Keeping your right arm straight and your right shoulder pressed towards the floor, use your left arm to press your right elbow towards the left shoulder. Do the same for the other arm.

3. Open your chest

Sit on the edge of your chair and grab hold of the back of the seat, (there where the back legs and the seat meet). Push your chest forward as far as possible while turning your face up towards the ceiling. Roll your eyes up into your head. Remember to keep breathing and do not shrug your shoulders.

4.Relax those triceps

Reach your right arm up to the skies. Now bend the elbow and place your hand between your shoulder blades. Reach down with your left arm, bend the elbow and try to grab your right hand, which should be between your shoulder blades. If this is too difficult, just do the first step and see how long you can keep your hand between your shoulder blades. Repeat this move with the left arm.

Do something repetitive

Brushing your hair (if you have hair) is a good way to relax. If you do not have hair, try washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Dr. Benson of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine claims that repetitive movements such as these can “evoke a relaxation response in your body“.

Maybe you should consider mowing the lawn before the family comes crashing down on Christmas eve. Not only will your yard look good, you might feel more relaxed about the imminent visit from that sister in law of yours.

Snack your way to relaxation

By no means are we saying that you should start stuffing your face with junk food! But we do have good news for chocolate lovers (or bad news, depending on your current rate of intake) and gum chewers!

Chow some chocolate

A 2009 study by the Nestlé Research Center, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, found that taking in approximately 40 grams of dark chocolate per day reduced stress levels. In the research, they show that ingesting small amounts of dark chocolate on consecutive days reduces the amount of cortisol that your body produces. Cortisol is better known as the stress hormone. Therefore you should eat some dark chocolate.

Thus it might be good or bad news. Good news for those chocolate lovers that stay away from chocolate and bad for those that eats a slab a day.

Chew some gum

Please don’t tell your gran about this! Chewing gum will tie your insides in a knot, right? Well, not really…

Research by A. Scholey and company showed that chewing gum alleviates stress, drops anxiety levels and also decreases cortisol production, same as dark chocolate. The team of researchers are not sure why this is the case, but according to their study chewing gum also increased levels of alertness in the subjects under study.

So what is the take home message? Create some dark chocolate flavoured chewing gum!