Tips to Help Alleviate Holiday Stress

If you miss a workout, don't stress yourself out! Be realistic about your workout schedule and what you can accomplish.
The workout regimen is often the first casualty of the holiday crunch as people scramble to meet December deadlines at work, check the naughty and nice list and get ready for family visits.

But a few simple tricks -- stretching, deep breathing and walking--may allow you to enter the new year with fitness and sanity in place.

Relax Your Expectations

The first solution, said Jason Weber, coordinator of the Human Performance Centre at the University of Saskatchewan, is to not get stressed about missing a few workouts.

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"You have to be realistic and you shouldn't beat yourself up too much," he said from his office in Saskatoon. "You have to identify that this is a busy time -- different deadlines, family pressures, shopping pressures."

"We don't exercise to cause extra stress."

If you don't make it the gym every other day like you do during the rest of the year, simply allow yourself to make it when you can, Weber said.

Another solution, he offered, is to not hunt down the parking spot closest to the mall entrance.

"Those things just add to the stress. If we just grab maybe the not-so-ideal spot, it's a double good thing: you get that extra bit of movement and you don't have to worry about all that stress. I know it sounds corny, but it works."

Another useful tip from Weber is to take an evening walk with family or friends. It's a good way to work in a little activity after dinner as well as see the light displays in the neighborhood.

Breathing and Stretching

Toronto-based yoga and Pilates instructor Carrie Wood suggested stretching and deep breathing to reduce stress in a recent e-mail to her clients.

Deep breathing can be done anywhere at any time and can often alleviate tension. Try inhaling for four or five counts and then exhale for four or five counts. After 10 deep breaths most people will start to feel calmer and perhaps even a bit more relaxed, she said.

She advocates a stretch known as "the semi-supine," which needs to be done on the floor. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place a book underneath your head to raise it approximately three to five centimeters off the floor. Rest your arms out to the side and let gravity do its work.

Wood, who teaches a posture-perfect class at Totum fitness centre in Toronto, recommends this activity every day, for 10 to 15 minutes, to allow your body to realign.

If your boss is a little uncomfortable with you lying down on the job, do it at home.

Office Stress Relief

Weber suggested something to keep in mind for even the busiest of days at the office.

"Even though you think that if you are away from your desk, you're not being effective ... just try to get up and walk away," he said, adding that a trip to the water cooler will get your body moving as well as replenish fluids.

Wood said a few stretches at the desk can help. Sit tall, stretching out your spine and widening the chest and back. Also, raise your arms every so often to shoulder height while breathing deeply.

At the very least, Weber, who lectures on adult fitness and exercise management, is a big believer in simply closing your eyes for 15 to 20 seconds and then opening them to focus on something other than the computer screen for a few seconds: look outside the window or into the hallway.

Once work has slowed down and the shopping is finished there is still the family gathering.

"If your mother-in-law is driving you nuts, don't let it get to that boiling point where you storm out of the house. Just say you are going for a little walk," said Weber adding that offering to walk to the corner store is a socially acceptable way to put some distance between you and family craziness.

Drowning your dysfunction in booze and overeating is probably not the best way to deal with it, he added.

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