Brace yourselves; it's coming. The holiday season is upon us. It's officially November, which means that most of us are making our lists (and checking them more than twice!) to manage the crazy that will inevitably ensue.
As a music educator, I've become accustomed to living in constant stress during this season. Every year I coordinate holiday performances for my students, which is no easy task! I start to feel so overwhelmed by the time the holidays actually roll around that I honestly struggle to enjoy celebrating with family and friends. I'm totally guilty of letting the stress of needing everything to be perfect get the best of me, to the point that I'm physically and emotionally drained by the end of it all.
This stress-problem isn't unique to teachers - everyone feels at least a little overwhelmed during what I'm affectionately calling "crazy season." There are lists to make, meals to prepare, guests to entertain, gifts to buy... And somewhere in between all of that, the foundation begins to crack. We lose sleep from working too late or worrying about the details. We push ourselves to be perfect, when we were never meant to be. We snap at people that we care about because we're always on-edge. Sound familiar?
So, in anticipation of "crazy season," I challenge you to practice self-awareness. Check in with yourself - are you pushing too hard? Are you letting perfectionism creep in? Are you constantly exhausted to the point where it affects your relationships and daily functions? Ask yourself these questions, and be honest with yourself. How are you holding up?
Most of the time when I practice self-check-ins, I realize just how not okay I am, and it's a huge eye-opener. I realize that I haven't put myself first even once. And if that sounds selfish, think of it this way: how can you possibly pour into others when your own cup is empty?
Girl, you need to take the time that you need to rest and restore so that the stress of "crazy season" doesn't overcome you. De-stressing looks different for everyone, but if you're at a loss on where to start, I've got your back. Here are five things that I do to kick stress to the curb in order to be the best cup-filler I can possibly be!
Take a bath.
One of my favorite relaxation methods is taking a hot bath before bed. Aside from its obvious cleansing properties, studies have proven that bathing soothes tense, stressed-out muscles, improves circulation, alleviates pain in the bones and joints, enhances oxygen intake, and improves mood, among many other health benefits. After a stressful day when my body is physically worn-out, I love relaxing in a hot bath. If you're typically a shower person, try immersing in a bath just once a week for 30 minutes, and see if you notice any of the above stress-reduction benefits. Still not feeling it? Try doctoring up your bath time with soft music, candles, calming essential oils, or epsom salt to enhance the experience. Yes, it does take a little more time and effort than a quick shower (which some of us are lucky to get in the first place!) but I promise you. It's so worth it, especially once you get into it.
Listen to music.
Whether it's during bath time or while you work, listening to certain types of music is proven to alleviate stress. Because music is linked to our emotions, it can comfort the listener during stressful or difficult seasons of life. It's also proven to improve memory, relieve depression and anxiety, and promote relaxation before sleep. If you are listening to music with the goal of calming and stress-reduction, it may be wise to choose light music with a slow tempo to slow down the breathing pattern. Listening to music may also aid one in meditation through practicing active listening skills. By taking note of the form, texture, and mood of the music, the listener is forced to be mindful, present, and focused. When was the last time you actively listened to music without distraction? Give it a try - it may soon take the place of your latest Netflix binge!
Drink (decaffeinated) tea.
I know. The word "decaf" is making you cringe. But what if I told you that less caffeine = less stress? Various forms of decaffeinated teas have been actually been proven to reduce stress and encourage a more restful sleep. Some teas that are known to promote stress-relief and improved sleep include green and black teas, peppermint tea, and chamomile tea. Plus, what's more comforting and soothing than a warm drink?
Monitor your screen time.
It's no secret that too much screen time is linked to stress-responses in the brain and body. Try limiting your cell-phone, tablet, and TV usage, especially when trying to relax and wind down. In addition, the use (and abuse) of social media is also a rising cause of stress in teens and young adults. While devices and social media play a crucial role in the modern world, you need to know for yourself how much is too much when it comes to screen time. Come up with a deadline for turning off all devices each night so that you can rest and relax without distraction. Not sure what to do without your phone? Read a book! Getting lost in a book causes readers to focus in on their own imaginations and reduces the stress of distractions from the outside world.
This is a stress-relief strategy that I'm still learning, but there is ample evidence that meditation is one of the best ways to alleviate stress. Not only can it help you reduce your current stress-levels, but it can also raise your stress tolerance level for future stressful encounters. In its most simplest form, meditation is a focused awareness of the breath and of the present state of your body. Much like mindfulness practice, meditation can help you tune out distraction and worry and focus only on the present moment. And while it can feel like a long, uncomfortable silence at first, you may grow to appreciate that quiet time to yourself every day!
Do you have any tried-and-true ways to manage stress in your life? Share them in the comments below! Above all, give yourself some much-needed, well-deserved relaxation time so that you can go out and kill it tomorrow!