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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Stress less with these 5-minute exercises

Nov 22, 2021 03:31PM ● By Katie Olt
White older woman wearing a santa hat, white scarf and cream shirt looks down in consternation while holding her head with her right arm, imposed on a black background

Carols on the radio, twinkling lights and bustling stores are all indicators that the holiday season is quickly approaching. While festive activities and visiting family can make this time of year exciting, shopping for gifts, coordinating schedules and mapping out travel plans can make it extremely stressful. 

Stress is a relatively normal response to change. It can benefit you by helping to increase motivation, adapt to new experiences and overcome challenges. Unfortunately, experiencing stress for long periods of time can result in headaches, agitation, sleeplessness and fatigue, tense muscles, or increased anxiousness, which can make the holidays much less enjoyable. 

So how can we navigate this holiday season with less stress and more joy? 

During the holidays, our thoughts and attention are usually projected toward future events, which may increase stress and worry. (Will I find everything on my shopping list? How will I accommodate family coming in from out of town?) Mindfulness represents the idea of focusing our attention on the present moment.

Anyone can practice mindfulness. Here are three exercises that promote mindfulness, which can help you decrease stress and increase your ability to relax and be present. Just dedicating 5 minutes to these practices can do wonders for your mind and body!

1.  Breathe deeply.
Deep breathing is a simple exercise that helps decrease stress and anxiety by encouraging intentional slow, deep breaths instead of short, shallow ones.

• Sit back in a comfortable position and close your eyes, if you’d like.

• Inhale. Breathe in slowly through your nose for 4 seconds.

• Pause. Hold the air in your lungs for 4 seconds.

• Exhale. Breathe out slowly through your mouth for 6 seconds. 

• Repeat. Practice for 5 minutes.

2. Visualize.
Our minds can create beautiful, calming and detailed scenes, which foster relaxation.

• Sit back in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

• Think of a place that’s calming and relaxing. Perhaps a cozy coffee shop, a gently flowing stream, a day at the beach or a winter wonderland. 

• Visualize what you are seeing, hearing, smelling or touching.

• Do this for about 5 minutes, allowing yourself to appreciate the scene.

3. Body scanning tunes into the body’s physical sensations, such as muscle tightness or warmth. This exercise helps to focus your awareness on those sensations and be present in the moment.

• Sit back in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

• Take five deep breaths through your nose.

• Start by bringing your awareness to your feet by wiggling or curling your toes. Focus on the sensations.

• Continue to explore and bring awareness to sensations in other parts of the body, such as your hands, arms and abdomen. 

• Do this for about five minutes and breathe with the sensations you experience.

It’s completely normal for your mind to wander when practicing any of these exercises. When this happens, just acknowledge where your mind has gone and gently bring your awareness back.

While these exercises can be useful for reducing stress, other activities may be just as helpful, such as listening to music or journaling about what you’re thankful for. Whatever you do, remember to give yourself acknowledgment and gratitude for all the wonderful things you have accomplished.

Katie Oltz, BAS, is a clinical psychology master’s student and psychology trainee at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs (UCCS) Aging Center. Contact her at [email protected] or at 719-255-8002.