(CNN)Despite the myriad joys the season brings, it can be a stressful time for many of us. Between shopping, cooking, travel, parties, house guests, winter storms and shorter days, the holidays pile on the stress with little regard for the continued demands of our everyday lives. Instead of feeling festive, we’re often left tense, irritable and exhausted.
The good news is that we’re all equipped with a natural superpower to manage stress: breathing.
By training ourselves to breathe properly and leverage the power of our respiration, we can reverse the negative physiological responses that dampen our holiday spirit. Better breathing also reduces physical tension, promotes mindfulness, and helps us rest — all useful in decreasing the impact of holiday stress.
How will I get it all done? What if they don’t like my gifts? Any stress caused by anxiety takes us out of the present moment.
Whether you’re worrying about how to maneuver the social scene at the office Christmas party or concerned about the new year ahead, you’re disconnecting yourself from the here and now. Breathing is your most profound connection to the present, since it’s always happening. By turning your awareness to your breathing for just a few minutes, you can cultivate a sense of mindfulness that counters your anxiety.
Practicing a breath-awareness, mindfulness meditation doesn’t require any special circumstances. You can do it anywhere simply by tuning into your breathing.
You don’t need to be in a quiet space or special posture or even to close your eyes. Simply concentrate on the sensations of your breath. Slightly lengthen and deepen your inhalations and exhalations while you follow the path of your breath in through your nose, down into your lungs and back out.
Notice the expansion and contraction of your ribcage and any related sensations you can perceive. If thoughts come into your mind, push them aside and maintain your focus on your breathing as it happens, in the moment.
4. Use respiration to rest more
Rest is more essential than ever when we’re under stress, but the ability to sleep well can elude us during the holidays, especially when our schedules are packed with parties, travel and house guests.
There’s a reason your parasympathetic nervous system is also called the “rest and restore” system. Its primary role is to enable restoration of all the systems in your body. In addition to facilitating the restorative aspects of your autonomic system, diaphragmatic breathing can help you fall asleep easier.
It’s a little-known fact that carbon dioxide acts as a natural sedative for the brain, so you can use specific breathing methods to leverage its production at bedtime.
Exhaling slowly and maintaining a long pause after exhalation slows the release of carbon dioxide levels to provide a tranquilizing effect. My “peace” pause breathing is a favorite sleep-inducing breathing technique for my MLB clients, who often have difficulty sleeping because of the intense travel and late-night schedules associated with playing 162 games over 180 days per season.
While in bed, lengthen and deepen your inhalations to a five count and your exhalations to a slow-paced seven count. After each exhalation, pause — without taking in anymore air — and spell out P-E-A-C-E in your mind before your next inhalation. Repeat until you fall asleep.
For more on using your breathing to sleep better, check out my article, “6 minutes of yoga for better sleep.”
Give yourself the gift of calm this holiday season by discovering the enormous benefits of leveraging your stress-busting superpower.
May the Force (of your breath) be with you!