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Mid-Winter Stress Relief

January 9, 2012

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Light deprivation, snow and ice storms, dangerous driving conditions, power outages, frozen pipes, the frenzy of winter holidays, overindulgence, weight gain: winter delivers a load of extra stress to those of us in the colder, darker regions.

While we’re powerless to control most of these stress-inducing circumstances, we do have an abundance of choices for responding to stress and lessen its negative effects on our health and well-being.

My favorite stress-busters don’t cost anything, require any special equipment, or take much time. They’re safe, always available, and (at least for me) reliable. Each in its own way helps interrupt the downward spiral of anger, frustration, fear, and anxiety.

Laugh
Googling “laugh therapy” brings up 28 million links. Laughter clubs and laughter events have spread throughout the world, and many people even celebrate Global Belly Laugh Day. With good reason: laughter measurably reduces stress hormones, boosts immune function, and tunes the cardiovascular systems.

Researchers say laughter is contagious, and works its magic best in company with others. But laughing alone works, too. Fake laughter works. Even anticipating a laugh confers health benefits. 

Ho, ho, ho!

Groan
People instinctively groan in pain, in pleasure, and in the grip of strong emotion. We groan with effort and we groan when we’ve finished a piece of hard work.

But what about intentional groaning, just for relieving stress? It works wonders for me. I do most of my groan therapy in my car (alone), where I don’t feel self-conscious. I experiment with the depth, length and volumes of my groans. I find it fun and exhilarating.

It  it doesn’t interfere with my driving, encourages deeper, more complete breathing (see below), and sometimes lapses into hilarious laughter (see above).

Take a deep breath
Because we breathe until we stop for good, breathing is the most available and least publicly observable stress-relieving technique we have.

Most of us breathe shallowly, using only the upper portion of our lungs. Since every cell in the body requires oxygen, breathing better will improve health in many ways. 

I find a minute of mindful breathing (if I can remember to do it) helps restore a balanced perspective when I sense a surge of negative emotion, fear, or anxiety starting to take hold.

Walk
I‘m not talking about a bout of exercise, but a slow, mindful walk of five or 10 minutes (around the driveway or parking lot if necessary).  Focus simply on putting one foot in front of the other, following the swing of your arms, or the breath going in and out of your nose.

I find a short, slow walk especially useful for breaking the grip of writer’s block or tamp down a rush of frustration when things aren’t going my way.

Take a hot bath
When it comes to cleanliness, a shower is faster and more convenient. But for pure pleasure and stress reduction, nothing beats a hot bath. For moisturizing benefits, toss in a tablespoon of olive oil or mix half a cup of uncooked rolled oats with half a cup of honey in a old sock and let it soak along with you.

Caution: If you’re pregnant or might be, please consult your midwife or doctor about the possible effects of hot baths on your developing baby.

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Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.

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