The holiday season is a busy time with many demands such as parties, shopping, baking, cleaning and entertaining. It's important to minimize the stress of the holidays and enjoy them even more. The Simonds-Hurd Complementary Care Center at the HealthAlliance Hospital Burbank Campus offers great services to help minimize your stress including yoga, massage, reiki, and much more. This week Dr. Daniel O'Leary hands off “Ask a Doc” to Lynn Gerrits, MA, Complementary Care Center manager, who will give you helpful tips to help your stress this holiday season.

1. Breathing exercises

One of my very favorite forms of stress relief, breathing exercises are excellent free stress relievers that can be done anytime, anywhere. They work well by initiating something called the relaxation response and in turn prevent damage due to chronic stress, even while in the middle of a very stressful situation. The act of consciously taking a few slow breaths in through the nose can often stop stress in its tracks.

2. Progressive muscle relaxation

Tensing and relaxing muscles is a very basic free stress reliever, and that's exactly what progressive muscle relaxation involves. It's simple and easy to learn, and with practice, you can not only reduce or eliminate the tension in your entire body in a matter of seconds or minutes, but will eventually recognize more quickly when and where tension is held in the body. This in turn can prevent fewer knots or muscle spasms, though one can always schedule a therapeutic massage to work them out.

3. Meditation

Meditation is one of the most effective and widely practiced stress relievers around. Though it does take regular practice, and sometimes requires some getting used to, meditation can help relieve current and prevent future stress. There are many types of meditation. Guided imagery/visualization can help you to place positive mental framing around situations that are out of your control. Mindfulness meditation, including a walking meditation, is the practice of being present in the moment, not thinking about the past or future, but where you are and what's around you “now.” Mindfulness can be used during activities as well, such as while eating a meal to be more aware of when you've had enough, and to thoroughly enjoy the taste of food. During exercise, the practice of being mindful can help bring focus to the breath as well as to certain muscle groups, while reducing the chance of injury.

4. Exercise

Working out can be a free stress reliever if done creatively. Take a walk with a friend, try a workout DVD in your home, or do some jumping jacks or stairs to get your heart rate up while stuck in the house during inclement weather.

Whatever your approach, the body experiences a release from tension and an influx of endorphins that accompany exercise that boosts mood. At work you can try some desk yoga, which inclues simple stretches and exercises to relieve tension. Tai Chi and Qigong are additional forms of exercise in the mind-body category that help transform tension, renew energy, aid in focus, circulation and balance.

5. Laughter

Not only is laughter “the best medicine,” but it is one of the more fun free stress relievers available. It's also very important to maintain a sense of humor in life not only to relieve stress, but to make life more enjoyable. The act of laughing generates endorphins and serotonin to reduce stress levels, while the movement of the diaphragm muscle works like an internal massage on our organs. In addition, laughter increases circulation of blood, lymph and oxygen throughout our body. Try watching clips of babies laughing on YouTube. Watch a funny movie or sitcom. Laugh with friends. Or maybe attend the free monthly Laughter Yoga club at the Simonds-Hurd Complementary Care Center (no yoga experience needed).

6. Music

Listening to music has proven benefits and it's one of the most enjoyable and effortless free stress relievers you can try. Try some meditation music to soothe the body and mind, or select upbeat music to create energy and focus to get through a stressful day. At work, try listening to Pandora radio on your computer. Some soothing stations include Nature's Lullaby, Sedona Sunrise, Spa Suite or Inner Peace.

7. Say No

Particularly at this time of year, we may find ourselves saying “yes” to more than we can handle, which makes the stress mount. Instead, take some time this season to re-examine priorities and make the commitment to yourself to say “no” to anything that is not on your list. Having a personal plan to set and stay firm with boundaries can enhance confidence and help reduce anticipatory stress. In addition, you may find that it results in more free time to do some of the activities you truly enjoy at this wonderful and busy time of year.

Lynn Gerrits can be reached at: Simonds-Hurd Complementary Care Center – Burbank Campus, 275 Nichols Rd, Fitchburg, MA , or by calling 978-343-5098. Please contact your physician if you are experiencing any health concerns. If you are looking for a doctor, please call our physician referral line at 888-840-DOCS (3627). If you would like to submit a health topic, please email: askadoc@healthalliance.com.