3 Holiday Stress Busters in Two Minutes or Less

by Holly McGannon

The holiday season is upon us. The most wonderful time of the year boasts celebrating with family and friends, gifts, and foods that are special to the season. While these things may be enjoyable, these festivities are added to our already crowded schedules, and this often adds stress that we simply don’t need. To help keep things from overwhelming us, here are three quick stress busters that take less than two minutes.


The Mini Vacation

If you have sixty seconds to spare, a mini vacation is the perfect distraction to refresh a tired mind. Set a timer, close your eyes and picture your favorite place on earth. What relaxes you most—the beach, the mountains, a lakeside view?

Is the sun warm on your face, or is it a peaceful evening with the stars shining brightly?

Is there a breeze? What do you hear? What do you smell?

In my favorite sixty second vacation, I wiggle my toes imagining the warm sand between them. The sun on my face makes me smile and the cool breeze tousles my hair, relaxing my scalp. As I breathe in the salty air I can feel my muscles release the tension they have been holding. The cry of seagulls over the crashing waves calls to mind a carefree moment of trying to catch one as a child. The spray of the ocean makes my skin tingle as I watch a group of pelicans land on the water.

It only takes a moment of focusing on each element to complete the mental picture and fully relax. The more you can invoke your senses, the more vivid the entire image will become.

Visualization has been used by successful people for hundreds of years. While modern examples include high profile personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Jim Carey, even Winston Churchill and William Shakespeare were said to have used this technique, envisioning their success long before it happened.

While this practice is suggested for five to ten minutes a day for sustained stress relief, one minute of visualization can redirect focus and invoke feelings of relaxation whenever the need arises.

The Breathing Reprieve

When you were a child, did your mother ever tell you to take a deep breath and count to ten because you were upset? Though it may seem old fashioned, there is a lot of wisdom in that advice.

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California have identified 175 brain cells which spy on the breath and alter state of mind accordingly.1 The new study has found that taking a deep breath really does calm you down by triggering neurons in your brain which tell the body it is time to relax. Although this practice has been used in yoga for thousands of years, we now know why it works. The study suggests that it’s possible to reverse engineer your mood by altering your breathing.

“If something’s impairing or accelerating your breathing, you need to know right away,” said Dr. Mark Krasnow, professor of biochemistry at the Stanford University School of Medicine. “These 175 neurons, which tell the rest of the brain what’s going on, are absolutely critical.”1

Tired, hungry people often take offense at the slightest infraction. Too long in line at a store or sitting in a drive thru when you are in a hurry can wind a person tight. Take advantage of these still moments and use them for your benefit.

Breathe out through your mouth making room for your next breath. Inhale in through your nose for four seconds making sure that your abdomen expands, not just yours lungs. Imagine the air reaching all the way to your toes as you hold the breath for seven seconds. Count to eight as you exhale through your mouth again, pushing out the oxygen-depleted air. Repeat this three more times.

Enjoy the moment and feel the peace.


Smile More

It’s not just a T-shirt folks.  A smile is one of the most powerful psychological weapons in your arsenal.  It is so powerful, you can hear it through a phone. Smiling naturally makes you sound friendlier, and if you let it, you will feel friendlier too. And the best part is a smile is contagious. Not only are you brightening the moment for yourself, but you are lightening the mood for those around you.

“British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.” says Ron Gutman, the author of Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act.

I don’t know about you, but one bar of chocolate works well for me. If a smile holds that much more power and without all the calories, sign me up!

Does it still work if you don’t feel like smiling and you have to put on a temporarily fake smile? As Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh said, "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." Changing your behavior by smiling can change your inner feelings. Research has shown that individuals who forced their lips into a smile actually felt better.

As a bonus, smiling can help reduce pain. According to behavioral psychologist Sarah Stevenson, “Each time you smile you throw a little feel-good party in your brain.” Dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin are activated when you smile. Those endorphins serve as natural pain relievers and act as the body's own opiates.

Legal, zero calories, and free! A smile is the magic pill every person needs.

You Never Know What Someone Else Is Going Through

Several years ago my family and I were picking up a few last minutes items a couple of days before Christmas. While our items were being scanned, a man one line over approached us and began yelling violently. We were startled and confused, not having seen him before. Apparently he had seen us on an aisle while we were shopping earlier and disliked something he thought he saw. Thankfully, some customers stood by us in case things went badly. Before we left the store, police officers had the man sitting on a bench, and he was weeping. My husband asked an officer what the story was, and the officer said the man’s mother had just passed and he was lost and didn’t know what to do for Christmas that year.

We never really know what the person beside us is going through. A smile could make all the difference.

This holiday season, treat yourself with a quick and refreshing break. Enjoy each moment with some peace on earth, and don’t forget the egg nog.



Holly McGannon is co-founder of The McGannon Group, Ltd. Co., home to Wyvern's Peak Publishing, is part of the editing team here, and is a Certified Stress Management Coach. She loves gardening, listening to the ocean, and that tingly feeling she gets when the sun warms her face.

Holly is currently working on her first book, a paranormal romance, and intends to have it completed before pigs actually learn how to fly. She understands she's running out of time, but for now she's happy to continue helping other author's provide great books to readers of all ages.

Mrs. McGannon lives somewhere near the Center of the Universe (no, literally) with those who are the center of her own universe: her husband, two boys, and a little white, fluffy puppy named Jewel.




Image credits:

Sunset on North Beach at Ft. De Soto Park By Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Show us your smile By Ben Smith from Oxford, England (065/365: Show us your smile!) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

1 Knapton, Sarah. “Deep breathing calms you down because brain cells spy on your breath” The Telegraph, 30 March. 2017, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/03/30/deep-breathing-calms-brain-cell-spy-breath/