Extra obligations, high expectations, added expenses and hectic schedules don’t have to be your downfall. Try these tips for a more joyous holiday season:

1. Boost Those Happiness Hormones
If you feel a little nutty or erratic during the holidays, you’re not alone! Many experts say our feelings, thoughts and actions during the holiday season are driven by hormonal changes that might be more extreme than at any other time of the year. So how do we regulate those hormones?

Spend time outdoors! Even on a cloudy day the outdoor light is far greater than any level of light achieved in most indoor settings. Exposure to bright light stimulates the synthesis of serotonin, which has been dubbed “the happiness hormone”. 

Serotonin levels also increase through such feelings as togetherness, not through material goods such as gifts and food. Instead of sitting around the holiday table the whole time, plan an activity that fosters cohesion with your relatives.  Invite everyone to play board games, watch a good comedy, volunteer, to go ice skating or take a family stroll. 

Or, you might want to show those funny videos, dust off your joke book, watch a family-friendly comedy special or reminisce those funny family stories of the past. Laughter is contagious, improves well-being, creates positive memories, relieves stress, and improves mood by boosting dopamine and endorphin levels. Endorphin release is also prompted by physical activity and physical touch, like hugging or massage.

2. Play Music to Tame the Tension
Music’s beneficial effects on both the body and the mind are well established. Whether you listen to energize your workout or to quiet down and soothe your nervous system—music has you covered on these two stress-busting strategies. Despite the many demands on your time, this is not the season to stop exercising. In fact, like music, exercise has been found to reduce anger, tension, fatigue and can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.

Before personal or family tension begins to mount around the holiday table, try playing soft, calming background music—think “classical or spa” to balance brainwaves and help melt away the tension.  Music therapy, a long-used popular way of relaxing and restoring health, has been scientifically shown to reduce stress and anxiety, while enhancing emotional wellbeing and social interactions.  Need a double dose during the holidays? Neuroscientists actually constructed a song to maximize stress reduction.  Study participants who listened to the song “Weightless” by Marconi Union experienced a 65 percent reduction in overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their baseline physiological resting rates.

3. Think Outside the Gift Box
Is your house filled with rarely used “stuff”? This year cut back on the material clutter by gifting experiences instead of things.  Research studies have found that the novelty of a new purchase wears off relatively quickly leaving us in an endless cycle of looking for the next new material thing to spike our happiness. But experiences tend to be more unique and personalized. Research show experiences produce joy while anticipating the experience, during the actual experience itself, and then from the memories afterwards. In addition, experiences usually bring us together with other people, help us have better conversations and stories to share and leave us with happy memories for a lifetime. Experiences don’t have to be elaborate. Cooking or yoga classes; tickets to sporting or local theatrical event; a dinner cruise; a concert or comedy show; musical instrument lessons--- the choices are endless.

The ultimate experience might be a family vacation, which can destress and recharge adults and children alike.  And, not surprisingly, vacations are also valued by children both in the moment and long afterward in their memory. Consider giving your kids fewer toys or high-tech gadgets, and instead take a family trip.  According to neuroscientists, family vacations, even a weekend trip to a local theme park or hotel, can advance brain development in children, enhance concentration, boost self-esteem and strengthen the sense of a family bond and belonging in children. What better gift can we give?

 

These materials are provided to you by Blythedale Children’s Hospital and Kohl’s
Eat Well, Be Well Nutrition Outreach Program.
For more tips and information, please visit www.blythedale.org/kohls.

Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well Program

Blythedale Children's Hospital, through the generosity of Kohl’s Department Stores, is proud to offer Blythedale and Kohl's Eat Well, Be Well, an innovative outreach program designed to bring health and nutrition education to schools throughout Westchester and Putnam counties. Through this program, Blythedale staff members teach healthy eating habits to children by providing curricula, training and educational tools to school districts throughout the area. The program provides general nutrition guidelines to students, parents and school faculty. Blythedale Children's Hospital offers experts in nutrition and health-education to speak with local parenting groups, PTAs and school personnel.

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