A few years ago, this time of year was crazy busy for me. It is now too, but for different reasons.
Back then, I had three kids living at home, and I was neck-deep in all of the holiday hoopla that goes with having school-aged children. Lots of driving. Lots of school events, ballet performances, holiday parties, shopping, wrapping, cooking, etc.
Now my kids are in college, and I've directed more of my time and energy into my work. At the moment, I'm under a deadline to complete a self-publishing course in early January. I'm working particularly long hours under some stress to get everything done in time.
I'm not complaining — I love my work, but I can tell I'm feeling overwhelmed and depleted. I know myself well enough to recognize when it's time to step back and recharge.
You may be feeling the same way. Maybe it's not work or kids or the demands of the holidays, but whatever it is, you also need to refill your emotional and mental tank.
If you're an introvert like me, you may find all of the extra stimulation from the holiday season overwhelming. More crowds. More traffic. More demands on your time. More ads and offers hitting your inbox or mailbox.
But even extraverts need to pay attention to their internal world to make sure they stay balanced, focused, and calm. It's easy to get pulled into all of the excitement and festivities, only to find yourself crashing unexpectedly with illness, exhaustion, or anxiety.
During hectic or stressful times, the best thing you can do for yourself is to pull back and spend some time alone.
Consider these 21 things to do by yourself to help you relax and recharge:
Reading is always my go-to form of relaxation. For me, the book needs to be a novel that allows me to escape rather than something that requires my concentration or makes me think about work.
2. Take a hike.
Since I live in Asheville, North Carolina, I'm surrounded by mountains and beautiful places to hike. But even if you don't live near the mountains, you can always find a state park or nearby forest where you can take a solitary hike in nature.
Rigorous exercise can definitely recharge you, but I find the slower pace of hiking allows for more contemplation and appreciation of the beauty around me. When I hike, I feel like a weight has been lifted and a sense of peace replaces it.
Meditation doesn't have to be long and complicated. Even if you set aside ten minutes a day, simply quieting your mind and focusing on your breathing will help you relax and reduce stress.
The physical, emotional, and mental benefits of meditation are numerous, and once you begin the practice, you'll see how it quiets your mind from the incessant chatter even during times when you aren't meditating.
I've written several blog posts on the benefits of writing, whether you start writing your first book, your personal manifesto, or you simply write in a journal.
Writing allows you to release all of the ideas, concerns, and feelings you might have bottled up inside. It also puts you in a state of “flow” where you lose track of time because you're so engaged in what you're doing. The flow state is similar to being in a meditative state.
5. Listen to music.
When I need to recharge, I prefer to listen to relaxing music on Pandora. The name of the station is “Relaxation Radio,” and it's perfect when I just want to feel calm and peaceful.
There have been a lot of studies confirming that music has a beneficial effect on many physical functions, such as slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.
6. Get a massage.
Aside from the fact that it feels so wonderful, massage is really good for you. A recent study conducted by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found that a single session of deep tissue massage causes several biological changes.
Study volunteers showed significant decreases in levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increases in white blood cells that are part of the immune system. Massage activates the body on an internal level to respond and correct the physiological imbalance caused by our stressful lives.
7. Play an instrument.
I recently bought a stick dulcimer, which is a dulcimer that looks like a tiny guitar. It's really easy to play, even for someone with no experience, and it has the most beautiful sound.
When I feel stressed out with work or just tired, it is so relaxing to pick out a tune on the dulcimer. Again, it puts you in that state of flow where you feel transported and disconnected from time. Practicing any instrument can offer this same feeling.
8. Practice yoga.
Yoga is an active meditation, a mind-body practice combining physical poses, controlled breathing, and relaxation. It has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate.
You don't have to go to a yoga studio to practice it. You can find a variety of free YouTube videos will simple yoga poses to help you get started.
9. Paint or draw.
Creative endeavors only work as stress-reducers if you don't place judgement on what you're doing. Give yourself permission to paint or draw freely, just for the fun of it.
If a blank page feels too intimidating, get an adult coloring book and some colored pens or pencils. Coloring, especially coloring mandalas, is a stress-relieving activity that relaxes the fear center in your brain.
10. People watch.
Go to a local coffee shop or cafe, grab a latte or cup of tea, and just watch the world go by without working on your computer or looking at your phone.
11. Take a bath.
Fill the tub with warm water and scented bath salts. Light some candles and play some relaxing music. Slide down in the tub, close your eyes, and let all of your daily stress float away.
Once you learn how to knit, knitting can be as relaxing as meditation. You can simply zone out and allow muscle memory to do the work. The rhythmic motions and focus required put you in a trance state and distract you from your worries and negative thoughts.
13. Cuddle an animal.
Whether you have your own pet or you go to a pet store, holding and cuddling an animal is amazingly calming.
Studies show petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.
14. Go to a movie.
Going to a movie by yourself can be mindless and therapeutic. You are in a dark room without distractions or other people to talk to, focused entirely on a make-believe story. I find that uplifting, funny, or romantic movies are better during hectic times rather than action movies or thrillers.
15. Do a mindless task.
Hand wash the dishes. Organize a drawer. Fold the laundry. Wash the car. All of these require little mental effort, and they keep your hands busy. You can feel productive and relaxed at the same time.
Take 10-15 minutes to sit and reflect on happy events in your life or to count your blessings. This kind of positive reflection has been shown to improve overall feelings of happiness and contentment.
It's one of the 12 elements of happiness, according to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a happiness researcher who wrote the book,The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.
17. Drink tea.
In my book, Peace of Mindfulness: Everyday Rituals to Conquer Anxiety and Claim Unlimited Inner Peace, I discuss the ritual of preparing and drinking tea mindfully.
Buddhist monk and author, Thict Nhat Hanh, suggests that drinking tea can be a meditation itself when you do it mindfully. You pay full attention to selecting your cup, boiling the water, pouring the water over the tea, watching the water become infused with the tea, sipping the tea slowly, and washing your cup.
18. Eat slowly.
When you're stressed and rushed, eating well is one of the first things to go. We eat too quickly, grab fast food, eat too many snacks, or skip meals.
Instead, plan for one meal a day where you choose and prepare healthy foods, and you eat them slowly, appreciatively, and mindfully.
19. Take a catnap.
A short, restorative nap for about 15 minutes or so can be just enough to re-energize you for the rest of the day. Set a timer so you don't fall to deeply asleep, which can make you groggy.
Just turn off all distractions, close your eyes, and allow yourself to drift into a relaxed sleep for a few minutes.
I have a friend who loves to go to her kids' swing set in her back yard when she needs to think or process something going on in her life.
The rhythmic motion of the swing and the pumping movement of your arms and legs puts you in a meditative state. If it's too cold to do this outside, try a rocking chair instead.
21. Make soup.
For me, soup is comfort food, and the process of preparing food is very comforting. Chopping vegetables, stirring the soup, watching it bubble, and smelling the fragrant aroma of soup cooking is a joyful and relaxing process.
Give yourself a gift of time alone this holiday season, and give yourself permission to recharge your battery and find some peaceful, relaxing time on your own.Your body and mind will thank you.