We tend to think that stress is caused by external factors: people, things, situations, and expectations. Sometimes its family members coming to dinner empty handed, or worse, their pet Fifi eats the family turkey.

Stress is a physiological response. The part of our brain responsible for the stress response is the amygdala, an almond-shaped nuclei located in the temporal lobes that manages our memory, decision-making, and emotions.

So how can we stop stress in its tracks? Without getting too deep into medical jargon, something called the parasympathetic nervous system acts in opposition to the sympathetic nervous system, the one that revs us up and sets us up for fight or flight. Therefore, to blunt the stress response, we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The best way to do this is using slow, deep breathing. It sounds simple, and it is. It is not the easiest thing in the heat of a stressful situation, but, with practice, one can reap the major benefits of this simple solution.

As with any habit, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. Then increase the interval to 10 minutes per day. The benefits include increasing our ability to focus, keeping attention on a difficult task, feeling compassion for others, controlling our emotions, and even decreasing the perception of pain. Those who practice meditation gain more control of themselves through being more aware of their minds.
But who has time to meditate amid the crazy holiday season? Schedule it. Set the alarm for 5 minutes earlier and take the time to start the day with this practice.

In addition to practicing mindfulness and shifting our mindsets, here are 5 other helpful tips for a stress-free holiday season:

1. Take care of yourself first. Get plenty of rest, eat a well-balanced diet, do some form of activity, and carve out time for self-care. And remember to breathe. When we are stressed, we do not breathe deeply, which can amplify anxiety.

2. Plan ahead, and do things in chunks. Do not feel the need to do everything in 1 day. Make a list, and select 2 things that can be done each day leading up to the holiday break!

3. Delegate tasks, and get others to help. We cannot do everything alone. Schedule shifts in sections where one is helping the other.

4. Focus on experiences rather than things. Hearing your customers future plans or past Christmas stories can brighten your day and theirs!

5. Remember to laugh. Laughter boots the immune system, triggers the release of endorphins, and can protect the heart! Share your funny Christmas story with your co-workers!