Calm for the holidays

Francesca Coltrera

Editor, Harvard Health Blog

Are you heading home for the holidays, hosting relatives, or throwing parties? A strong dose of calm can help you enjoy yourself more and stress less. Here are a few ways to take holiday stress down a notch and invoke your calmest self.

Find your calm

Breathe deep: When your emotions run high, breathing speeds up, too. Deliberately slowing your breathing relaxes tense muscles, bringing shoulders down from ears, calms roiling emotions, and helps disarm the hormonal cascade within the body that feeds anxiety.

Try this: close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose while counting upward. Hold for a few seconds. Breathe out slowly through your nose while counting downward. Make each out-breath a few counts longer than each in-breath. Repeat for five minutes.

Or try a calming yoga breath, such as alternate nostril breath, described in a blog post by Marilyn Wei, MD.

A wide world of mindfulness apps for smartphones or tablets can show you many more ways to breathe deep and seek calm. Some are available for a one-time fee or by monthly subscription. Others allow you to tap samples for free.

Move fast: Investing time and effort in regular exercise helps people manage anxiety. A systematic review of 15 randomized, controlled trials found that regular aerobic exercise successfully reduced anxiety in people who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders and people with raised scores when tested for anxiety. Those who engaged in high-intensity exercise (such as jogging) gained more relief than those who did low intensity exercise (such as walking), although both approaches had positive effects.

Can’t find the energy or time to exercise regularly? Even so, the distraction factor and chance to burn off anxiety through bursts of activity can help you feel calmer. Run in place, sprint up and down stairs, do jumping jacks, or take yourself out of the mix for a while and go for a walk outside.

Change the conversation

Defuse charged conversations: Let’s say you have family members whose conversations or actions reliably raise your blood pressure. Are polar-opposite politics are the root of the problem? Angry Uncle Bot, an interactive chat program published in the New York Times, offers ideas on ways to change the script this year. Or maybe it’s more than just politics that you and your family wrestle over. If so, try these simple tips to help promote peace among relatives from Melissa Brodrick, ombudsperson at Harvard Medical School.


  1. Bob

    Find your happy place… and don’t come out.

  2. Alison Craig

    “I really felt betrayed” is another way of say you betrayed me. A less loaded expression would be: I was unhappy when I discovered…


    I needed those suggestions RIGHT NOW!!! And they worked.
    Thank you so much!


    Really helpful. Thanks

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