Mini-relaxations to ease holiday stress


Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

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With Black Friday upon us, the holiday season is now officially underway. Although the next month or so provides many opportunities to see family and friends, be generous, and spread good cheers, it can also be a difficult time. In a stressed-out heartbeat, the holiday season can morph into the hell-iday season.

Deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization can evoke a state of rest and release. Doing them can slow your heartbeat, calm your breathing, lower your blood pressure, and help you chill out.

You can’t necessarily eliminate the seasonal stressors. But you can counter them using the mini-relaxation exercises described below, adapted from Stress Management, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

When you’ve got 1 minute

Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe. Breathe in slowly. Pause for a count of three. Breathe out. Pause for a count of three. Continue to breathe deeply for one minute, pausing for a count of three after each inhalation and exhalation.

Another one-minute relaxation technique is to sit comfortably and take slow, deep breaths. Each time you breathe in, say to yourself “I am.” As you breathe out, say “At peace.” Repeat this several times. Feel your entire body relax into the support of the chair.

When you’ve got 2 minutes

Count down slowly from 10 to zero. With each number, take one complete breath, inhaling and exhaling. For example, breathe in deeply saying “10” to yourself. Breathe out slowly. On your next breath, say “nine,” and so on. If you feel lightheaded, count down more slowly to space your breaths further apart. When you reach zero, you should feel more relaxed. If not, go through the exercise again.

When you’ve got 3 minutes

Sit down and take a break from whatever you’re doing. Relax your facial muscles and allow your jaw to fall open slightly. Let your shoulders drop. Let your arms fall to your sides. Allow your hands to loosen so that there are spaces between your fingers. Uncross your legs or ankles. Feel your thighs sink into your chair, letting your legs fall comfortably apart. Feel your shins and calves become heavier and your feet grow roots into the floor. Now breathe in slowly and breathe out slowly. Each time you breathe out, relax even more.

When you’ve got 5 minutes

Try self-massage. A combination of strokes works well to relieve muscle tension. Try gentle chops with the edge of your hands or tapping with fingers or cupped palms. Put fingertip pressure on muscle knots. Knead across muscles, and try long, light, gliding strokes. You can apply these strokes to any part of the body that falls easily within your reach. For a short session like this, try focusing on your neck and head.

  • Start by kneading the muscles at the back of your neck and shoulders. Make a loose fist and drum swiftly up and down the sides and back of your neck. Use your thumbs to work tiny circles around the base of your skull. Slowly massage the rest of your scalp with your fingertips. Then tap your fingers against your scalp, moving from the front to the back and then over the sides.
  • Massage your face. Make a series of tiny circles with your thumbs or fingertips. Pay particular attention to your temples, forehead, and jaw muscles. Use your middle fingers to massage the bridge of your nose and work outward over your eyebrows to your temples.

When you’ve got 10 minutes

Try imagining yourself away from stress. Start by sitting comfortably in a quiet room. Breathe deeply for a few minutes. Now picture yourself in a place that conjures up good memories. What do you smell — the heavy scent of roses on a hot day, crisp fall air, the wholesome smell of baking bread? What do you hear? Drink in the colors and shapes that surround you. Focus on sensory pleasures: the swoosh of a gentle wind; soft, cool grass tickling your feet; the salty smell and rhythmic beat of the ocean. Passively observe intrusive thoughts, and then gently disengage from them to return to the world you’ve created.

More tips on easing stress are available in Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress.


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  2. Amy Bendahan

    This is a great and practical article. I’ve been practising progressive muscle relaxation for a while now and use that as my main method of stress relief. For those of you like me who also like some music or a visual, especially when first trying out different meditations and relaxation techniques, you can always go to youtube and type in progressive muscle relaxation or meditation etc and you get a plethora of videos that walk you through the process so that you can learn to do it on your own.
    Remember, stress is the cause of so many illnesses and disorders that it is crucial that we learn to manage our stress levels to live a healthy life!
    Happy New Year and Good Health to All!

  3. Dex Destine

    One great way to deal with stress is to learn to forgive people. This is important because often times holding grudges may prove to cause you more stress than if you just let it go. Decide for yourself if you are able to move on and try to do it as soon as possible.

    Find out what is the cause of your stress and try to eliminate it. There are many different things that may cause you stress in your daily life. By eliminating the problems that are causing you stress then you will not have to deal with that particular stress anymore.

    TIP! Aromatherapy can be a very effective way of reducing stress. The sense of smell is very powerful.
    A great tip that can help you relieve stress is to try and help out other people as often as you can. Helping other people is a great way to feel relaxed and good about yourself. You’ll be keeping your stress levels down and helping someone at the same time.

  4. Millicent Curtis

    Great article. It’s important that we learn to slow down and take of ourselves.

  5. Sheryl Schaefer

    What a great article, thanks! I particularly love the idea of massaging the face – had never thought of that and certainly so much of our tension gets trapped there as we clench our teeth or frown.

  6. Pamela Ames-McGrath

    Having taught breathing for over thirty years to doctors, scientists, academics in Oxford & Cape Town, believe me the only way to teach the art- and it is an art – is by using the diaphragm. No one wants over- developed stomach muscles. Swing the ribs up & outwards keeping shoulders low, not lifted, and breathe in through nose, out through mouth. Singers love it. Actors use it. Doctors say it’s perfect. Try!


    thanks for sharing,GOOD ARTICLE

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