Three 5-Minute Fixes for Holiday Stress

By Brian Leaf


Whether you’re stressed this holiday season from the gift-buying and consumerism, the in-laws visiting, or just too many wakings in the night, try these quick and easy fixes to move you from stress case to relaxed mama.


1. Alternate Nostril Breathing 

Sit in a chair or on the floor with a blanket or pillow underneath your bum.Holiday Stress


➊ Close off your right nostril with your thumb, and inhale slowly through the left nostril.
➋ Then close off your left nostril with your ring finger, and exhale slowly through the right.
➌ Then inhale through right.
➍ Switch fingers and exhale through left.

Repeat steps ➊ through ➍ for a few minutes.

If this seems way too complicated to follow, you can download a podcast of this practice here.
This breath relieves stress and balances the right and left hemispheres of your brain. You can practice it anytime, even in your chair at work. If you get a strange look from your colleagues, just explain that you are balancing your hemispheres.

2. Goofy Yale Breath

In the 1970s Herbert Benson, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, published work on what he called the relaxation response, a physiological response where the body and mind relax. Benson reported that the relaxation response was triggered by practicing 20 minutes of a concentration exercise, basically meditation.

Apparently, Yale, always in competition with Harvard, decided to one-up them. “We need a way to trigger the relaxation response, but in less than Benson’s 20 minutes!” they might have bemoaned. They researched, and they tried as hard as they could to relax; it was quite stressful. Finally, someone came up with the following goofy exercise. And it is goofy, but the thing is, it works! It totally works. Do it and you’ll see.
Follow these steps:
➊ Breathing through your nose, become aware of your breath.
➋ Relax your shoulders and face.
➌ Allow your exhale to be longer than your inhale.
➍ Now, drop your shoulders and head, smile, and then bring your head back up.
➎ Repeat: drop your shoulders and head, smile, and then bring your head back up.
➏ Notice how you feel.
That’s it! Anytime you feel stressed, try this very simple exercise to trigger your “relaxation response.”


3. Co-listening

Ask a friend to practice this exercise. Sit side by side, but facing in opposite directions. One person goes first and speaks, and the other person listens without validating or responding in any way. The speaker reports her experience. Reporting can include physical sensations (“My lower back feels stiff.”), thoughts (“My mind is spinning about the presentation I gave at work today.”), or emotions (“I feel so angry at Tom for snapping about the trash this morning.”) The goal is not to vent (which is being the feelings), but to note sensations, thoughts, and feelings (which is seeing/feeling the feelings).

The listener listens without validating. You can decide together if you will later be allowed to discuss things that came up. Sometimes it is more freeing to know that your partner will not try to solve what you discuss. The listener keeps time, and after two minutes, says, “Time.” Both partners pause, and then the listener becomes the speaker.
There you have three very different stress-busting tools! Try them and let us know which one works best for you!

Excerpted in part from the book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi ©2012 by Brian Leaf.


photo credit:

Brian Leaf

About Brian Leaf


Brian Leaf is author of the yoga memoir, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness. You can find him online at