Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – everyone celebrates it, and it centers on cooking and food. But like most holidays, it involves family, logistics and (depending on your circumstances) a large or small dollop of stress.

Stress serves a biological purpose. The fight-or-flight response of adrenaline and cortisol keeps us out of danger and motivates us to change situations that are painful or uncomfortable. But modern workplace, money or family stress doesn’t easily lend itself to solutions like fighting or fleeing, and if your life has too much stress (or you handle it poorly), your mental and physical health takes a hit.

So, since there’s no time for going on vacation or booking an hour-long massage, what is the healthiest, easiest way to deal with stress?

Let’s say you’ve burned the mashed potatoes, or an annoying uncle keeps asking you why you aren’t married yet. You’ll likely feel your muscles tense up and your breathing become quick and shallow. A whole bunch of four-letter words might come to mind, but there are two that you should actually say: STOP and WAIT. With a little (OK, maybe a lot of) practice, you can train yourself to relax and disengage. Then you will be able to do any or all of the following things:

  1. Breathe: You can’t control other people or circumstances, but you can control your breath. Step out of the room (if you can) and take some slow, deep breaths. It sounds too good to be true, but changing your breathing can lower your blood pressure and give you the oxygen you need to think clearly and find solutions.
  2. Get Moving: Exercise is a great stress buster. It doesn’t have to be a full workout (though that of course has its own benefits). Exercise releases endorphins and lifts your mood. Just a quick walk around the block will clear your head, and the fresh air and sunshine will help your outlook on life. If you can’t leave the house, just put some music on and dance around for a while.
  3. Have an Attitude of Gratitude: Thanksgiving is a perfect time to reflect on the things that are going right in our world, but it really is something we should do every day. Studies show that people who fill out gratitude journals or otherwise focus on the positive have better physical health than those who don’t.

Stress is one of those things where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ask for support with cooking and chores, and remember that boundaries are your friend. Say “no” when you have to, and draw up ground rules when appropriate. I love this one by style expert Clinton Kelly: he makes a rule for his guests not to be a D.R.I.P. – that means no discussion of Diets, Religion, Illness or Politics in his home.

What do you do to keep your stress at bay?

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Lisa Browdy

We all know what to do, and many of us resolve to do it every year: eat better, exercise more, lose weight and reduce stress. We may have many demands on our time and energy, and not a lot of cash to spare...