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Live Well: 7 holiday self-care tips that will keep you Scrooges from raining on those candy cane parades

December 5, 2017 Updated: December 5, 2017 at 3:18 pm
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Yogis out there might consider forward folds. They stretch the whole backside of your body and if you do it from standing, it becomes a gentle inversion, which gets fresh blood flowing into your noggin.

How I would love to tell you I'm the holliest, jolliest little elf come December. But that, my friends, would be a gingerbread-covered lie. I'm mostly a Christmas crunch. I'm not the only one, right?

I love a few things about the holidays: "A Charlie Brown Christmas." "A Christmas Story." Poignant Vince Guaraldi Christmas music. Possible mistletoe interactions (this has never happened, but I remain hopeful). Tasteful white light displays. Saran-wrapped plates of Christmas cookies and fudge from neighbors. (This has only happened once, but again, I remain ever vigilant. It would probably help if I reciprocated.)

Jennifer Mulson staff mug Thursday, June 12, 2014. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to embrace the holidays. Some years I even give it the old college try, like the time two years ago when I tromped through Pike National Forest to find a real, live Christmas tree. (Yes, it was legal.) And sure, it was pretty with my string of white lights and random weird household ornaments (hanging cutlery, anybody?), until I finally dragged it out of the house in February, stuffed it in my old, beat-up garbage can and crossed my fingers the trash guys would take pity on me and cart it off.

But it still didn't make me feel all Currier and Ives-like. Hey, I tried.

If you find yourself nodding along, let's not kick ourselves while we're down, shall we? The holidays can be hard for any number of reasons, so let's acknowledge how we feel and know it doesn't say anything about us as human beings. Maybe next year will be different.

In the meantime, here are a few ways to care for yourself so you can make it to New Year's Day without raining on anybody else's candy cane parade.

- Forward folds: I find these gentle yoga poses so soothing. They stretch the whole backside of your body and if you do it from standing, it becomes a gentle inversion, which gets fresh blood flowing into your noggin. Walk your feet out a bit wider than hip-width distance. Bend your knees and gently allow your upper body to fold over your legs. Rest your hands on the ground, a couple of yoga blocks or grab your opposite biceps with your hands. Relax your head and neck. Retreat to the bathroom during over-stimulating gatherings for one of these bad boys.

- Back bends: These can be mood lifting and energizing, so avoid them around bedtime. Try camel pose by coming to kneeling with your knees hip-width distance apart and the tops of your feet pressed to the ground or your toes tucked under. Place your hands on your low back with your fingers pointing down. Pull your shoulder blades toward each other and keep your hips stacked over your knees as you slowly begin to bend backward, opening up through the chest as you go. If you're feeling flexible, place your hands on your heels. Relax your head all the way back or keep your chin slightly tucked toward your chest.

- Breath work: Research shows simple, deep breathing can reduce anxiety and depression, increase energy levels, relax your muscles and decrease feelings of stress. Here's one to try: Breath of joy. You'll do three short inhales and one long exhale. Stand with your feet hip-width distance apart. With a sharp inhale, swing your arms straight out in front of you and overhead in one fluid sweeping motion. With another sharp inhale, swing them straight down and then out to the side. With a third inhale, lift them back up overhead, then exhale "ha" through the mouth and fold forward, with your arms extending forward and toward the ground. Speed up the breath and movement as you go. Do as many repetitions as feels good.

- Meditation: Check out of those obsessive Grinchy thoughts for awhile. Plop down on a cushion or yoga block and zero in on your breath. Try counting your breaths or repeating a phrase, such as "Thank you" or "Peace." If you need guidance, try an app, such as Insight Timer, which has an unlimited supply of guided meditations. Try to do 15 minutes daily.

- Increase your heart rate: Climb stairs, jump rope, walk the mall, scale a mountain. Exercise-induced endorphins are my go-to magic potion. I recommend one daily heaping - even 10-15 minutes can do wonders.

- Alone time: My unofficial research indicates this could be one of the most social times of the year, what with holiday parties every weekend and family gatherings. That's even more reason to schedule some down time for yourself. Studies claim it helps you better handle stress and gives you greater life satisfaction. Incorporate forest bathing, if the weather cooperates. More studies indicate a visit to the woods provides multiple positive benefits, including stress reduction, lowered blood pressure and improved mood, energy level and sleep.

- Adult Advent calendars: As a child I adored ripping open one treat-filled window every day until Christmas. Find a cheapie at the grocery store or splurge on one of the many adult versions found online: brandy-filled chocolates, Yankee Candles, tea bags, coffee, jellies and nail polish.

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