The holidays are here.
The twinkle lights are up, parties are planned, families are gathering.
You’re shopping, wrapping, mailing, cooking, baking and cleaning.
At work, end-of-year projects are due, budgets are being calculated, proposals are developing.
Your schedule is full, your days are hectic and your stress level is off the charts.
This is prime time for magazines, newspapers and blogs. They tout stress-reducing solutions right and left: Exercise! Organize! Sleep more! Eat less sugar! Limit your caffeine!
These are all great and highly effective suggestions, but what if they don’t work?
What if incorporating all this “stress relief” stresses you out even more? Then what?
The answer may be curled up at your feet, or purring quietly on your lap.
It’s a well-documented fact that pets, particularly cats and dogs, reduce our stress.
However, in the hustle and bustle that December brings, it’s easy to rush past them or see them as anything other than another item on your swelling to-do list.
Many times, the first step to alleviating stress is reframing your perspective. Pets are no exception.
Consider the following:
One of our basic human needs is to touch.
Stroking, hugging and generally touching our pets satisfies this primal urge.
Petting an animal decreases stress-inducing cortisol levels, and increases stress-reducing oxytocin levels.
Touching our pets lowers blood pressure, increases serotonin and dopamine levels and, in the long run, even combats heart disease.
In other words, taking the two to five minutes needed to give your cat a pat, chemically puts your body in a calm, relaxed, less stressed state.
It’s also an opportunity to stop moving, sit down and take some of those calming breaths you’ve been reading about.
If you’re a dog owner, walking Fido can be an odious chore, especially in the frigid winter weather.
However, bundling up, grabbing the leash and heading out the door for 30 minutes is a great way to take a break from hosting duties, unplug from technology, and step away from the general holiday hubbub.
A brisk walk clears the mind, invigorates the body and provides a quiet reprieve.
And then there’s the stress of being single. There's office parties, mistletoe and New Year’s Eve, not to mention family members asking about your love life.
December is fraught with challenges to your inner peace if the season finds you partnerless.
Sometimes yoga, herbal tea and soothing music don’t chase away the stress and emotional angst associated with this.
It has been proven that spending time with your pet can take the edge off.
Pets don’t judge and they’re always happy (overjoyed in most cases) to see you.
They love you just the way you are.
They don’t care you’re solo; they just want to be with you.
This acceptance and unconditional love fends off loneliness, anxiety and depression more effectively than holiday cookies, hot toddies and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
There’s an added bonus to being a stress-free single person: Happiness is attractive.
Being relaxed, smiling and at peace makes you approachable, confident and downright sexy. Who wouldn’t want to be around that? Include your cute dog or cat and you’re a magnet for meeting new people.
Okay, this is great -- if you own a pet. What if you don’t or can’t?
This is the official season of giving.
If you don’t own a pet, take the opportunity to volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue center close to you.
Not only will you garner the benefits of interacting with adorable animals that really need your help, you’ll also position yourself to meet new people and experience new things.
Plus, the act of giving is in of itself a powerful stress reducer.
The holidays, as joyous as they are, are inherently stressful.
Surviving them takes fortitude and a bit of planning.
Developing stress management tactics will help.
However, if getting to the gym or switching to decaf isn’t increasing your sense of well-being, it might be time to hang out with your pet.
Tending to them can help keep your holiday fun, festive and heart-warming.