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Holiday stress? Use your common sense(s)

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Did you know there’s a great way to calm yourself down during holiday madness and really enjoy the season at the same time? It’s called grounding.

One of the main reasons we experience stress during the holidays is because we are thinking, perceiving, and yes, perhaps even ruminating, about presents to buy, food to prepare, and making everything just perfect.

Of course, thinking, perceiving, and ruminating are all located in the mind. We get so caught up in what’s going on “out there” (our minds) that we forget about what’s happening “in here” (our bodies.)

Grounding helps bring us back to what is happening in the current moment by utilizing our five senses. This has two delightful effects during the holidays: It helps to give our busy minds a break and we get to really indulge in the pleasures of the season.

Here are some suggestions for grounding yourself during this busy time of year:


Take a big breath in through your nose, noticing what you smell. If you’re inside, do you notice the scent of the Christmas tree, the pie in the oven, or the cookies on the counter?

If you’re outside, see if you can smell the nip in the air or the scent of the turning leaves.


Notice the way the Hanukkah candle flickers and dances when someone walks by.

Keep your eye on one snowflake as it floats softly from the sky to the ground.

Sit quietly for a moment and really see your family and the people at your holiday party.


When you are in your kitchen cooking with your T-fal FR8000 and feel the stress rising, stop for a moment and put your hand on the kitchen counter. Notice how cool it is, how smooth.

Hug your child and feel the texture of her clothes and the warmth of her body.

While wrapping presents, pay attention to how the paper feels on your fingertips as you make a crease. Notice the stickiness of the tape as you apply it.

Take a deep breath in and feel your chest and belly expand. Notice your skin as your clothes gently rub against it on your exhale.


Listen to the difference in people’s voices around the holidays. Do you notice a tinge of excitement? Anxiety? Joy?

During holiday meals, listen to the buzz around the table, the clinking of dishes, the sounds of gustatory delight.

After a holiday get-together, sit in your favorite chair and notice the more subtle sounds of the clock ticking, the crackle of the fireplace, the hum of the heater, and the particular creaks and noises of a house settling in for the night.


I saved the best for last! There’s nothing like the taste of the holidays, but how often do you actually take the time to savor it?

This year, feel the texture of the latkes on your tongue.

Notice the smooth creaminess of the pumpkin pie and the hint of cinnamon on your taste buds.

How does that eggnog feel on your lips? And what do your lips taste like when you lick the delicious concoction from them?


Takeaway points: There are so many sights, sounds, smells, feelings, and tastes of the season that we let pass by. This year, enjoy them more by really noticing them. I know you’ll also find that your stress level will decrease as you find yourself not in your head, but in your body and in the moment.


From my family to yours, enjoy the holidays!


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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.