How to Stay Happy During Stressful Times

A Live Chat with Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, Triple-Certified Yoga Instructor

On December 15, 2016, Professor Kimberlee Bethany Bonura sat down for a live Q&A session with her fans from across the globe about how to stay happy during stressful times. Specifically, during the holiday season.  The chat is over, but the transcript is posted below for you to enjoy.

Photo of Professor Kimberly Bonura
Professor Kimberlee Bethany Bonura, Ph.D

BONURA: Hello everyone! Thank you for including me in your holiday season. I look forward to a wonderful conversation today about how we can all enjoy the holidays with some self-care and stress management, and a focus on connection and relationship.

LEMSOY: I always suffer from seasonal depression right around the holidays and lose my energy/motivation. Are there any easy exercises or tips to help me combat it?

BONURA: That’s a great question, and an issue that impacts many people. Natural light exposure in the morning can help – so if you can build a short walk outside into your daily routine, that can make a difference. Research also shows that light boxes can be very effective, so you might consider getting a natural light source in your house to use earlier in the day. Also remember to get the rest you need – we know from research with native cultures that people do,naturally, sleep about 1 hour more per night in the winter. Giving yourself space to rest is important to stay both physically and psychologically well.

 

TRISH: How do you stay hydrated while shopping?

BONURA: Great question. I am not personally a big shopper and do most of mine holiday shopping online – so I keep a glass of water at my desk. LOL! If you’re out and about – a refillable water bottle is a great option. Nice for the environment, and easy to refill from water fountains as needed. If you prefer filtered water, some water bottles include a filter to make that easy on the go. And when you want something warm and festive – peppermint tea is a nice way to warm up, stay hydrated, and boost energy.

THERESE L BRODERICK: My yoga practice keeps me flexible. My head and mouth theater-exercises keep my sinus troubles under control. My TM meditation relieves the stress I feel about politics. What can I do to help others who are under holiday stress? I am female, fifty-seven, married, one daughter working in Iraq.

BONURA: Congratulations on having such a wonderful program of self-care and health promotion. You are an inspiration and a success story. And in that way, you are already helping others – by modeling self-care, and by sharing calm, positive energy with those around you. Another strategy is to think about giving presents as an opportunity for engagement and connection, instead of stuff.

Give a massage – a dinner out together – a partner yoga class. Treat your loved ones to time with you, where you both can relax and connect. When your daughter gets back from Iraq, perhaps a mother-daughter spa day?

 

 

MANDARIN_: Over eating is my downfall during the holidays. How can I keep myself from charging face-first into the dining room table, besides duct tape?

BONURA: Overeating during the holidays is almost a holiday tradition! The cookies – the eggnog – the big family dinners. So many of us struggle with how to enjoy the festive holiday foods while still keeping track of our waistlines. Don’t deprive yourself – you’ll just feel left out and end up in a cycle of eating and guilt. Instead, focus on moderation – and eat mindfully. Which foods do you REALLY enjoy? Eat those, and skip the ones that you don’t love.

Also, make time for gentle exercise. Research shows that a walk after a big meal can improve glucose levels, so make a post-dinner walk a tradition. And build in time with family that doesn’t involve food – hikes, sporting events, holiday carols and decorating. No duct tape needed this holiday season!

*GOOMBA*: Every winter that goes by, I suffer with terrible back pain. I am guessing it’s from the cold ( I live in the midwest) but I have no intentions or want to move south. Is there anything i can do to ease my pain?

BONURA: I feel you. Literally, because I also suffer from chronic pain, and find that it’s worse when it’s cold. But even when it’s cold, you need to get outside for fresh air and exercise. For me, layers are key – both inside and out – as a way to stay comfortably warm. A warm shower or bath about 1 hour before bed helps relieve tired, aching muscles, and activates the relaxation cycle so you can sleep more deeply. If you get a massage, ask for a heated blanket or table so you can truly relax.

And remember that as hard as cold is to deal with it, research shows that intermittent cold exposure improves mood and wellbeing. There’s a reason we all think of Midwesterners as generally pleasant people!

RICH: What type of sitting-meditation techniques do you suggest for when a relative at the dinner table begins talking about fringe politics and current conspiracy theories?

BONURA: Oh, man, we all have that relative, don’t we? Sometimes, I find it easiest to get up and go get busy with making something in the kitchen – that way I can take a few breaths and regain my composure. A simple inhale-exhale breathing strategy is discrete and very effective – as you inhale, think inhale. As you exhale, think exhale. Repeat as long as needed.

As another perspective, consider that this may be your relative’s way of connecting with others – and by turning to you, he or she is signaling that he needs your time and attention. You don’t have to agree or even necessarily comment – you can just listen (while inhale-exhale breathing) and let him feel heard. He may remember it as his best holiday meal, ever, when someone gave him full attention.

 

THERESE L BRODERICK: This statement of yours is fascinating. Please elaborate on : …”research shows that intermittent cold exposure improves mood and wellbeing…”

BONURA: Cold exposure actually improves stress resilience. I talk about this extensively in my upcoming course, How to Make Stress Work for You. In the meantime, here is a great book on the subject: Dienstbier, Richard A. Building Resistance to Stress and Aging: The Toughness Model. Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.

STRONG<ZZZZZZ: Do you have any new courses coming out? i saw how to stay fit as you age.

THE GREAT COURSES: She has a new course, “How To Make Stress Work For You,” coming out early next year! Keep an eye on our website or our social pages for the release.

CRAZED BY RELATIVES: How can I keep my cool with relatives that come barreling into my home, invading my fridge, and not respecting the rules of the house? I’m very frustrated and that leads to stress every year, without fail.

BONURA: It’s tough with relatives. You want to spend time together over the holidays, because connection and tradition matter. You also want (and deserve) respectful understanding of your boundaries. You can try to have a conversation before the visit, and share how you would appreciate if they could respect your needs. Some

times, though, the conversation is as stressful as the interaction, and some people won’t change. A good question to ask yourself: if I don’t accept this, will it change anything?

If there is a change you can make – make it. Maybe you meet at someone else’s house this year. Maybe you could meet at a neutral rental home in a festive location. Maybe your guests can stay at a nearby hotel so you have some separate space during the visit. If nothing can actually change – then take walks, take deep breaths, and remember that it’s only a few days each year.

TYSAUL: Can meditation have a physical effect as well as a mental one? I hurt myself recently and I’m looking for other ways to heal besides “staying off it”

BONURA: Yes, absolutely, meditation can yield physical benefits. Research shows that stress levels impact hormones and immunity. Meditation can boost your immune system and support the healing process. That being said – you still have to stay off the injured limb. Meditation helps, but it doesn’t replace rest in the recovery process. It may, though, make you feel like you’re putting that resting time to good psychological use!

Image of Professor Kimberly Bonura on the set of her course How to Make Stress Work For You
Professor Kimberly Bonura on the set of her course How to Make Stress Work For You.

TRISH: How do you best manage all the bags while walking through the mall? After ALL day of shopping your writs, shoulders, feet, everything hurts

BONURA: How about a creative approach: sneak in some extra steps and exercise by walking back to your car regularly to drop off bags – that way, you’re never carrying too much at one time, and you’re boosting your step count for fitness!

Or – use the European approach and bring a little rolling cart to carry your bags. That works, too.

 SV_W: How does mindfulness work?

BONURA: This is both a simple and very complex question. At its most basic: mindfulness means paying attention to your mind – noticing what you are thinking and doing, in this present moment. It’s not about judgement or changing – it’s about awareness. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi are common ways to learn mindfulness – but you can be mindful in any activity – washing dishes, brushing your teeth. Research shows that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress and improve well-being.

 

~NOZZE~: How do you manage the after the Holidays let down? So much build up so much work for ONE DAY then it’s gone!

BONURA: With my family, we celebrate the holidays over several weeks, not just one day. Holiday-related outings over several weekends between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. My kids open one or two presents a day over the several days before and after Christmas. It lets us enjoy the holidays as a special season, not just one day. If you prefer one big festive day, plan some treats afterward, as something to look forward to – maybe an un-decorating party with fun and music while you take down the tree?

TRISH: How do you manage having a house full of people when you’re an introvert by nature?

BONURA: Find a place to regain your mental space. Maybe it’s a walk outside to see the holiday lights for a few minutes. Or leaving the noise and going to church or sanctuary for a worship ceremony. If you can’t find a physical space, find an emotional space to recharge and recover. Make sure you have the self-care you need to enjoy your holiday.

BONURA: Personally, as an introvert myself, I am always very careful about making sure I have rest and recovery time before and after events. That way I have the energy needed to engage with others, and the time needed to restore myself.

Be aware of your surroundings in order to better deal with holiday stress

 

MEDIAN: Any advice on how to break up familial arguments? Most holidays end up with my mom and aunt fighting in their native tongue while everyone else runs away. Is there a “calm down” method that works?

BONURA: It’s hard to stop an argument once it starts. The best approach is often to proactively prevent, whenever possible. Think about past holidays – can you figure out a common trigger? If so – maybe you can avoid that or change that, to prevent the fight. If it usually happens after a certain amount of time together, can you and another relative pair up to split them apart before the fight happens – maybe one group goes for a walk and the other watches a movie.

If the fight starts – don’t underestimate the power of loving touch. Break in and give them both a hug. Remind them you love them, and that everyone is together to celebrate the family and connection. It’s worth a try.

SPNGBBGRL: Is it true that if I think happy thoughts or just smile when I’m angry, I’ll feel better?

BONURA: There is a physiological effect of your body on your mind – so smiling can improve mood. And choosing the direction of your thoughts can improve your health and well-being. Rather than thinking of optimism as a characteristic you’re born with, think of it as a trait you cultivate.

But – if you’re pretending to be happy while seething on the inside, then you’re not doing yourself any favors. Instead – acknowledge your authentic emotion (mindfulness, again) – figure out what needs to change in the situation – and move forward with self-love, acceptance, and a genuine desire to be happy.

THERESE L BRODERICK: I see many ads and promos for buying ”standing work desks” . Is it ever a healthy gift idea?

BONURA: I love my standing desk! It’s the only desk I have. That being said – healthy gifts only work if the receiver wants them. Even if you’re well-intentioned, a healthy gift can feel like pressure and guilt if the person isn’t ready. A good standing desk is an investment – so ask, “is this something you want” before you buy.

 

BONURA: Thanks for joining me today. I appreciate all your thoughts and questions. It was an honor to be part of your holiday season. Best wishes to you and all your loved ones for a safe, happy, holiday season, and a healthy, happy start to the new year. Take good care of yourselves.

 

Dr. Kimberlee Bethany Bonura is a fitness and wellness consultant with decades of experience teaching the benefits of physical and mental health to elite athletes, higher education institutions, nonprofit community organizations, and corporations.
Her lecture series How to Boost Your Physical and Mental Energy is now available to stream on The Great Courses Plus.