The holidays seem to be channeling my inner Martha Stewart—not the glue-gunning, have-a-homemade-marshmallow Martha, but the maniacal, yell-at-anyone-who-dares-approach Martha. The volume of shopping, wrapping and entertaining robs me of any holiday spirit. Sigh.
At the time of year when we most want to slow down and chill out with the ones we love, we end speeding up and feeling stressed. By the end of the season, I’m ready for a vacation—right when vacation time is over.
This year, I want to truly enjoy the holidays, and I’m seeing an uptick in gadgets and apps designed to monitor and manage your stress level. I decided to give some of them a whirl, in the pursuit of a more relaxing end of the year. They won’t decrease your total stress load, only you can do that (I’m talking to you, as you bake six dozen gingerbread cookies for everyone in the fourth grade…step away from the molasses). They will, however, make it easier for you to recognize that you’ve gone off the ledge, and help you take some deep breaths.
You wear Spire on your bra strap or belt, so it can feel you breathe. It then pores over every inhalation and exhalation in real time to show when you are focused, tense or frazzled. And because a healthy body can lead to a healthy mind, it tracks your movement and steps, encouraging you to take a walk (the answer to any annoying rant from your uncle or back-handed compliment from a cousin). Best of all, its battery lasts a week and it charges on a chic wireless charging pad.
Another wearable stress coach, Olive is a Fitbit-style wristband that detects your body’s stress response and taps your wrist to alert you. Then it offers stress-relieving methods (wrist massage or lights you can focus on for meditation). But what’s really interesting is that it records the conditions of your day leading up to the stress—and also when you’re having a great day—so it can learn (and teach you) what circumstances perk you up or bum you out. True, you know you’ll be stressed before going to a big family gathering or into an exam. But how about when you spend too many hours in the house, or skip certain meals? Olive can track that. It’s a fully funded Indiegogo project, and not available yet—but we’re watching and waiting.
I know I’m supposed to meditate to relax my mind, but actually doing it, especially in the midst of holiday madness—yeah, it’s not happening. The Headspace app provides ten-minute (read: doable) meditations spoken by mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, so I’m not on my own with my beginner’s mind. The whimsical illustrations, plus Andy’s British accent and regular-guy approach, makes meditation feel approachable. And as you “advance” through lessons, you’ll feel even more accomplished than after a good Candy Crush session. You can pay for a subscription to receive additional meditations, but the basic pack, and the app, are free, and hopefully enough to get me through the bulk of holiday stress.
Silver bells, silver bells… run through my head all night long, keeping me awake. Those irresistible carols seem to feed on stress and grow in my sleep-deprived brain. (Ever wake up at 2 a.m. and discover the song in your head is still there? Welcome to my Yuletide nightmare). I can wipe them out and settle my brain with white noise. The Dohm is what I have near my bed, and unlike most sound conditioners, it has an actual fan inside to generate the noise, so you won’t hear a skip when a recorded loop is finished (“fake” white noise is especially grating to my audiophile husband). If you want to test the white noise waters first, try the White Noise app, can generate a similarly sleep-inducing sound through your phone, and includes “pink,” “blue” and “brown” noise: other frequencies shown to quiet the mind.
Philips Wake-Up Light
There’s nothing like being jolted out of a dead sleep, pulse racing, to make you mad at the world before you even emerge from bed. The Wake-Up Light from Philips is a color-changing bulb with nature sounds, made to simulate a sunrise. That may sound hokey, but it also sounds a lot more peaceful than the honk/vibrate combo that my phone delights me with each morning. Still, you’ll need to get your partner on board with this one (and hopefully, they don’t prefer pitch darkness until the last possible sleep moment). It works as a reading light and as a clock radio, too.
Next time I’m balancing three platters of holiday cookies, the phone is ringing and a relative shouts from two rooms away to demand more napkins, could my brain be trained to respond as if I’m relaxing at the beach? (And would that just be weird and Stepford wife-ish?) Possible strangeness aside, Muse, a brain activity-sensing headband, can detect when my brain is going into overdrive, and teach it to settle down. It works with an app to offer brain training exercises that aim to strengthen your focus. If I hear a storm, I’m unfocused. If I hear birds, I’m on target.
Here’s to deep breaths. How do you cope with holiday stress? Let me know in the comments!