10 Ways to Beat Holiday Stress and Feel Better in 15 Minutes (or Less)

updated Dec 15, 2020
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Taking a few short breaks throughout the day can have a huge impact on your mental health. While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the upcoming holidays, end-of-year expenses, and, let’s face it, life in general, setting aside a few minutes for yourself to refocus your thoughts and energy can help boost your mood, lower your stress levels, and provide you with something positive to practice during the cold, mentally draining days of winter.

“Short breaks throughout the day are essential because they help us to stay grounded and centered,” Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells Apartment Therapy. “Otherwise, we’re constantly reacting to our environment as we move through the day, and end up feeling more exhausted as a result.”

When you’re stuck in a midday slump and not sure how to snap out of it, there are lots of small, actionable steps you can take to feel better. From mindful breathing exercises to sending a thank you note, here are 10 things therapists say you can in under 15 minutes to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down.

1. Get moving

A little exercise can go a long way when you’re feeling the winter blues. “Whether it’s a power yoga session or a fun aerobics routine, 15 minutes of physical activity will release feel-good endorphins into your brain and help clear your mind,” Witmer says. If you don’t have a go-to exercise, Witmer recommends searching YouTube for a short, effective workout video that will get your heart rate up while providing you with a sense of accomplishment.

2. Go outside

Fifteen minutes of fresh air and sunshine can make a huge difference in how good you feel. Along with improving your focus and energy levels, exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of serotonin, a mood-boosting hormone. “Even a brisk walk around the block can reduce stress and help you feel more alert,” psychotherapist Matt Lundquist, founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy says. If it’s cold where you live, dress in extra warm clothes and limit your time outdoors to just a few minutes. Studies suggest that even 10 minutes of sunshine a day can promote Vitamin D production and ward off feelings of depression.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

3. Do something small but productive

If you’re struggling to complete a specific task, licensed clinical social worker Jennifer Stone of Jennifer Stone Therapy suggests focusing on a completely different one for 15 minutes. “Organize your sock drawer, update your LinkedIn profile, or simply take the trash out,” she advises. “Anything that makes you feel productive can help you reset your mood.”

4. Listen to an energizing playlist

Similar to exercise, research shows that listening to music can stimulate your brain’s production of endorphins. “Playing a couple of your favorite songs, especially ones that evoke positive memories, can help you feel motivated again,” says Dr. Paul Greene of the Manhattan Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Better yet, put together a playlist of energizing and uplifting songs that you know and love, so you’ll already have it handy the next time you’re feeling down. 

5. Call a loved one

Human beings are social creatures that crave connection, which is why Stone recommends reaching out to a friend or family member for a quick chat whenever you’re feeling down. “Our brains get a dose of dopamine when we talk to people we love, so even a 10-minute phone call or FaceTime session can work wonders,” she explains.

6. Just focus on your breathing

Along with increasing your energy levels and lowering your blood pressure, studies show that a few minutes of mindful breathing can instantly reduce stress and anxiety. “Deep breathing can help regulate your nervous system to achieve a greater experience of calm, balanced energy and relaxed focus,” licensed clinical social worker Brooke Sprowl of My LA Therapy explains. “There are tons of easy-to-follow deep breathing tutorials available online, as well as apps you can download straight to your smart phone.”

Credit: Selena Kirchhoff

7. Take a power nap

If you find yourself dragging in the middle of the day, Greene says taking a quick cat nap can help you reset. “A 15-minute afternoon nap will improve your alertness and cognitive functioning for the rest of the day,” he explains. “Just be sure to keep it under 25 minutes, or else it might interfere with nighttime sleep.” 

8. Do something you’ve been avoiding

When you feel overwhelmed with the task at hand, Stone suggests doing something you’ve been putting off to give you a renewed sense of accomplishment. “It turns out we get a lot of positive feelings from doing things that we have avoided, even if it is small,” she explains. “Whether it’s returning a phone call or shredding a pile of paperwork, uncompleted tasks often weigh us down in ways we might not realize.” 

If you’re having a hard time getting motivated to start something that you’ve been putting off for months, try focusing your attention on that specific project for just five minutes a day, so you can make it a part of your daily routine but still take baby steps until it’s finished. 

9. Send a “thank you” note

Feeling and expressing gratitude is a scientifically-backed way to lift your spirits by focusing on positive thoughts. “Think of someone who has done something helpful for you recently and thank them,” Greene says. “Whether you call, email, or send a