The 12 Days of Winter Break

From guided imagery to power naps to massage, these pampering tips will help you reduce stress, relax and be ready for the rest of the school year.

Woman and young child playing outside in the snow

by NEA Member Benefits

By the time winter break rolls around, chances are you’re overworked, over-stressed and ready for some pampering. “Don’t think of it as decadence or forbidden pleasure,” says Stephanie Tourles, holistic aesthetician and author of Organic Body Care Recipes. “Think of it as a way to preserve your sanity in an insanely paced world.” Here we offer 12 relaxation techniques to help you reduce stress, rest and rejuvenate over the winter holiday—or any time you need a moment of relaxation!

1. Listen to a guided imagery CD. Guided imagery is like a mini mental vacation that’s non-invasive, drug-free and yields immediate benefits. “Taking 20 minutes to close your eyes, lie on the couch and listen to imagery brings you into a deep state of relaxation while rejuvenating your energy,” says Donna Fremon-Powell, certified guided imagery therapist and certified hypnotherapist in La Habra, California. “Even as little as 10 minutes of imagery can lower blood pressure, ease muscle tension, improve heart health, release concerns and boost the immune system.” Most major retailers offer guided imagery CDs. Or try one of the many meditation apps, such as Calm or Headspace, to help you wind down.

2. Get a steam. If your mind is racing, stop, take a deep breath and breathe in some steam. “In the winter, our skin gets really dry and dehydrated,” says Tourles. “The steam helps rehydrate the skin while also calming your psyche.” To steam at home, just add one teaspoon chamomile leaves, one teaspoon of peppermint leaves and one teaspoon of lavender buds to four cups of boiling water (removed from heat). You can get herbs at most health food stores. After the herbs steep for five minutes, cover your head with a bath towel and lean over the pot, leaving about 15 inches between your face and the steaming water. “The peppermint opens your sinuses and helps you breathe better,” says Tourles, “while the chamomile and lavender help you calm down.”

3. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Feeding people who are less fortunate not only benefits those you’re serving, but it makes you feel better to boot. Studies show that people who volunteer have greater longevity, higher productivity, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease. “Volunteering is a great way to gain some much-needed perspective (especially during the holidays) and to feel more grateful for the blessings and people in your life,” says Fremon-Powell. Indeed, a growing number of studies show that volunteers are not only healthier, they’re happier, too!

4. Play! Tap into your inner child and participate in winter activities that bring you joy, suggests Fremon-Powell. Whether you have a snowball fight, build a snowman, ice skate on an outdoor rink or make snow angels, you’ll feel less inhibited and more carefree—an instant ticket to winter bliss. The cold air invigorates the spirit and also helps you feel grounded in the season. Don’t live in a cold climate? Go sledding on sand dunes or make snow angels in a bed of leaves.

5. Take a nap. Just like the kids in your classroom, you need time to recharge your batteries. Set aside your holiday “to-do’s” for 30 minutes and follow your kids’ schedule:  snack time, then a nap. “You shouldn’t feel guilty about taking a 20-minute power nap during the middle of the day,” says Fremon-Powell. In fact, researchers from Harvard University found that a midday snooze reversed information overload. What’s more, the study demonstrated that, in some cases, napping could help eliminate burnout and frustration and boost performance to an individual’s top levels. Perhaps the best news: napping is simple, free and completely relaxing.

6. Make a facial scrub. Combine two teaspoons of ground oatmeal, a teaspoon of fine sea salt or cornmeal and half a teaspoon of ground or powdered peppermint or rosemary leaves. Stir it all together for about a minute using water or milk to form a spreadable paste. Then massage it on your face and throat for another minute and rinse with warm water. “This blend is particularly good to use on the chest, back or shoulders if you have minor stress-related breakouts,” says Tourles. “And it’s great for men since it’s not heavily fragranced.”

7. Take a candle lit aromatherapy bath. Being immersed in warm water not only soothes sore muscles, it also has mood-boosting side effects. While you’re soaking, use scents to provoke different states of mind, suggests Fremon-Powell. “The scent of lavender may calm busy thoughts while a citrus scent could stimulate the brain to wake up and stay focused,” she says.

8. Watch a comedy. Tune into your favorite sitcom, buy tickets to a stand up show or pop in a DVD of your favorite romantic comedy. The goal: To laugh! Sure, negativity is precipitated by stressful life events, but only for people who don’t spend much time laughing. One study found that people who laugh a lot don’t show greater levels of negative emotions when stressful life events are on the rise.

9. Sip on peppermint tea. Skip your morning java and sip an herbal pick-me-up instead by adding one or two drops of essential oil of peppermint to a cup of peppermint tea. Peppermint stimulates the digestive juices in the stomach and helps eliminate gas and bloating—and that can come in handy the morning after a calorie-laden holiday dinner. “Peppermint is a great way to relieve a stuffy head or a case of indigestion,” says Tourles. A bonus: it makes your breath minty fresh.

10. Get a massage (or give one to yourself). You don’t need to spend $100 at a spa to get the benefits of massage. “Self massage can be a great way to soothe your emotions and promote relaxation,” says Tourles. In a small bowl, mix one tablespoon of vegetable or nut oil like soybean, jojoba, apricot kernel or almond oil and add 3-4 drops of lavender essential oil (men can use marjoram, Roman chamomile or orange essential oils). “This combination gives you the calming effect of the scent and the grounding effect of the oil,” says Tourles. “Massage your legs and feet (including in between your toes), then put on some socks and fall into a restful slumber. “The oil sinks right in and softens your skin, soothes your emotions and helps you feel deeply relaxed.”

11. Go for a nature walk. Studies show that spending time in the great outdoors can boost mood and enhance feelings of pleasure. And if you go for a walk outside, even better! Exercise releases feel good neurotransmitters that can improve your mood and help you deal with depression, which is the same function of Prozac. In one study people who had major depression benefited more from moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week than the commonly prescribed antidepressant drug Zoloft. Move around outdoors and you’ll also get a lift from natural sunlight.

12. Sing holiday songs. Nothing is more festive than gathering a group of friends to sing carols and sip on hot apple cider and cocoa. Have a terrible singing voice? Let loose and belt out your favorite tune in the shower. It could invigorate you in a way that a quiet shower just can’t touch. “Bellowing in the shower helps release built up stress in the body,” says Fremon-Powell. “It can even open up a tight throat.”

Each of these pampering ideas stand alone, but we encourage you to consider a combo concept: On day one of your winter break, listen to guided imagery. On day two, listen to guided imagery and take an aromatherapy bath. On day three, listen to guided imagery, take an aromatherapy bath and indulge in a 20-minute power nap. Before your vacation is over, you’ll have your very own pampering version of the 12 days of Christmas.