The winter can be a stressful time, especially if you have an anxiety disorder.

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The season brings less daylight, myriad deadlines and errands, and finally, the holidays—which come with a lot of spending and late nights. Together these factors set the stage for stress, leaving you feeling absolutely spent. Read on for eight methods to manage your anxiety levels and attain a sense of peace all winter.  

1. Say “Yes!” to yoga.

To Aruni Nan Futuronsky, a senior life coach and certified yoga teacher at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Mass., “yoga is the practice of bringing mindful tension into our bodies and using strategies to physiologically release that tension.” Yoga is “about practising progress, not perfection,” and while Futuronsky doesn’t believe yoga eliminates stress, she advocates “yoga is profoundly applicable for our off-the-mat lives and for finding strategies to mindfully respond to stress and anxiety.”

2. Listen to your body

Dr. Susan B. Lord, an integrative physician in Great Barrington, Mass., says “we tend primarily to honour the intellect of the left brain.” But, she warns, “your whole body, every cell, has intelligence communicated to it through sensation and intuition,” so it’s key to ask yourself: ‘What does my body need? What do I need mentally and emotionally?’ When you ask yourself these questions and pay attention to the answers, you’ll be much more likely to make healthy lifestyle decisions.”

3. Schedule a “worry” session

Chronic worriers often live in a habitual state of anxiety and stress that leads to even more worry. Dr. Lord suggests setting aside “a discrete period of time each morning [or another time that works with you] to consciously explore the things that worry you. Writing is an excellent way to do this.” Why? Writing allows you to digest and thoughtfully consider situations while calming down the nervous system and “creating a sense of focused awareness, where anxiety is diminished,” says Dr. Lord. However, don’t slot in worry sessions before bed as they can actually interfere with your sleep.

4. Eat wisely

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Eating habits become jumbled during the holidays with hectic schedules, dinner parties and tempting treats. Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-based registered dietitian and author of Eating for Energy Without Deprivation: The 80-20 Cookbook (2013) recommends maintaining a pattern of meals and snacks (two to three) throughout the day and to avoid going more than four hours without eating. Regular snacks and small meals will maintain your glycemic index as “swings in blood sugar can make you feel more anxious.” Healthy snacks options for during shop-till-you-drop sessions include yogurt, a trail mix of nuts and dried fruit or an apple with some walnuts. Still can’t curb that chocolate craving? Try a bit of dark chocolate (with 70 per cent or more cocoa content), a great source of antioxidants that boosts levels of serotonin, the hormone which makes you feel happy!

5. Practise meditation

According to Dr. Lord, “meditation takes us to a place of stillness by putting things in perspective, so we’re less likely to get caught up in the daily dramas of life.” During busy, stress-filled times, “the mind is often full of negative, critical comments and worst-case scenarios. Meditation allows us to become aware of these thoughts and to let them go, so they don’t keep recycling.” Meditation is “like taking out the garbage, and with practice your mind will tend to be calmer and less anxious throughout the day,” she says.

6. Try CBT

When stress and anxiety interfere with daily activities, it’s important to seek professional help, says Dr. Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Work, Stress and Health Program/Psychological Trauma Program at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for mood and anxiety disorders can be an effective first line of treatment. CBT looks at the relationship between your thoughts, emotions, behaviour and physical symptoms and helps one to develop healthier and more balanced thoughts. It also helps you to work through stress-inducing behaviours, such as avoidance, in order to reach the goal of a high-functioning and happy life.

7. Get a move on

“The human body thrives on being in motion joyfully,” says Dr. Lord who advocates that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to anxiety. “If you hate working out, you won’t benefit from exercise nearly as much as if you love it.” So, find something you love —dancing, kickboxing, walking —“it’s the perfect antidote to stress.” The Mayo Clinic concurs: “Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever. Exercise increases self-confidence and minimizes symptoms of mild depression and anxiety by pumping feel-good endorphins and refocusing your mind on your body’s movements.”

8. Pet a pooch

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Just a few minutes of petting a dog prompts the release of feel-good hormones in humans and a decreased level of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Dr. Edward Creagan, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, believes so strongly in the healing powers of pets that he records the name of a patient’s pet when taking his/her medical history. Similarly, a University of Missouri-Columbia study revealed that hormonal changes occurring when humans and dogs interact can help people cope with stress-related disorders and depression.