25 ways to really relax this season

Want to have a truly happy holiday? Start here.
Health.com // Health.com

The shopping and crowds. The back-to-back diet-busting parties. The interminable chats with the in-laws. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year.

That's why we've rounded up these 25 expert-endorsed ways to help you dodge the seasonal blues and stay happy, healthy, and energized.

From quick stress-survival strategies to mood-brightening foods, here's your cheat sheet to holiday cheer.

--By Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen, Health magazine

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Hike your mood with sunlight

It stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which impacts millions of Americans every year, says Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.

To ease SAD symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doc about phototherapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light).

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Take a whiff of citrus

Researchers studying depression have found that certain citrus fragrances boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by upping levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood.

For an all-day pick-me-up, dab a little lemon or orange essential oil on a handkerchief to tuck in your pocket.

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Walk away from worries

"The rhythm and repetition of walking has a tranquilizing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and improves sleep," says nutrition-and-wellness expert Ann Kulze, MD. Aim for a brisk, half-hour walk every day.

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Sleep better with 5-HTP

This plant extract (available in capsules at most drugstores) is thought to increase serotonin, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep. Dr. Orloff recommends 150 milligrams daily. If you take antidepressant medications, talk to your doc before trying it.

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Squeeze here

The fleshy place between your index finger and thumb is called the hoku spot in traditional Chinese medicine. Applying firm pressure there for just 30 seconds can reduce stress and tension in your upper body. So if you start to feel overwhelmed by the holiday chaos, give your hand a squeeze and take a deep breathe.

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Do less, enjoy more

"We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event," says George Pratt, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California. "Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once -- and maybe more."

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Stick with your daily routine

Prioritize your workouts, book club, etc., and don't try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle, says Katherine Muller, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

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Don't neglect whatever cracks you up

Laughing like crazy reduces stress hormones. That, in turn, helps immune cells function better, says psychologist Steve Wilson, founder of the World Laughter Tour, an organization that offers therapeutic-laughter training

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Forget perfection

Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little cluttered or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. "Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life," says Donna Schempp, the program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance. Don't sweat the small stuff and your holiday will be much more enjoyable!

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