Columns & Blogs

Sports tips for relieving holiday stress

Thanksgiving is Thursday, which means our lives will soon be filled with my three favorite Fs – family, food, and football.

Thanksgiving can also be stressful. Thankfully, the same sports psychology principles that help athletes excel on the field can help you enjoy Thanksgiving. Here are three suggestions that will dial down the stress and increase the holiday fun.

Go for a walk. The easiest way to dial down the stress is to take a walk. Exercise has been shown to not only help reduce stress, but also improve your overall mental health. There are many theories as to why exercising is so good for your mental functioning such as releasing endorphins, encouraging positive thoughts, and distracting you from worries or frustrations. Exercise has been shown to be a better stress reducer than any relaxation technique. Spend at least 20 minutes at a moderate pace, which will ensure that you reap the physical and mental benefits.

Take a deep breath. Although exercise is the best way to reduce stress, it is not always an option. It may be hard to find time to go on a walk or workout at the gym, especially during the holidays. When time is tight, quick relaxation techniques are a great option. A basic technique is re-centering. Close your eyes, focus your attention on something completely random, and take three to five deep breathes. Although that may sound too easy, just taking a moment to re-center is an effective means to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure. To maximize the effect, combine re-centering with a positive image. For example, if your family is driving you crazy, picture in your mind the last time everyone was laughing together. The re-centering with the positive image will help transport you from a negative mindset to a relaxed, positive state.

Growing closer together. Just like teams, families sometimes need a little help becoming a cohesive unit. There are two types of cohesion: task and social. Task cohesion is the degree to which family members work together to achieve a goal – cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Social cohesion is the degree to which family members like each other and enjoy being a part of the family – laughing around the Thanksgiving table. If your family is struggling around each other, it can help to find a common goal to work towards – such as cooking a meal or decorating the house. You can also do social activities to build cohesion such as playing games or going on a walk.

Do you have questions?

Do you have a question about how to improve your athletic performance? Dr. David Schary invites questions or comments from any athlete, coach, or parent. Email any question or comment to