There are some things in life we can escape, but holidays and stress are not on the list.
Just thinking about the worries of finances or family obligations during the season can trigger emotions and behaviors in each of us. I get anxious seeing all the holiday décor displayed after the July 4 festivities. Goblins, turkeys and snowmen all bundled together into an already hurried world … ugh. I prefer one holiday at a time.
We can learn to tame the effects of visual overstimulation, harried crowds and political differences at the Christmas table by being proactive and protective, and by learning emotional response techniques and some simple preventive stress aids.
Try to become more aware of what heightens your nervous system’s response, and then Pause, Inhale, Relax, Reflect and Act. As we practice this in our everyday life, we can start controlling our levels of cortisol, a nasty little stress-triggered hormone whose gradual buildup can weaken the immune system, hinder concentration, cause sleeplessness and depression, elevate blood pressure, suppress thyroid function, affects blood sugar levels and decrease bone density. Yikes! Fortunately, we can practice mental control daily to build up our vagus nerve (which controls how we react to stress) and tone it just like toning up muscles. By being aware of our emotional responses, we can stimulate the activity of other hormones (catecholamines) that help our physical health by keeping our systems balanced.
This equilibrium we all yearn for is not like balancing on a tight wire. We can achieve emotional and physical wellness with organized practice. If we desire peak performance in jobs, hobbies, activities and family, we must take time to develop this stability. You do have time! Here are some prime areas to consider:
Keep it real. Remember what you can do physically and financially, and ask for help if needed. Let go of over-the-top expectations with gifts and decorating, and set your own trend. Get creative and make homemade goods and music, or send e-cards online to save time and money. Send money to someone’s favorite charity if you can’t figure out what to buy for someone. There can be too much emphasis on gift buying, when most people (with the exception of kids) really just want peace, family and fellowship.
Diet and Exercise
Don’t compromise your daily routine of exercise and eating right, especially around the holidays. Indulging is what we need to modify this time of year: Oversizing everything places stress on the pocketbook as well as our psychological and physical well-being. We need to be alert and ready.
Try to eat something small before a holiday party to control the urge to snack. We all tend to pamper ourselves with a few too many “Cheers!” because of all the season’s social events and parties, so take care to pace yourself, drink water between each cocktail and stick to a limit. If you are in a large social circle, it’s OK not to make every engagement. It would be like running a marathon every other day. It can’t be done without injury.
Take a walk in the daylight hours to get a good dose of vitamin D, and it is always a good habit to walk after dinner with a friend or family member. Walking with a pal or spouse is a valuable and easy healthy habit.
For energy in the morning, a tablespoon of honey delivers vigor and important antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Mangoes are wonderful for altering blood chemistry to calm the body. Just a whiff of citrus can rejuvenate your senses also – make a large pitcher of spring water or carbonated water and slice up a cucumber, grapefruit, lemon, mint sprig, lime and pomegranate. It’s great for detoxing and refreshing. Sticking to a clean diet free of refined foods during November and December is a sure way to keep from packing on those extra pounds.
Think positive. This isn’t easy for everyone during this time of year; this could be the first holiday you are alone or ill. Don’t discount your feelings during this poignant and reflective time. Make new traditions, call a friend for lunch and engage in laughter when possible. Laughing has long-term effects of fighting stress, improving mood, relieving pain and increasing oxygen levels (which stimulates the heart).
Remember that this is a time of gratitude. Putting a smile on the faces of those around us (especially the less fortunate) is an outstanding gift.
Meditate just 10 minutes a day. If you are not sure about meditation and just can’t seem to relax, try listening to Hemi-Sync music. It’s a patented audio process containing binaural beats and sound waves that synchronize the two hemispheres of our brain. It can help with many physical and mental difficulties. Omharmonics is another sound-based meditation enhancement program using binaural beats – you can try them both out on YouTube.
Take a 20-minute self-break: Fill the tub, add Epsom salts, lavender or rose essential oil and soak. Reflecting in a relaxed atmosphere is essential for the body but helps to collect your thoughts at the end of the day. Playing with your pets, reading or any non-competitive activity you love can always create a tranquil mood.
Health aids like massage, Reiki and reflexology can be beneficial for circulation and pain reduction. When you work hard physically or mentally, these treats are valuable to aid fatigue and mental exhaustion.
Hoku is a traditional Chinese acupressure point you can use on yourself to relieve mental stress and physical pain. It is located on the fleshy muscle between your thumb and index finger. Place your thumb on the point, angling in a bit toward the bone, and your index finger opposite it, on the other side of the hand. The point may be tender, but hold for 15 seconds to one minute, then switch hands. Make sure you breathe deeply, as the oxygen will help relieve the pain as well. A drop of lavender can be added to the pressure point, since it is an analgesic. In fact, keeping lavender essential oil by your bedside is beneficial – the scent induces relaxation and reduces pain.
Melatonin or 5-HTP are great supplements to help regulate sleep cycles, alleviate anxiety and treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Both are effective in increasing production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine that stimulate the noradrenergic receptors in the brain. These are non-addictive hormone supplements that assist with regulating other hormones and maintain the body’s circadian rhythm.
This toolbox of simple health tips can keep our spirits engaged in the joys of the season and not the anxieties. Take a deep breath … relax … the holidays are coming.
Gale Johnson, N.D. (Doctor of Natural Medicine) is a Form and Function Pilates C.P.F.T., has a B.S. in Holistic Nutrition and is Certified in Energy Medicine and Homeopathy