When you think of the upcoming holiday season, what comes to mind? For some, it’s feasting, gathering with friends and loved ones, exchanging gifts, and making new memories. For others this time of year inspires a bit of panic: extended time in cars or planes, stressful family dynamics, or feeling that there’s just not enough time in the day to get it all done.
If holidays = anxiety in your world, you’re certainly not alone. Luckily we have several ways to approach this season with a great sense of inner calm, joy, and gratitude.
Strategy # 1 – Take a Breath
Controlled breathing isn’t just great for keeping the mind and body working well, but it can effectively lower your blood pressure and stop anxiety in its tracks over just a few minutes of this exercise (courtesy of Dr. Andrew Weil). Notice that the out-breath is always longer than the other steps – this is key because it’s the part communicating to your brain that you are safe and that calm can be restored. Controlled breathing is also available at any time and free, so give it a try and notice how much you can manage your own stress right away.
The 4-7-8 Breath
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of seven.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Strategy # 2 – Updated Gift Giving
Finding the right gift for everyone on your list is always a daunting task, and one made especially challenging if free time or money are feeling difficult to come by. Here are a few ways to re-think gifting this holiday season:
* Opt for a “Secret Santa” exchange. A life-saver in larger families or groups, put every
one’s name in a hat and allow them to randomly select the one person they’ll be responsible for offering a gift. This approach can feel
much more personal and heartfelt as you focus on one meaningful gift to offer.
* Set a cap on the amount of money to be spent on each other. Whether the agreement is $10 or $100, this agreement can simplify the act of gift-giving dramatically and takes the focus from “things,” back to quality time together.
Strategy # 3 – Supplements for Stress
The list of herbs linked to stress management is long and fascinating, including Valerian, Withania, Skullcap, Siberian ginseng, Hops, and Passionflower (to name only a few!) While many have a place of honor in our natural medicine cabinet, here’s a great herb to get acquainted with:
Kava Kava (Piper methysticum), is a medicinal plant in the pepper family used by South Pacific societies for more than 3000 years. Kava is making its appearance in our holiday survival guide because of its ability to reduce anxiety, produce analgesic (pain-relieving) effects, relax muscle tension, and even act as a local anesthetic. Relaxation without feeling sleepy or “drugged” – how perfect! If you’re not lucky enough to have the fresh root or powder close by, a tincture should be readily available in your natural foods store. Just take it as directed or add the recommended dosage to a favorite chilled tea, juice, or other liquid. You’ll know a quality product because it will make your mouth tingle and feel numb for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed – it’s the medicinal kavalactones in the plant making their presence known and will pass in a shortly.
* Tip – Those kavalactones are destroyed in heat, so keep any drinks on the cool side to preserve the anti-anxiety effect.
Strategy # 4 – The Gratitude Switch Here’s a profound trick to combat negative feelings that sometimes surface during this time of year: shift your focus to gratitude. At first glance this might seem like a soft solution to an overwhelming feeling, but the technique is remarkably effective. The reason is this: your brain cannot have feelings of fear or anger while maintaining gratitude at the same time. It’s one or the other, so you can choose to take up that space with thoughts that are either oppressive or expansive. You have all the power.
* Create a gratitude list. This can be a formal journal you update every day, or the back of a napkin after someone inspires embattled feelings that need to be shaken off ASAP. Start with 5 things and continue as needed to feel a positive mental state. Easy (and again free!) but powerful.
Strategy # 5 – Social Media Fast
If you’re constantly checking in or updating through social media, let’s take a pause. Those connections can be uplifting or very depleting, and if you experience the latter it’s time to exercise some new freedom. Our media diet is equally important as our nutritional diet, and both need to be cleaned up on a regular basis.
* Try stepping away. When your online world is a constant source of entertainment and distraction, see what happens if 1 full day goes by without those updates. Or 2 days…or longer. Everyone needs an occasional break and a little shift of perspective.
Strategy # 6 – Chiropractic Adjustment = Attitude Adjustment
We can’t end this list without adding our favorite tactic for combating stress – chiropractic adjustments! When Chiropractors like Dr. McDougal work to manipulate specific areas of the spine, they have a direct and healing effect on the entire nervous system. Chiropractic adjustments can release muscle tension, while also reducing spinal nerve irritation and improving blood circulation. For a body managing stress through the holiday season (and every other day!), these changes may be enough to convince the brain to turn off the fight or flight response and begin the process of healing.
We hope these strategies are helpful, and wish you a joyful end to this year. We’re looking forward to seeing you in the clinic soon!