Scintillating ballets of ardently choreographed magic, crackling, popping, and flickering into her edgy preoccupation; sooty specters wafting fragrantly toward the harvest moon’s prenatal party, celebrating the fluffy, flaky ice queens’ eminent deliveries; radiating warmth caressing, and then fervently entering her growing awareness; from its iron-grated stage and red brick playhouse; gently eased the pulsating rhythms of her hamster wheeling mind out of its disquieting dolor and dollar signs. “WOW!!! What an amazing fire!” she exclaimed joyously, as if surprised by its heartwarming presence, when glancing up from her MacBook at the blaze she had kindled nearly an hour before. She then began noticing Sarah McLachlan’s soothing rendition of White Christmas, the festive fragrances of her flickering spruce and cinnamon bell jars, the firelight dancing across her half-filled goblet of pinot, and the peace that was emerging all around her. She marveled at the beauty, and how lost she had become.
Like it or not, the holidays get our attention. Some look forward to them as a celebratory, fun-filled time of joy and inspiration, while others seriously dread it when they roll around again. Whether welcomed or shunned, they often involve an increase in activity level, social interaction, shopping, spending, decorating, eating, and emotions. You may fancy the Christian traditional, Hallmark sentimental, media hoopla, private and personal, or bah humbug version of the season, but however you approach it, it is usually accompanied by stress.
Stress, or hypertension, is the leading cause of most physical, mental, and emotional problems. We all succumb to its pressurizing perturbations from time to time, and for some, it has become a way of life. Stress is experienced by the body, mind, and emotions as strain, tension, and worry; and, in most cases, is preventable. It is more than just a simple response to cognitive, environmental, or genetic factors. It completely changes how our cerebellum creates its cascading neurosparkles. Stress informs the brain that we are in danger. When receiving this message, our guardian gray matter rallies its resources and prepares its troops for battle. After this red alert status is triggered, our neural net shifts us into Survival Mode (stress response), where it limits thought, perceived possibilities, and courses of action to those associated with preserving life in the face of mortal danger. It also turns off the body’s normal repair and maintenance systems to free up all available resources for what it believes will be a struggle for survival. This is why chronic stress often leads to progressively more severe forms of physical, mental, and emotional illness. It can also damage brain structure and connectivity. Stress, whether manifesting as anger, fear, or shock; or states like depression and anxiety; originated as an instinctual aid to help focus us on survival when confronted by an imminent threat. In the absence of real danger, we were not intended to experience such negative thoughts or emotions. They were not supposed to take away our happiness.
Since we’re all probably pretty busy right now, in various ways, with seasonal things; I’ll get right to the point of this post. Here are some simple, practical ways to relieve your holiday stress:
Remain mindful. Pay attention to what is happening all around you right now. From these things, choose to focus on those emitting love, joy, peace, and truth. Make happiness your universe; make the universe your happiness; make both you and the universe a happier place right now!
Brighten your day with sunshine. Sunshine stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin, reduces stress, and helps prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. Ayurveda says to bathe ourselves in a 10 minute sun bath each day, preferably before 10 A.M. or after 3 P.M. to avoid the most harmful of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Say “No” and let go. Adjust your expectations to fit the truth of your life. Make the holidays managable, attainable, and meaningful. They will never be perfect, but they can be beautiful! Focus on what you do have instead of what you don’t have. Give yourself permission to plan your life around your self care needs, sensitivities, and vulnerabilities. Don’t worry about what people think. Focus on your priorities, like your immediate family, and encourage others to do the same.
Tell the truth. Dishonesty, and its guilt-laden paranoid management, generates stress and erects barriers between you and the ones you love.
Give generously. Responsible giving generates physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. If you are low on cash, then don’t spend it. This would only create more stress. Consider crafts, cookies, or gifts of service as creative alternatives. Offer to babysit for your stressed out friend and his wife so they can enjoy a special date night. Replace those tank-to-bowl seals on Grandma’s hall toilet so she doesn’t have to pay a plumber.
Stick with your regular routines. Don’t stop exercising, getting enough sleep, doing whatever you do to relax, spending quality time with your spouse and/or kids, sharing date nights with your darling, etc. Don’t bite off more holiday than you can handle.
Laugh out loud. Laughter reduces the production of stress hormones, which helps our immune system function more effectively.
Keep first things first in your life. Remember what is truly important, and invest your time accordingly. For instance, focus on your immediate family, forget about trying to impress extended family, friends, or your boss.
Walk away from stressful or abusive situations. If your family members or friends are critical, nasty, or always picking on each other; then give yourself permission to leave whenever you are ready. Don’t worry about what they think. There’s nothing to feel guilty about. Take care of yourself and your immediate family. This is the responsible thing to do.
Factor in your stress triggers. Increase your awareness of those people, places, or things that bring on stress during the holidays, and seek to minimize or remove them. If the maddening crowds, long lines, and parking nightmares overwhelm you, then consider doing all your shopping on line. If joining your extended family for another fateful festivity creates dread or panic, then don’t go. Give yourself permission to start a new tradition.
Provide sufficient self care. As with your car or truck, which needs more frequent care and maintenance when you drive it more or take it off roading; your body, mind, and spirit need more when you do more. Rather than caring for yourself less because of your to-do lists, chaotic schedule, and unrealistic expectations; take the time to care for yourself more because you are doing more. You may need more time than usual to rest, relax, make love, or exercise in order to counterbalance the additional holiday demands.
Spend Wisely. Remain mindful of your finances, budget accordingly, and spend within the limits of your resources.
Help others. Helping others is a proven way to help ourselves feel better when we remain mindful of our boundaries, priorities, responsibilities, and sensitivities while doing so.
Eat and drink responsibly. Try not to increase your food and alcohol intake during the holidays. Overeating causes depression, hormonal imbalances, and electrolyte disturbances. Alcohol is a depressant, and, in excess, can darken the shade of your seasonal blues.
Eat before tilting your morning cup. Caffeine on an empty stomach can spike blood sugar levels, which can result in irritability and attention problems.
Remove the non-essentials. Consider your To Do list a brainstorming exercise. Now go down it and eliminate 50-75% of its items. Ask yourself “Will I die tomorrow if these things cannot be done?” Get rid of the ones you can live without.
Expect the unexpected. Prepare for the probability that things will happen that you didn’t plan for. Remain open to the unexpected, the unusual, the different, the changing. Planning for this will decrease your stress when it occurs.
Delegate. Like Santa, enlist the aid of your elves. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Persist. After establishing realistic expectations, just keep swimming.
Pace Yourself. Don’t try to do too much at once. Break it all down into manageable chunks. How much you can do may not be the same as anyone else. We are all different. Determine what is manageable for you based on you.
Protect Yourself. Insulate yourself and your immediate family from unnecessary intrusion, disruption, and stress. Use this as a time to clarify boundaries, set limits, and practice saying no.
Write. Whatever its focus, research reveals that writing decreases stress and improves our mood. Journaling, blogging, and crafting belletristic beatitudes will make us happier, healthier elves.
Remain calm. Calmness makes it easier to deal with challenging situations. Try not to engage emotionally, conversationally, or physically with stress-producing people, places, or things. Breathe deeply, hold on to the truth of your life, and let the potential stressors pass over you like a wave.
Maintain a regular diet of gourmet sex. Studies have shown that daily sex in a committed, heart-centered love relationship will, regardless of your age, boost immunity, relieve stress, and increase confidence. Orgasms increase the production of endorphins, a natural pain killer; and raise oxytocin levels, enhancing the quality of our sleep.
Listen to your favorite music. Doing so can relax your blood vessels and improve your blood flow, which can calm you down and strengthen your heart. Whether Nat King Cole crooning a carol, or a DJ bumping a beat, listening to the music you love will help you feel better.
Photo credit: John Wisemen