‘Tis THE Season
How to Beat Stress Naturally. We’ve Asked Local Experts for Tips.
article by Michael DeVault
The holiday season can be fraught with stress. There’s the shopping and the crowds, fighting for that perfect parking spot before rushing into the store for the “must have” doodad of the year. All the while, back home, family is waiting for dinner, and that means stopping by the grocery store to pick up the ingredient that makes Grandma’s casserole special. And by family, when was the last time you saw that third cousin and his six children, who’ve traveled all the way in from Oregon to surprise everyone? (“No, we don’t need a hotel! We’ll just crash, camping style, in the living room!”)
No matter the source, the holidays can be a time of year that drives stress levels through the roof. But they don’t have to be. Following the advice of these experts will help you enjoy a stress-free holiday season–or at least equip you to minimize the stress when your toddling nephew manages to pull the tablecloth off the table.
Holidays are, perhaps first and foremost, a time for fellowship with family and friends, celebrating the year gone by and anticipating the year that lies ahead. That means food, and lots of it. Nutrition expert Amanda Wood says what you put into your body can make or break your holiday stress level. “You need good nutrients in your body to help with that stress,” says Wood, a registered dietitian, who singles out blood sugar as one of the overlooked aspects of stress and stress management.
Stress problems begin the moment our brain start to sense what it interprets as danger, releasing chemicals that trigger a fight or flight instinct. Even under ideal circumstances, when we’re eating our normal diets with all of our healthy foods, this fight or flight instinct triggers physiological responses. One way the body responds is to elevate blood sugar. “Keep sugary foods at a minimum, because your body’s already going to be making things worse to begin with,” Wood says.
Improper blood sugar levels can exacerbate stress by causing us to feel sickly, lack energy, and tax our immune system. Ironically, Wood points out, blood sugar levels during the holidays are a double-edged sword. We over-indulge on the sweets and treats, raising our blood sugar levels. But low blood sugar can be just as bad. And during the holidays, with time at a premium, one of the first things we throw out the window is our eating schedule, skipping meals or powering through moments when we’d normally grab a granola bar or handful of crackers. Wood has some advice: don’t do that! “You want to make sure you eat your three meals a day. You have to eat your snacks throughout the day,” Wood says.
In addition to watching blood sugar, Wood says one of the most frequent causes of ill health during the holidays that she sees in her clinic is dehydration. As we get busier, we forget to drink water. “Lack of water can cause headaches, stress, and that’s one of the main things I see, dehydration. They’re just not getting enough fluid,” Wood says.
And what of that cousin and six kids snoring in front of the television? If you’re starting to feel a bit tense, pay attention to your jaw, where Wood says clenched jaws can settle in to cause massive headaches. But dealing with that clenched jaw is simple. Eat crunch foods like raw celery and carrots. “Foods that are crunchy will help with fiber intake, vitamins and minerals and relieve the stress of a clenched jaw,” Wood says.
So you’re managing nutrition, but that blood pressure’s still a little up. After all, just because you’re eating right doesn’t mean you don’t have to do all those things for all those special people. Angie Blades and Fiesta Nutrition Center have been working for more than 38 years to provide you with the additional help you need to manage stress. Blades says she’s learned a few tricks over the years that come in handy during the holidays. It starts off with a blend of essences from five flowers.
Bach Rescue Remedy is a time-tested product created by British physician Edward Bach. Blending together essences of impatiens, star of Bethlehem, clematis, rock rose and cherry plum, Bach Rescue Remedy is a soothing lozenge that will provide you with almost instantaneous relaxation and relief from stress.
“It’s fast acting. You put it under your tongue, and it helps with anxiety, stress, emotion,” Blades says of the $10 lozenges, which also come in easy-to-dispense droplets. “People buy this before they go to court, before they take a test, or have an encounter with family.”
When your headache starts to flare up, Blades recommends Natural Calm, a water-soluble magnesium product that helps ease tension without the adverse side effects of over-the-counter medicines. She also points out that we can ease tension and stress by cutting back on one of our favorite beverages–sweet tea. Instead, replace that glass of caffeinated sugar or piping hot coffee with a soothing cup of herbal tea. There are several to choose from, including rose petal tea, chamomile, and kava kava. With that last one, there is a little additional benefits. “Kava kava will help you stay centered and calmed,” Blades says.
And what about moments when you’ve over-indulged? Sure that second slice of chocolate pie seemed like a great idea at the time, and it does happen once a year after all. But now, sitting there struggling to focus on the game over the rumble of your over-taxed stomach, you’re having second thoughts. Blades says pop a piece of crystalized ginger in your mouth and chew away. The ginger helps relieve nausea and indigestion. “It’s really popular,” Blades says. “And it’s good for a hangover, too!”
How often during the holiday season do we sacrifice our “me” time? If the answer is “too often,” then it’s time to take a step back, find our center, and remind ourselves of our bodies. That starts with movement and exercise, which Maurie Hooten points out we too often neglect when we get busy. The owner of The Yoga Barre, Hooten suggests people remember to keep up with exercise and movement, and there is no more perfect stress relieving exercise than yoga.
“Yoga practice takes your mind off of everything else going on in your day and your life. It really gives you the opportunity to take care of yourself,” Hooten says. “You hear all the time if you take care of yourself, everyone else around you will be happier.”
Yoga practice teaches individuals how to move their bodies in ways that maximize blood flow, restore health and instill a sense of well-being. And unlike other exercise regimens that focus on strength-building or stamina, yoga doesn’t necessarily have to take a lot of time. A seasoned practitioner knows when to step away for a few minutes and strike a pose or three. “You can take a break, give yourself a moment, angle yourself back in and take the ego down a notch,” Hooten says, which makes yoga ideal for the holidays. “It can teach you to take a step back, look at a situation and ask if it’s really necessary for you to be stressed right now or are you overreacting?”
Meanwhile, no matter how much we’re moving, what we’re eating, or how much tea we consume, our bodies may still slip into in overdrive. During high stress moments such as the holidays, our bodies produce less serotonin, and that’s a bad thing, according to Dr. David Thomason, an acupuncturist and herbalist. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for our sense of relaxation and peace. When it declines, so does our sense of well being.
“When stress goes up and serotonin goes down, that’s when we start to feel that stress situation. We don’t sleep as well at night and start to feel unhappy,” Thomason says. Acupuncture can provide a bit of relief from those effects. By encouraging the body’s natural response systems to increase the production of serotonin, acupuncture helps restore a sense of call and balance. It also has an added benefit of increasing your energy level because acupuncture can trigger the release of endorphins.
“Endorphin release helps you feel more motivated, more relaxed, and to ultimately sleep better at night,” Thomason says.
Acupuncture begins with a traditional Chinese medicine physical examination, following the application of tiny acupuncture needles. After the needles are in, you’re left to relax for roughly half an hour. “Most people just close their mind, try to keep their mind quiet, and if they know how to meditate, they’ll do a little meditation,” Thomason says. When you leave, you feel refreshed, restored and ready to take on whatever comes next.
If acupuncture seems like it’s the “me” time the doctor ordered, you’ll feel positively self-indulgent with a trip to the spa for a massage. Spa Nouvelle massage therapist Ana Hale says massage therapy is a great way to alleviate the holiday stress.
“It helps with your emotions, your blood flow,” Hale says. But that’s not all an hour on the massage table gets you. “It also gives you time, because during the holidays you’re always thinking about everyone else, buying that special gift, making that perfect meal.”
Between the music, the aroma therapy and the quiet, soothing atmosphere, when you enter the spa, you know you’re in a special place. “We take you into a zone where you feel like you’re somewhere else,” Hale says. “When you come out, you feel like you’ve had a vacation.”
That little slice of me time is important, too, because you’ll need to be on your A-game for the friends, family and colleagues who are relying on you for that perfect meal, that special gift or that memorable holiday party. “You need to take time out for yourself, and that helps you to be better at all of those other things,” Hale says.