It seems that this time of year, there’s often as much stress in the air as there is holiday cheer, if not more. From frightful weather to last-minute shopping and jam-packed schedules, it’s not hard to go from feeling jolly one moment to overwhelmed the next.
So what to do? It turns out there are simple ways to have a low-, or at least lower-, stress holiday season, and do so naturally. To help you with your natural stress relief and prevention this season, here are a few ideas culled from the pages of MOTHER EARTH NEWS and its sister magazine The Herb Companion.
Get Stress Relief Naturally With (the Right) Foods
The evidence that healthy eating habits and good nutrition are important for more than just general physical health keeps growing, and, among other things, it turns out that they can play a big role in relieving stress. In Natural Stress Relief: Food and Supplements , health expert Michael Castleman provides three simple suggestions for using food — in a healthy way — to promote a less stressful life:
- Focus on basic nutrition: Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and include a daily multivitamin and/or mineral supplement.
- Eat (some) carbs, such as whole wheat crackers or bread: Carbohydrates simulate the release of brain chemicals that promote relaxation.
- Try decaf: Caffeine can make you feel high-strung and more likely to snap. Rather than cutting out regular coffee or black tea all at once, try gradually cutting back and switching to decaffeinated coffee or herbal teas.
Herbs can also help you keep an even keel. Try teas made from chamomile (brew 2 to 3 teaspoons per cup of boiling water), hops (half a teaspoon per cup), passionflower (1 teaspoon dried leaves per cup) or catnip (1 to 2 teaspoons per cup).
Create a Calming Environment
From sounds to scents, your environment is one of the easiest tools you can use to become more relaxed. Try listening to soothing music — and not just at home. Listen at work and on the bus or in the car. Play it in the kitchen or in the living room during the evening, rather than watching less-soothing television programming.
As for nosing your way to relaxation, aromatherapy is popular and effective for relieving anxiety and stress naturally. Add a few drops of an essential oil to a bath, or, for a more portable option, put some rock salt in a vial and then add a few drops of essential oil to the mix. Keep a cap on the vial, and when you’re ready to decompress, remove the cap and breathe in the scent deeply. Oils of basil, lavender, anise, peppermint and thyme are all good choices.
Work (or Breathe) It Out
In addition to nutritional, herbal and sensory stress relief techniques, another option is to physically release stress. According to The Secret to Stress Relief, people who regularly exercise are often happier and less stressed out than those who don’t exercise, and you don’t even have to commit a lot of time. Exercising for 30 minutes several times a week can naturally reduce stress, and can also help prevent stress to the immune system. Staying healthy is a great head start when it comes to feeling more relaxed and being able to handle all of the fun and bustle of the season.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to exercise. You can do it almost anywhere, it’s free, and it requires minimal equipment. Especially in winter, be sure to use activity- and weather-appropriate footwear. If you live in an area that gets lots of snow and ice, a product such as YakTrax can help you keep your footing while out and about. If venturing out during the cold season isn’t your style, schools with indoor tracks often open their facilities to the public outside of team practice hours, or you can stroll inside the local mall. As another alternative, yoga can be a great indoor exercise.
You don’t have to work up a sweat to physically relieve stress. When you realize you’re wound up too tight, stop and breathe. Roll your shoulders back and stand (or sit) up straight. Smile. Smiling sends a signal from your facial muscles to your brain that encourages calm. (See Less Stress in Seconds: The Instant Calming Sequence for more details on how each of these helps get rid of stress.) With a little more time, try meditation to relieve stress . Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes. Select a word or phrase to focus on and silently repeat it. Try a minute or two to start, and work up to 20 minutes once or twice a day. (Learn more in Introduction to Meditation .)
Stress Relief After the Party: Natural Hangover Remedies
After weeks of planning and prepping, you finally get to enjoy the big holiday dinner, or head out for cocktails with your friends to toast (or commiserate over) the season’s events. But if you wake up the next day with a splitting headache or even just a kinda fuzzy feeling after one too many glasses of wine, there try a natural hangover remedy . (Of course, the best remedy is to know when to stop and skip the hangover altogether, but you can slip these to any friends you might know to be in need.)
For starters, before you even get to the next day, if imbibing is part of your holiday festivities, be sure to drink lots of water throughout the evening. Choose your alcohol carefully. According to Dr. Andrew Weil , some alcohol may contain additives that can “trigger asthma, migraines and other reactions.” Paying a little more for a quality brand might help you be sure you’re getting a cleaner cocktail. Some types of liquor are cleaner than others, too. Go easy on the bourbon and cognac, as well as champagne. Weil says that vodka (just alcohol and water) is the cleanest.
If you’re already at the headache stage, aromatherapy can help here, too. According to Aromatherapy: Herbs for the Holidays , peppermint tea or fennel tea can help treat nausea. You can apply lavender to your temples to “quiet your pounding head.” Or, add grapefruit, lemon or fennel oils to bath water to increase urine production and thereby help flush the toxins out of your system.
More Natural Stress Remedies
The suggestions above are just a few ideas for making your holiday season less stressful. You could also try a message, or take a moment to think about all that you have to be thankful for. Spend low-key time with friends and family. Do something creative as an outlet for all of that energy. Forget about being perfect. Laugh. Smile.
You could even do something really radical: Say no (politely, of course) to some invitations. Give fewer, but more thoughtful gifts. Giving gifts to those less fortunate ( or that benefit those less fortunate) can be a great way to feel better and reconnect with the spirit of the season. Take a look at your holiday plans and ideas, figure out which are most important to you — head and shoulders above the others — and focus on those. Don’t worry about the rest. Not only will the sky not fall, but the world will continue to spin, and you will probably feel better, more rested and more sane — you might even have a very merry holiday season.