Sunday, December 11, 2011

From Holiday Stress to Holiday Peace

Stress can adversely affect our health.  It can raise blood pressure and blood sugar, it can make our bodies store up cortisol, causing us to gain extra weight, and, stress can make us crabby.  Stress is not created by just those things that we perceive as negative.  Your body reacts to positive things as stress as well.  Any change can be perceived by the body as stress:  a touchdown by your favorite college team, or a burned souffle. To our bodies stress is stress is stress.  There are varying degrees of stress, but good or bad is not really differentiated by our neutral, nonjudgemental cells and nerves.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, Solstice, or the football bowl season, the holidays are “supposed” to be one of joy and love, fun, love, caring and family.  The stressful crabbies can overtake the holidays in a moment and turn a party into a chore.  We want to share some ideas with you that may help to reduce stress and make your holidays more enjoyable. 
*If you are planning on entertaining a houseful of guests:  make as much ahead of time as you can.  In this wonderful modern age of freezers, refrigerators and even coolers, we don’t have to cook everything in one day.  Cook ahead of time, do prep ahead of time.  Slice your cheeses and veggies a day or two in advance, have casseroles put together ahead of time, ready to just pop into the oven or microwave.  Minimize the amount of time that you are tied to the kitchen while everyone else is having fun!
*Speaking of chilling-don’t forget to make time for yourself throughout each day.  Even a minute can help you through the chaos:  pause and breathe at least 3 long, slow, deliberate deep breaths in a row.  This helps to lower blood pressure and oxygenate your brain.  This is a quick, instant stress reducer.  Use it often.
*Diffuse your favorite essential oils as you are preparing for your holidays, and even during your celebrations.  Smell goes directly into the limbic area of your brain, which affects emotions.  I like to use uplifting scents like “On Guard”, “Balance”, and citrusy scents like lemon or wild orange.  
*Another scent-filled stress reducer, is to smell the food you prepare.  The smell of fresh bread or simmering soup does wonders to reduce stress.  Enjoying the smell of food is a great part of enjoying a meal, and meal preparation can be a treat instead of a chore.
*With family or friends, drive or walk around your town, looking at holiday lights.  
*If you are feeling really edgy or stressed, when you shower or do the dishes, envision the water washing you with peace and love.  Allow ally of your stress, anger and frustration flow down the drain, washed away by the water’s love and peace.
*Put a bit of “Balance” or lavender oil on your earlobes, wrists and behind your ears to help you stay calm, balanced and relaxed during those stressful holiday moments.
Whether you are a parent or an adult who knows someone with kids, spending time with kids is a great way to reduce stress.  During the hustle and bustle of holiday preparations, sometimes kids can seem to be a hinderance to getting things done in the way and in the time that the adults want them to be done.  But really, kids are great teachers of how the holidays can be done.  They know that playing is always a priority.  What better time to re-learn the priority of play than the holidays?
*Read them a story (or have them read to you!).  See what kind of outrageous voices and faces you can make for the characters as you read their lines.
*Get a coloring book and crayons and color together.  
*Wrap gifts together.  Kids love to help with this super-secret rite.  Let them put their finger on the ribbon as you tie the bow.  Let them hand you the tape, and teach them how to make neat creases.  You can even let them in on a secret by letting them wrap some of the presents that are not for them!
*Make your own wrapping paper together.  Cut up paper grocery bags and decorate them with rubber stamps, crayons, markers, or apples cut in half and dipped in paint.  Use your imagination.  You can also use the comics section of the newspaper, or, for small gifts, beautiful magazine pages.
*Make snow angels or snowpeople together.  Then go inside and make hot cocoa or “candy cane tea” (see the recipe in an earlier post about recipes).
*Cook together.
*Sing together (maybe even sing while you cook).
*Play video games together.  There are great dance, sports and exercise games to play together on systems such as the wii or xbox kinect that are fun and will get you up and moving, physical activity is a great stress reducer!
*Watch a holiday movie together. 
*Don’t forget that kids (and adults) are not perfect.  They won’t do things the way you do them, or in the time frame that you do them, but teaching them and allowing them the space and time to learn can be a great stress reducer.  Letting go of the expectation of perfection allows space for joy and creativity.
No matter what you celebrate this season, enjoy yourself and be safe.
Happy Holidays.  Merry Christmas.  Blessed Solstice.  Happy Hanukah.
Aimee & Deb

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