3 Amazingly Easy Holiday Stress Busters

crowded shopping mall

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Even if you’re stranded on a deserted island, you probably know the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, the official start of the holiday shopping season. If you’re heading to the mall for amazing bargains on wool sweaters and the cool new Bluetooth speakers, brace yourself for big crowds, a mad dash in the parking lot and long checkout lines.

Or perhaps you’ll spend Black Friday flying home from Thanksgiving on a packed airplane. In coach. With a wailing baby in the row right behind you.

Winter holidays aren’t just egg nog, Scrabble and mistletoe: doing normal things like shopping, travelling or spending extended time with family can create a lot of stress. Short of hibernating for the month and doing all your shopping online, are there ways to help keep your cool?

It turns out there are easy and effective strategies you can use anywhere to stay calm and enjoy the holidays, no matter what. A few of our providers shared their top holiday stress busters:

Just breathe.

“Breath work is the best way to reset the nervous system,” says Erica Matluck, a naturopath and nurse practitioner in San Francisco.

1. Alternate Nostril Breathing. “You’re calming down the central nervous system and you’re connecting the left and right hemispheres of the brain,” says Matluck. It’s not as hard as it sounds: Hold your right nostril closed with your thumb and then inhale for five seconds through your left nostril. Pause for a few seconds, then block your left nostril with your index finger and exhale through your right.

Erica Matluck, ND, FNP

2. Cleansing Breaths. Breathe in as deeply as you can through your nose. Then exhale through your mouth with an audible sigh. Do this two or three times.

3. Timed Breathing. Do this one by inhaling for a count of six, holding your breath for six counts and then exhaling for six counts. Some other versions suggest a 4-7-8 count breathing. “Any time you bring attention to deep breathing it balances out the nervous system and puts you more in a parasympathetic nervous system state,” says Matluck. “That’s the relaxed side of the nervous system.”

Tap that.

“It’s basically talk therapy while tapping on acupuncture points,” says San Francisco naturopath and midwife April Blake, describing an approach to stress relief that’s often called emotional freedom techniques (EFT) or acupressure for the emotions.

She says EFT is another tool she can use while talking to a patient who’s dealing with a stressful situation. Blake first helps a patient verbalize what they’re feeling and then help them release it with a combination of words and tapping on certain acupuncture points on the face, hands or chest.

“Let’s say someone is feeling anxious,” says Blake. “When we go into an anxious state we start to feel it in out body… you might tense up your shoulders or stomach.”

1. Define what you’re feeling.“You might start by saying to yourself I’m feeling anxious, I’m feeling sad or I’m feeling tense,” says Blake.

2. Let it go. Say “I choose to release it,” “I choose to be at ease,” “I choose to have compassion for myself” or some other positive statement that addresses what you’re feeling.

3. Tap. As you’re saying the positive statement in your mind, use your left hand to grasp your right thumb right next to the nail bed and squeeze five times. Do the same thing with each finger on your right hand. Or if you prefer, use your right hand to squeeze the fingers on the left hand.

finger squeeze stress relief
Squeezing the tips of each finger five times is a quick way to reduce stress.

Tapping helps to drive home your affirmation and lessen the negative emotion you’re feeling. In fact, Blake says the tapping alone works even without the affirmation.

“Chinese medicine is thousands of years old and there’s a lot of evidence that shows it can be effective,” she says. “We know the power of the mind is very strong so if you can change you pattern of thinking big things can happen.”

Be prepared.

Nobody’s at their best when they’re tired, thirsty and hungry — or all three. Taking care of yourself during this busy season gives you emotional resilience and makes it much easier to avoid a meltdown, says Siri Chand Khalsa, an MD in Phoenix. Just like a mom packs snacks, toys and extra diapers when taking a toddler on an outing, adults need to create their own go-bag.

1. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is a great way to keep yourself going. Khalsa suggests upping the ante with chamomile tea, an ancient remedy made from flowers of a particular daisy. Chamomile has a mild sedative effect, and studies show it’s great for a variety of ailments. Tuck away a teabag that you can use on the flight or make some chamomile tea ahead of time and pack it in a glass or aluminum bottle to sip while shopping.

Siri Chand Khalsa, MD

2. Make sure you eat. “I call it hangry when you’re hungry and angry,” says Khalsa. “When your brain gets hungry cravings start. It’s important to recognize that can change your mood.” Eat a balanced meal with protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats before going shopping or heading to the airport. She also recommends carrying snacks like little bags of almonds, natural jerky, a tangerine, hummus or a more natural energy bar with five ingredients or less.

3. Soothe with lavender. Keep a little bottle of lavender essential oil in your bag and sniff it when you need to combat stress, says Khalsa. Lavender’s herbal scent is more than just pleasing; it can help calm us down. Numerous scientific studies have shown that lavandula angustifolia helps reduce anxiety. A 2007 study in Japan found that smelling lavender (or rosemary oil, by the way) lowered the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in subjects’ saliva. They also found that the essential oils boosted free radical scavenging activity, which helps protect the body from the effects of stress.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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