Will You “Stress It or Bless It”?
Five Tips to Manage Holiday Stress

December 9, 2013

By Anna Varriano

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It’s starting. I’m hearing stories of how stressed people are getting about the holidays. They’re worrying about the expectations surrounding gifts and family get-togethers, over-indulging, and having way too much to do with only two more weeks to get it all done.  Given the numerous ill-effects that stress has on our health, including our immune system (one of the reason why so many people get sick at this time of year), if we can’t find ways to minimize our stress, we can at least do a few things that will help our bodies and minds deal with it.

cropped with DMI first heard the expression “bless it, don’t stress it” about 15 years ago from Dr. Dorothy Marshall, co-founder of the Marshall Health Clinic and the International Academy Health Education Centre.  I was, and still am, very fortunate to be under her guidance and mentorship.

Early on, Dr. Marshall shared two valuable pieces of advice that I do my best to embrace every day. The first one was “bless it, don’t stress it” and the second one was to “strive for progress rather than perfection” –  two things that many of us tend to forget – especially over the holidays, which is likely a time when we could benefit from them the most.

Last year, my December Tip of the Month, The Twelve Tips of Christmas, offered twelve nutrition-related tips aimed to help you enjoy all of the treats and indulgences that come with the holidays without totally blowing it. With a focus on “progress rather than perfection”, incorporating even just one of those twelve tips would be meaningful.  I’ll be recycling the twelfth tip, Bless It, Don’t Stress It, in this month’s post.  So, apart from the common advice that often gets shared at this time of year, including getting enough sleep, keeping up with your exercise, and continuing to strive for healthy food choices, here are five tips that can help you stay merry.

 1. Get a Stress-Busting Treatment

reflex3Many natural modalities have been shown to enhance the body’s ability to cope with stress. These include, and are not limited to, massage, acupuncture and reflexology.  A lot of people love this option as they can relax while someone else does the stress-busting work for them.  The first time I went for a foot reflexology session, I loved it so much that I decided to get training so I could offer this amazing treatment to others. Reflexology is so much more than a ‘foot massage’. While it definitely is a treat-for-the-feet, when properly done, reflexology offers numerous health benefits that affect the entire body, including releasing tension, reducing stress, and promoting relaxation.  If you would like to gift yourself or someone you know with a health-boosting, stress-busting reflexology session, you can purchase a gift certificate here. Simply select the ‘Custom Amount’ option from the drop down amount menu, enter $60, then follow the instructions to complete the purchase. In a few quick steps, you’ll be all set with a unique gift idea that will make someone healthier and happier!  Interestingly, wishing others health and happiness has been shown to reduce our own stress, so whether you gift yourself or someone else with a reflexology session, either way, you benefit! This leads nicely into the next tip.

2. Send Some Loving Kindness

Red Heart ShapeA few months ago, I read an article in Dr. David Williams’ Alternatives newsletter that was all about balancing our stress response.  The newsletter shared many new research findings related to this topic, including something called ‘Loving Kindness Meditation’. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that this type of ‘meditation’ strengthens the vagus nerve. A critical role of the vagus nerve is to help the body recover from stress. The stronger our vagus nerve is, the more efficiently our body recovers from stress.  So how do you go about loving kindness meditation? It sounds pretty easy.  First, find a quiet place, make yourself comfortable there, close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and visualize someone you know – it may even be you! Next, focus your attention on everything you like about that person (let’s call them John) so that you start to feel warm and fuzzy towards them.  Next, you repeat the following:  “May John feel safe; May John feel happy; May John feel healthy; May John feel at ease.” Once you’ve sent John some heart-felt virtual loving kindness, you can shift your focus to someone else and repeat the process. According to the article, doing this at least once a day can strengthen the vagus nerve. Pretty cool, huh?

3. Give and Receive Hugs

hugs catStress of any kind makes our adrenal glands secrete cortisol, which is our main stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels can have numerous ill-effects on our overall health and well-being, including sleep issues, depression, feeling overwhelmed, and weight gain or difficulty losing weight. Research has shown that there is a hormone that can suppress cortisol, and that hormone is oxytocin. Most people associate oxytocin with promoting uterine contractions; however, recent research is calling oxytocin ‘the love hormone’ … and believe it or not, both men and women can stimulate its production by giving and receiving hugs. One of my daughters is studying Neuroscience and recently shared a link with me regarding a Ted Talk on oxytocin. It was so interesting, I watched it a couple of times. Having an Italian background, giving and receiving hugs comes naturally to me, so I love that hugging  has been shown to be an oxytocin-promoting (aka stress-busting) activity. I’m sending you a virtual one right now!

4. Try a Cup of Calmness

Flowers Floating in Herbal TeaThere are a lot of herbs that help our body deal with stress. Three very effective ones are valerian, hops, and passionflower. They are all available as teas, either as single varieties or as blends. Try having a few cups during the day instead of automatically going for another cup of caffeinated coffee. While many people think of coffee as a ‘pick-me-up’ during stressful times, one of the things caffeine does is stimulate your likely already overworked adrenal glands to pump out more cortisol (remember, cortisol is our main stress hormone and levels are likely already up there without the help of coffee).  If you’re not a tea drinker, these herbs are also available in supplement form. A product that delivers good results is V.H.P. by Biotics Research Canada.

  5. Bless It, Don’t Stress It

cake stress it bless itWhen you do have the occasional holiday indulgence, it’s important that you thoroughly enjoy it. Stressing over it will set off a negative emotional and physiological cycle that won’t do you any good. Shifting from stressing to blessing can be as simple as what you say to yourself or others; for example, which sounds better to you: “I think I’ll treat myself to a piece of cake” versus “I think I’ll cheat and have a piece of cake”.  I’m not implying that you can eat desserts and drink eggnog with every meal for weeks and just wish the ill effects away; after all, the definition of a ‘treat’ is something that is out of the ordinary – something that we do once in a while, and thoroughly enjoy. Remember, in the end, it’s likely not a few days of holiday indulgences throughout the year that are going to do you in … just as going on a diet for a few weeks in the New Year isn’t likely going to lead to meaningful changes that will last a lifetime.  By keeping moderation in mind, and reviewing my December 2012 Tip of the Month, I trust you’ll be able to eat, drink, and stay merry over the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Yours in health,

Anna

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