Take the Edge Off the Holidays: 6 Natural Holiday Stress Relief Tips

The holidays are usually a joyous and wonderful time of the year for most, but for many of us they can also be very stressful. Whether it’s related to gift-giving anxiety, travel upsets, inclement weather, difficult family dynamics, isolation or overindulgence, this time of year can make us all more susceptible to colds, flu, fatigue, depression and general malaise.

Instead of allowing ourselves to go into hibernation mode as there is less and less sunlight during the holiday season, we pull our coats tight and brave the cold weather, traffic jams, crowds, and long lines to get our gift shopping done (often at the last minute). We stay out late, drink too much, eat too much, and scramble under pressure to complete projects or plans before the close of the year.

Add the pressure of living up to the expectations of family and the inevitable weather-related travel upsets and you’ve got a recipe for major stress.

So what can you do to take a little bit of the edge off this time of year? Here are some tips to help you keep your stress to a minimum and improve your mood so you can enjoy the holiday season with some sanity:

Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated and remember to breathe … deeply! Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night or make up for lost sleep by taking naps or sleeping in. Lower alcohol consumption and drink plenty of other fluids, especially water, to stay hydrated. And remember to breathe deeply.

Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars. OK, I know this is a tough one, but it can make a huge difference in how you feel! Refined carbs tend to spike then deplete your serotonin levels leaving you exhausted. So, indulge a little, but try to stick to healthier treats like dark chocolate or seasonal fruits. Balance things out by eating fiber-rich serotonin-enhancing foods like whole grains, root vegetables, beans, legumes, seeds and nuts, along with a little lean protein (turkey or fish).

Load up on Omega 3 essential fatty acids. Research shows a strong association between Omega-3 fats and brain health. Definitely a case of the more the merrier! Your brain needs a certain amount of fat to function properly and remain healthy. but not all fats are created equal. Some of the ones you may think of as unhealthy are actually good for you (in spite of the conventional wisdom), while others that you may have been led to believe are healthy, are actually quite harmful for you due to their high Omega 6 content, not to mention the significant amount of processing that goes into making them. That’s why it’s important to increase you essential fatty acid intake during the winter months and times of high stress like the holidays. You can get your omega 3s from wild caught salmon, walnuts, avocados and chia seeds!

Slow down. Take time to savor and enjoy the rituals of the season. Stay present with yourself and everyone around you and practice forgiveness and acceptance. Remember, you can choose to let go of whatever is troubling you for the moment.

Reach out to others, especially those in need. The holidays can magnify feelings of isolation or loneliness for those who can’t be with family or don’t have family to be with. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and comfort if you are in need. Helping others in need also has a profoundly healing and uplifting effect, both physiological and psychological.

Surround yourself with uplifting and nurturing sounds and smells. During the holiday season it is especially important to surround yourself with soothing and uplifting smells and sounds. Listen to music that makes you happy and calm even if its not holiday music. A great place to start is with one of our Soothe collection of aromatherapy products. The combination of lavender, geranium, clary sage and chamomile essential oils in this blend help you stay calm and grounded, even when things around you are a little chaotic.

If you need a little extra help adjusting your mood try our Inspiration blend with it’s uplifting mix of citrus essential oils –sure to put a smile on even the most stubborn of scowls. If traditional holiday smells stress you out or make you depressed, avoid them as much as possible.

Happy Earth Day! A Good Day (and Week) to Honor Those Who Contribute to Our Survival and Well Being

Happy Earth Day! I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of honoring and acknowledging the contribution of others to our lives and personal well being, as well as those whose efforts contribute to the greater good. The second half of April commemorates two special occasions that give us a wonderful opportunity to do just that: Earth Day (today) and Administrative Professionals Day (April 25th).

Earth Day is as much a tribute to Mother Earth as it is to the early activists and organizers that turned environmentalism into a cultural phenomenon, and to those who continue to work hard at improving on what’s already been accomplished. What started in 1970 as a grassroots symbolic gesture in support of the health of the environment, has turned into a powerful annual homage to mother nature, and an important reminder of how dependent we are on the earth’s fragile but resilient eco-system for our very own survival and well-being.

And speaking of our survival and well-being –especially in the business world and in the workplace—no one can deny the tremendous contribution of secretaries, clerical employees, and all manner of administrative professionals to the success of the businesses who employ them or use their services. The last week of this month is Administrative Professionals’ Week –now one of the largest workplace observances– and Administrative Professionals’ Day (formerly known as Secretary’s Day) is part of this week-long celebration.

Personally, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate these two big occasions than by giving a green gift of aromatherapy to your favorite administrative professional! Then again, I’m a little biased …

If you have an administrative professional that contributes to your success or the success of your team or business, and you would like to find a meaningful way to recognize and acknowledge them, then consult our Gift Guide for great Administrative Professionals’ Day gift ideas. Aromatherapy gifts are a great way to instantly diffuse tension, relieve stress, and restore harmony. They’re also a great way to lift spirits and reward performance and teamwork. Not sure what to get? Try one of our electronic gift certificates.

We offer gift certificate options for $10, $25, $35, $50, $75 or $100 that can be emailed right up to the last minute! Electronic Gift Certificates are fast (instantly emailed when you complete your purchase), easy, totally carbon neutral, and are good for up to 2 years from date of purchase. The perfect option when it absolutely has to be there on or by the 25th! Buy your gift certificates here!

And as you celebrate Earth Day (and I hope you do in some way), ask yourself if your beauty and personal care routine is both clean AND green. If you’re not sure or need some tips on how to find out, read my last blog post “Clean and Green: Beautiful Skin and Environmental Health Go Hand in Hand“. In it I shared some criteria you can use to identify the health and environmental impacts of the products you use. If you’re not already using clean and green (and I hope you are), may it inspire you to make the switch!

Giving Thanks: What Are You Grateful For this Thanksgiving?

Whether you view Thanksgiving as a religious celebration, a pagan tribute to the bounty of Mother Nature, or the official ringing in of the holiday season, the celebration of Thanksgiving gives us a rare opportunity to take a collective time out –to reconnect with loved ones and remember just how much we have to be thankful for.

The joy we feel during this time of sharing and connection is a powerful reminder of the importance of practicing its hallmarks –gratitude and giving. If you want a better life, better health, and a sense of being connected and hopeful, the best way to experience those things is to give, and giving thanks by way of showing your appreciation is a great way to do it. Science bears witness to this phenomenon!

Marci Shimoff, author of Happiness for No Reason tells a powerful story about one Thanksgiving she spent with her family a few years ago. After their meal they were all gathered around in the living room still digesting their meal when she grabbed her video camera and suggested that they all go around in a circle and tell each other one thing they most appreciate about each other. They reluctantly agreed to her request.

Starting with their mother — each family member shared what they appreciated most about her. Next they moved onto their father, and continued this way until all 12 family members heard from the other 11 why and how much they were appreciated. You can imagine how happy everyone was by the end of their “appreciation feast.”

I loved reading this story. And the beautiful part is that now that some of the elders of their family are gone they have this wonderful video they can watch and share with the younger members of their family to keep them connected in the spirit of gratitude and appreciation.

So this holiday season and today especially, when you give thanks for all the abundance and blessings in your life, take a few minutes to let the people you love know how much you appreciate them. If Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that tends to bring the worst out in your family try diffusing tensions by conducting your own “appreciation feast.”

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tip #7 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Surround yourself with uplifting and nurturing sounds and smells

Two of the fastest ways to raise your vibrational frequency (which is low when you’re sick or stressed out) are listening to music and using essential oils. Listen to music that you love or that soothes you as often as possible. As for essential oils, citrus oils are the most effective for alleviating depression and improving your mood, especially grapefruit, orange, tangerine, and lime (oils typically extracted from the rind of the fruit). More expensive but also effective are oils extracted from the orange blossoms, stems, and leaves of the citrus trees such as bergamot, petitgrain, and neroli.

Many of the smells associated with the holidays can be uplifting as well – the scent of a live Christmas tree or fresh cut wreath, the mulling spices from cider or the comforting smell of baked goods. All of these can be created with essential oils of pine, fir, juniper, cedarwood, clove, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. If you need relief from stress or seek to create a sense of peace and calm try lavender, which blends well with cedarwood or any of the “tree” oils.

Put a few drops of any oil or blend of oils in a diffuser or potpourri burner or in a cup of Epsom salts and add to a nice hot bath. Make a lovely spritzer by adding 15 drops of any essential oil or combination of oils to one ounce of purified water, or try one our Aromatic Mister sprays.

Always keep a small bottle of aromatherapy product handy and pull it out and sniff it whenever you need a little booster. Rub a small amount into your palms, bring to your face and inhale deeply. Our Trial Size Lotions and Body Oils are perfect for this! Follow recommended safety guidelines if you’re working with straight essential oils. You can find some on our blog.

Tip #6 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Reach out to others, especially those in need

With all its busyness and emphasis on family and social interaction, the holidays can magnify feelings of isolation or loneliness for those who can’t be with family or don’t have family to be with. It’s easy to feel left out when you’re surrounded by others who are putting so much time and energy into preparing for the holidays in anticipation of being with their loved ones or taking care of their families. Don’t give in to feelings of isolation. Get out of your house and go somewhere where you can be with others who appreciate what you have to offer – whether it’s time, money or attention.

Helping others in need has a profoundly healing and uplifting effect, both physiological and psychological. Bringing joy to others can provide a sense of meaningful connection if you’re feeling left out and it helps you to appreciate how much you already have to be thankful and happy for.

I know of people who, on Christmas eve, like to take a big wad of cash with them and go to a part of town where homeless people or others in need are hanging around and surprise them by “gifting” them with $10 or $20 or even $50 (depending on your budget of course). The look of surprise and joy in the receiver’s eyes is gift enough for them.

You don’t need to give away money to make a difference in someone else’s life. Do a volunteer shift or two at a local soup kitchen or toy drive or offer to buy a bag of groceries for a family in need (this can be done anonymously if that makes it easier). Go to a local house of worship and attend a sermon. If you feel yourself falling into a sinkhole of loneliness and/or depression, there are many ways to pull yourself out. So don’t give in to the urge to withdraw or become reclusive. Reach out instead!

Tip #5 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Slow down. Take time to savor and enjoy the rituals of the season.

Remember that time well spent with your loved ones is the greatest gift of all. So in spite of the busyness of the season and all the stress and pressure that come along with it, carve out some down time for yourself so you can be in a more relaxed and harmonious state that allows you to be fully present when you’re with others and really enjoy being in the moment with them whatever it is you are doing together.

Do a little stretching or practice a little yoga every day – either first thing in the morning when you arise or at night before retiring for the evening. Find a restorative pose that doesn’t require a lot of skill or props. One of the best for this is “legs up against the wall.” Lie flat on your back perpendicular to, and facing a wall. With your knees bent and feet flat on the wall, slide your rear end forward until it touches the wall then with your back flat on the floor, slowly straighten your legs so they are both straight up and resting against the wall. Stay in this position for as long as you can (at least 5 minutes). You may need a bolster or pillow under your lower back to support you. When you are done, bend your knees, and with feet flat against the wall again, slide your body back into the starting position. Get up slowly. Combine this or whatever poses or stretches you choose for your routine with some deep breathing exercises to help relieve tension that can build up in your neck and shoulders, and to find your center and get grounded. Be an oasis of calm amidst the chaos surrounding you! You’ll be surprised by how your calmness can subtly influence others who are not and help them to come down to earth.

Stay present with yourself and everyone around you, and practice forgiveness and acceptance of others as well as yourself. Don’t suppress your feelings but instead, learn to release your attachment to them –especially feelings of resentment or disappointment you may have towards others or the “stories” you’ve told yourself about why you feel that way. This is really the best way to diffuse the tension that can often come up at family or social gatherings during the holidays as a result of unresolved past grievances or dashed expectations. If you have trouble doing this, then ask yourself if your issue is really about the other person or about a deep unresolved fear or sadness that resides within you that is showing up in the form of this resentment.

Tip #4 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Boost Your Immune System with Vitamin D and C Supplements, Essential Fatty Acids and Antioxidant-rich foods

If you’re feeling unusually blue, you may be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is in part, the result of a Vitamin D deficiency brought on by insufficient exposure to natural daylight. SAD primarily affects people who live in northern latitudes (north of San Francisco and Washington D.C.), and seems to affect more woman than men. This condition can become acute right around the holidays when days are the shortest, Longer nights tend to trick our brains into producing more melatonin at the expense of serotonin (the “feel-good” hormone). To compound matters, our bodies are used to rising when the sun comes up but during this time of year it’s still dark out when we get up in the morning. This anomaly seems to be the crux behind SAD, which can last throughout the winter months and into early spring depending on where you live and what the climate is like.

Consider adding a Vitamin D supplement to your winter regimen. Try 2000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. In addition, consider getting one of those light boxes to help boost your mood. These boxes are outfitted with special light bulbs that mimic the brightness of morning light. This light “therapy” works by getting your sleep-wake cycle in sync with a “sun substitute,” which ultimately resets your circadian clock. So the light box basically helps you fake your own dawn and fool your body into thinking the day has started even though it’s still dark out. A small number of people with SAD respond better to early-evening light treatments rather than the morning treatments. But be aware, not all light boxes are created equal. Do some research before investing.

In addition, up your intake of Vitamin C both from foods like green leafy vegetables (which also help alkalize), berries, and orange juice, as well as in supplement form, to protect you from colds and flu. Essential fatty acids (EFAs) like flaxseed or hemp seed (in seed, meal, or oil form) can alleviate dry skin, hair, and nails; balance and regulate hormones and cholesterol; and help ease depression too. You can get EFAs from eating more wild caught salmon, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and avocados. These fats are “good” fats so don’t cut back on them, especially at this time of year. You can also take them in supplement form including fish oils. Studies show that you can experience benefits by consuming 300 mg per day.

Tip #3 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Avoid refined carbohydrates and sugars

This is a tough one for most people with all the scrumptious desserts and cookies that seem to surround you wherever you go. But refined carbohydrates (mainly white flour and starches) tend to spike, then deplete, your serotonin levels giving you the equivalent of a sugar rush.

Add to that the sugar from alcoholic drinks (from both the alcohol and the sweet stuff it’s mixed with) and your body gets a double-whammy. Sugar in the body is very acidic and can wreak havoc with your pH balance. Balancing your body chemistry and maintaining a proper ratio between acid and alkaline foods in your diet are key to maintaining your health. Processed sugars (corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup) are super bad for you but unfortunately, unless you’re buying the desserts or baked goods yourself there’s no way to know whether they’re in them or how much!

So indulge a little if you must, but try to avoid overly sweet items and stick to healthier treats like dark chocolate or seasonal fruits. You can balance things out by eating more complex carbs and whole grains, root vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts, along with a little lean protein (turkey or fish) –all of which are serotonin-enhancing foods. Consider adding a “green” supplement of some sort to help alkalize your body and balance out the acidity. If you can stand the taste, add wheatgrass or chlorophyll or powdered mixes that contain them. And make sure you are getting enough fiber in your diet or via supplementation to keep things moving along (regular elimination is a good way to clear out toxins and maintain a healthy environment inside your body).

Tip #2 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated and remember to breathe … deeply!

When your body is in hibernation mode (as it usually is during this time of the year) it needs even more sleep than usual. Be sure to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep a night but not more. If that’s not possible, make up for lost sleep by taking frequent naps, and sleeping in whenever possible. The more you go against your body’s natural rhythms the more tired you will be and that will affect your concentration, productivity, and ability to get things done, not to mention make you more susceptible to catching colds or the flu.

woman sleepingLouis Pasteur, the creator of “Germ Theory” which asserts that germs are “out there” ready to invade and attack our bodies, made this statement on his deathbed: “The microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything.” With this statement, he validated the work of his contemporary Pierre Bechamp who showed that what’s important is the “terrain” (i.e. the environment inside your body, not the “germs” themselves). So taking a page from Bechamp’s playbook, the best way to beat the germs that cause colds, flu and other illness is to maintain a “clean” and healthy environment inside your body. Forget the vaccines! Take better care of yourself.

Drink plenty of fluids, but especially lots of water, to stay hydrated. This is something you should always do –year round—but it’s extremely important at this time of the year if you’re consuming a lot of alcohol and sugar, as most of us tend to do. Staying hydrated will help keep toxins flushed out and your skin will be a lot happier too. How do you know if you’re dehydrated? A couple of signs are dry mouth (this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration), dark or orange-colored urine (if you’re well hydrated, your urine should be colorless), and thirstiness. You can follow the old adage and drink 8 glasses of water a day but ideally you should drink half of your body weight in ounces.

And remember to breathe often and deeply. Getting some regular form of aerobic exercise can make all the difference in your energy level and how you feel, improve the quality of your sleep, and help you cope better. So even though you’re busy, commit to getting at least 10-15 minutes a day (30 minutes is ideal) of some type of exercise. The increase in your circulation will help you handle the cold weather better and improve your body’s fat-burning abilities – two things that can contribute to that sluggish feeling we often get during the holidays!

Tip #1 for Beating the Holiday Blues: Plan Ahead

This seems so basic it’s almost laughable, and yet lack of planning is probably one of the biggest factors that contribute to holiday stress. How many times have you found yourself waiting until the last possible minute to do your holiday gift shopping or holiday greeting card mailing? You scramble to find something, anything that can pass for a gift, or worse yet, you’ve waited to the last minute so you can take advantage of those big holiday sales and discounts only to find there’s little or no selection left! As time starts to run out your stress levels go through the roof and your heart isn’t in it at all – you’re just going through the motions so as not to disappoint your family and friends, especially those who do put some care and thought into this ritual.

Or if you’re like me, you’re so busy in the weeks leading up to the holidays that by the time you sit down to do your holiday greeting card mailing it’s already Christmas Eve! Yikes!

The more you plan in advance for the season and are prepared for unexpected contingencies the easier and less stressful it will be to deal with. This applies to everything from gift shopping, to entertaining, to holiday travel. Make your gift list early in the year and buy gifts as the year progresses and opportunities present themselves –this will help you avoid the last minute crunch, the crowds, and the hassle of going shopping while allowing you to remain aligned with your true intention in giving gifts. If you need some ideas for gifts you can plan in advance for check out my post Holiday Gift-Giving Guide: Practical Tips for Giving Meaningful Gifts you might find that giving some of these types of gifts is so easy and satisfying that planning ahead for them is a breeze! Also don’t be afraid to ask people what they would like or could really use rather than trying to second-guess or imagine what they might like.

Likewise, if you’re going to entertain, plan your menus and make your shopping lists as far in advance as you can, then start stocking up on supplies and dry goods at least a few weeks prior to your events. And allow plenty of time for any special items that require ordering in advance. This helps you avoid the crowds and last minute rushing around. And always have a Plan B just in case something unexpected comes up!

Another area that can generate a lot of stress during the holidays is travel. Unpredictable weather patterns typically result in a lot of re-arranged travel plans, long nights in airports, lost luggage or missed flights or prolonged exposure to others with colds or flu. If at all possible, plan your holiday trips so you arrive a few days before rather than right before the holidays when everyone else is traveling. And perhaps you should plan stay a little longer to minimize the likelihood of travel upsets that typically occur immediately before and after the holiday. Also consider traveling on holidays themselves (i.e. Christmas eve or day, New Year’s eve or day) as most people have already arrived at their destinations so it’s not as chaotic and you might even get a lower fare!