7 Self-Care Tips for Surviving the Holidays

Regardless of what winter holidays you celebrate and whether you love them or hate them they can be stressful. It’s barely December and patients are already coming in feeling overextended, over sugared, and stressed out. If you want to move through this season with more grace, ease and actual joy you may need to reprioritize self-care toward the top of your holiday to-do list. You will actually get more done if you are not running around like a stressed out manic elf. Enlist a friend or family member as a collaborator in this novel self-care scheme. You can encourage each other and hold each other accountable.  And heck, go get massages together while you are at it!

Self-care help for the holidays:

Add 30 minutes of sleep. Most of my patients don’t get enough sleep as it is and I get that big-eyed look of “you have got to be kidding me” when I suggest this. However sleep plays an important role in emotional processing and how we respond to everyday stressors. Simply starting your bedtime routine 30-60 minutes earlier can have a significant effect on your stress resiliency. Humor me and try it for 2 weeks.

Support your nervous system with herbs. There is a whole class of herbs called “nervines” that help smooth out the rough edges.  Consider trying skullcap, lemon balm, chamomile or tulsi. You can find these as teas, tinctures and capsules in many independent health food stores or places like Whole Foods and Sprouts.

Eat mindfully. I’m not saying you can’t eat Aunt Sally’s Christmas cookies but check-in with yourself before reaching for that third delicious cookie. Are you eating because Uncle Joe is talking politics? Are you really hungry? Will this make you feel good or crash out and hour later?  Is the short term pleasure worth it to feel crappy later? Mindfulness allows you to make conscious choices rather than engage in mindless consumption.

Go for a walk. Exercise, especially outdoors, will clear your mind and rev up your energy. From an acupuncture perspective, too much sitting injures the Earth phase, which affects our digestion, energy level, and even makes us more likely to gain weight. So get out and go for a hike!

Focus on gratitude. Researchers have discovered that gratitude boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine…the same neurotransmitter that the antidepressant Wellbutrin increases. Prozac works on the neurotransmitter serotonin…so does gratitude! According to neuroscience researcher Alex Korb (author of The Upward Spiral) you don’t even have to find something to be grateful for, the process of searching for it is sufficient! Take in a daily dose of gratitude and watch the inner shift take place.

Breathe. When we feel stressed out our breath automatically becomes more shallow and rapid. Shallow breathing tells the body to remain in a state of fight-or-flight. By breathing slow, deep, easy, and gentle, we rein in the stress response, protect the adrenals from exhaustion, and activate the self-healing (parasympathetic) mode. Try this breathing exercise: close your eyes, take a deep breath through your nose, hold it for a few moments and release your breath slowly through your mouth. Repeat a few times. Open your eyes and check in with how you are feeling. 

Get acupuncture. Of course I am going to include this! Acupuncture is a powerful reset for your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (that whole fight-or-flight response responsible for the release of cortisol and adrenaline).  Most patients leave my clinic feels deeply relaxed.  Over a course of treatments this deep relaxation extends into a shift in how the body actually responds to stress. Now that’s relief! Acupuncture also works to resolve stress related illnesses such as sleep disturbances, digestive upsets, anxiety, depression, weight gain, headaches and more. 

Need some holiday stress relief? Schedule an appointment today!

Are you addicted to stress?

In my acupuncture practice I treat a lot of people who are busy.  Acupuncture makes them feel better so they make time for treatments but they are busy busy busy.  Their jobs keep them very busy.  9 to 5?  Try 9 to midnight.  They are answering emails, texts and calls at all hours.  “Off work” never happens.  They are passionate about what they do, very driven and very accomplished.  I love working with these smart, purpose-driven folks. 

Work is just one component of their busy lives.  They may be raising kids, taking care of grandkids, taking care of aging parents…or all three!  They may work until 5, have family time until 10 and then work another few hours.  Weekends are a juggling act trying to meet multiple needs and commitments. 

Sound familiar?  It is normative in our society and I often hear people voice guilt if they don’t maintain this level of busyness.  It’s not ‘wrong’ to be fully committed to your career and to your family.  However I do think they we can become addicted to stress. 

I used to do this.  I thought that I could only be creative or productive under deadline so I would wait until the last minute to write a paper or report, review a proposal, etc.  Under the threat of deadline the stress kicked in and I got it done…along with missed sleep, irritability and digestive issues. 

When we are stressed cortisol and adrenaline flood our body giving our brains and muscles and added boost.  We feel focused and purposeful.  This is great when we are getting up to give a speech or are racing to catch a train to the airport.  Things to awry when this never gets turned off and chronic stress has cortisol and adrenaline dripping into our systems constantly.  Chronic stress causes an array of physical and emotional problems such as depression, weight gain, heart disease, muscle aches and insomnia.  We are exhausted and can become addicted to the rush of stress induced cortisol and adrenaline. 

You can ditch the cycle of stress response and you’ll be more productive, healthy and balanced.  Acupuncture can reset your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system (e.g. the flight or fight response) giving you space to cultivate new, healthier, habits.  You’ll feel better, look better and perform better.  Ready for a new stress-free you? 

Be Fearless: An Antidote to Stress

Be fearless.  This one [not small but life changing] act is a major antidote to stress.  So much of our stress comes from fear:  fear of making the wrong decision, fear of disappointing others, fear of failing. 

Be fearless.  Pick a path and follow it with all your heart.  Change your mind.  Pick a new path and follow that one with all your heart.  I’m not saying to be rash or impetuous, although sometimes those things can be good too.  You can carefully consider your path…the danger is when we never move beyond careful consideration.  We can spend years carefully considering career changes or letting go of unfulfilling relationships (trust me on this one, I have firsthand experience).  Heck, I know someone who spent a year considering a hairstyle change!  When was the last time you were fearless? 

In Chinese Medicine we say that fear descends Qi.  In my experience, fear in the form of chronic anxiety also causes Qi to rise and results in heart palpitations, insomnia or racing thoughts.  In Chinese Medicine fear is the province of the Kidneys and a sudden fright can impact the Kidneys.  We see this in our Western understanding of the body as well.  When we experience fear the adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys) secrete cortisol, a steroid hormone that, among other things, causes your heart rate to increase.  More insidious is chronic anxiety, which, in Chinese Medicine is often a disconnection between the Heart and the Kidneys.  

So, how can you become more fearless? 

·      Meditate.  A host of studies have demonstrated that meditation reduces the body’s release of the stress hormone cortisol.  More importantly though, meditation gives us the opportunity to stop running away, to sit with how we are feeling and let it go.  So often we are afraid to feel our fear so we disconnect and distract ourselves.  Most people find that their resistance to feeling caused more stress and anxiety than just sitting with the feelings.  Even meditating 10 minutes a day can have a positive impact on your life.  Start today.  You don’t need fancy cushions and chimes.  Just sit in the quiet for 10 minutes and pay attention to your breath.  That’s it. 

·      Start small.  You don’t have to move across the country or quit your job.  Although you could do that if your heart is calling you to do this very thing!  Pick one fearless act to do today.  Tell your real deal feelings to someone you trust.  Sign up for that weekend retreat your braver self fantasized about doing.  Say no.  Say yes.  Do one fearless act each day.  It gets easier.

·      Get acupuncture!  If you are stuck in fear, in indecision, or in a near constant state of low-grade anxiety acupuncture can unstick you.  It is quite amazing actually.  Like a car stuck in overdrive, our bodies can get stuck in fear and our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) never turns off resulting in chronically high levels of cortisol.  Acupuncture works to return the body to its natural state of balance (sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems working together).  You’ll feel less anxious, less fearful, and less stressed.  Sound good?  Call 404.695.0905 today to schedule a free consultation! 

What act of fearlessness are you going to do today?