Have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, holiday music piping in to every grocery store and gas station and holiday travel plans have you feeling frazzled and overwhelmed?
So today, here’s 10 effective ways to ease your stress and feel naturally relaxed as you face the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
I’ve blogged in the past about how probiotics are so powerful in stabilizing the mind that they are actually a treatment for depression.
In today’s new study, researchers show that taking probiotics for only one month reduces stress, decreases anxiety and even improves memory!
Researchers looked at the strain of Bifidobacterium longum and followed what effect this probiotic had when used as a “psychobiotic” — looking at mood, stress, and even cognitive performance.
Turns out, not only does the gut play an essential role in your ability to absorb and utilize nutrients… and not only does the gut play an enormous role in our immune function… and not only does the gut play a clearly defined role in mood… but it is now shown to play a role in cognition, memory, and the ability to retain healthy thought function under stress.
Research presented Oct 18, 2015 at the Society For Neuroscience annual meeting showed that after only one month, B. Longum statistically and significantly:
- reduced the cumulative output of the stress hormone cortisol
- decreased subjective reports of anxiety in response to acute stress
- improved memory and improved EEG output
It’s exciting to focus on treating stress, anxiety, depression and memory disturbances through enhancing the gut biome, because this is a low cost, easily accessible all natural non-prescription, healthy and fabulous intervention that we can all be taking to become resilient to stress.
Not just right now, during the holidays… but all year long! Woot
We can’t change the stress that the holidays can bring, or the sad feelings at losses we have endured and people we miss over the holiday season, or prevent certain life events that may cause trauma and result in increased anxiety or depression, but one thing we do have the power to modify is that we can support our gut microbiome better so that we can boost mood and support brain function.
Changes in diet and using probiotic supplementation can do all of this… in only one month!
- Adding probiotic containing foods such as fermented foods, kefir, komubcha and organic whole fat yogurt to your diet routinely
- Taking a high quality probiotic supplement that includes strains (such as b. longum and b. bifidum) that have been medically proven to affect brain function and support the gut/mind axis.
- Other supplements to consider:
Magnesium: being mineral deficient can trigger anxiety symptoms… magnesium deficiency can cause shakiness, muscle tension and irregular heartbeat. Your muscles (including your heart!) and your central nervous system absolutely need minerals to stabilize and function. I highly recommend magnesium replacement if you tend to feel anxious, get trigger points or other areas of muscle tension, have difficulty relaxing at night, grind your teeth or have restless legs, or any other difficulty allowing your body to unwind. Nightly magnesium bath soaks, topical applications of magnesium lotion, or trace mineral drops in water throughout the day can do wonders to settle a hyper-irritable central nervous system and soothe a tension.
Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fatty acids offer a calming effect on the brain. In fact, a medical study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity in November 2011 showed that taking Omega 3 fatty acid supplements dropped anxiety rates by 20%! Eating fish several times a week or taking krill oil daily is an easy way to boost your intake of Omega 3s.
Find my very favorite probiotics, mineral drops, omega 3 formulas and more in my pharmacy grade, online dispensary right here! That way, you can be sure that you are taking a medical grade product that WORKS. Not paying for an empty promise with weak or ineffective probiotic strains, or probiotics that have lost efficacy because of the way they were manufactured and stored. Find medical grade probiotics, fish oils that are pure and tested, and minerals that are in the right dosages for optimum health right here.
2. Reconnect with nature.
When you get overwhelmed this holiday season, all you have to do here is walk out your front door, step out of your office, or stop driving and step out of your car.
To reconnect with nature is to find an instant sense of spaciousness, a calm centered experience as you take a single deep breath.
Reconnecting with the wonder of being a human being standing on a rock that spirals through space and seeing the earth for the vast support network it is can’t help but lift your spirits for the better.
The power of nature can hold even your worst of days and remain an immovable source of strength.
Don’t believe me?
The next time you are having a panic attack, or a pounding headache, or a knot of worry grow in your stomach, just go outside. Get out there. Don’t force anything, just start walking and let nature work its magic.
3. Focus on Spirit.
This is something shown over and over again in the medical literature — the power of prayer to affect clinical outcome is a beautiful fact. As I recently blogged about here, there have been several major medical studies released in the past few months that show the major, physical, measurable impact that outlook has on our brain function and brain chemistry.
The surest way I know to alleviate stress and suffering is to find meaning in it.
Whether it’s through mediation, personal prayer, asking friends and family to pray for you, cultivating your own sense of spirit surrounding and supporting you — these are all such important ways to alleviate stress.
The divine support system is around you, surrounding you, whether you are able to feel it or not.
Never fear that. Nothing is required of you.
But calling on the power of prayer and connecting with that reservoir of love is an instant boost that strengthens you and changes outcome, no doubt about it.
Need some more inspiration? Read Man’s Search For Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl.
He is a concentration camp survivor who writes beautifully about how the people who survived these horrific conditions were not the strongest, or youngest, or even the healthiest… they were the ones who found meaning in what they were going through.
Finding a deeper, spiritual meaning in what you are going through — focusing on the why behind the holiday season instead of the superficial gifts and demands — is in and of itself enough to sustain you.
My kids will tell you that if I am really grumpy, all we have to do is hop in the car and turn on the radio and within a few songs, all of a sudden I don’t feel so hopeless.
In fact, I feel optimistic and grateful and filled with the same sense of wonder and possibility that I feel when I spend time in nature.
The power of music to wash through you and lift you is amazing. In fact, as I blog about here, music has the ability to lift dementia — it is that uplifting!
If you are feeling stressed or depressed, especially if you can not leave your current surroundings (perhaps you are in the hospital or your office or your car…) slip on some music and allow it to sweep through your soul and lift you higher.
Music is universal and can meet you wherever you are. During the holidays, it’s so easy to slip on some holiday tunes, but if you are getting sick of those don’t hesitate to reach for whatever music (or even a guided meditation!) soothes your soul.
5. Reach out to your support system.
There IS a support system around you, even if you don’t think you have a friend in the world.
I know I didn’t fully realize how many people I had, providing back up support in my life, until I went through a personal crisis.
Some of my most meaningful sources of support were from people I had never ever met before — like the manager at my local bank and the complete stranger who came to pick up some furniture I got rid of as we downsized our belongings.
Both of these people forever changed my life. Both of these people are angels living on earth. And don’t even get me started on the unbelievably generous neighbors, friends and family that I actively leaned on for support.
If you are suffering and over-taxed, ask for help.
Ask your neighbor, ask your family, ask your friends.
If you have none of the above, go out into the world asking for help to show up — go to the park, go to your bank, go to the grocery store, go to the thrift shop.
Angels are out there waiting to embrace and help you.
6. Refresh your space.
A symbolic fresh start during times of stress can help you move on and ushers in a new, positive and hopeful energy instead of feeling stuck.
For me, this meant that the kids and I literally moved and relocated our life.
But even if it the middle of the holiday season is not the right time to contemplate a physical move, you can go through your entire home with the idea of bringing in fresh energy — freshening up the plants in each room, rearranging whatever furniture you can, adding a mirror or two and burning candles of light in the evenings to help create a new flow of light through old, dark and depressing spaces.
Even if you can’t do anything to change your physical surroundings, creating a symbolic gesture in order to usher in a new start is so very important.
From going outside to take a deep breath of air, to lighting a smudge stick, to ringing a bell and setting a new intention for the space you are in, do something to break the illusion that you are stuck.
You are not stuck.
You are a new person every single day and every moment within that day.
When our physical surroundings don’t change, especially in the midst of great stress, you can get caught up in the illusion that your situation is permanent and hopeless.
This is not so… there is always an ebb and a flow of energy through every situation no matter how unchanging it appears on the surface.
The illusion that things never change can mentally hold you in a place of worry.
Release this by making small changes to your living space, changing the energy of the room you are in, physically leaving the space you are in for a breath or two, or using candles/incense/smudging/bells/chimes/lighting/a new plant… whatever it takes to feel the energy shift in your space and remind you that nothing…
…stays the same forever.
This holiday season will soon be over, before you know it.
It’s a matter of a few weeks and then next thing you know, we are headed into spring.
Use the centering power of your breath to provide calming bio-feedback immediately to your body.
It only takes 10 minutes of slowing down your breathing to decrease anxiety… that’s because deep breathing decreases your heart rate, decreases your blood pressure, stimulates digestion, lifts mood, and helps you relax more easily into sleep.
Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, which that runs through your chest and abdomen and helps to regulate many different organs, including the heart, lungs, and the gastrointestinal tract. By stimulating the vagus nerve you support the parasympathetic nervous system into calming you down.
Try deep belly breathing (not shallow chest breathing) and slow your breathing to half the normal rate (from about 12 breaths per minute down to about 6.).
Thwarting stress can be as simple as breathing in while counting to 5, holding your breath for 3 counts, then releasing slowly while counting to 7. Repeat!
Breathe your way through it and usher in the feeling of peace and calm with each breath.
8. Gratitude and compassion.
This is a no-brainer — one of the gifts of suffering is that you can witness and hold other people’s suffering so much more fully.
Compassion and gratitude for the journey and knowing that others have made it through ordeals much much worse can really help instill hope to your own journey.
As contrary as it sounds, topics that would have felt dark or depressing to the kids in their homeschool studies in earlier years felt powerful and empowering to them during our own times of stress.
For example, we dove deeply into WWI and WWII studies, reading Anne Frank’s diary and having long, meaningful discussions about suffering and triumph… those felt incredibly moving and fortifying to us
Knowing the darker side, leaning into it, persevering through it, witnessing with compassion what others have gone through… all of these things make traveling your own dark night feel less lonely and more optimistic in the sense that you KNOW you will reach the other side.
You WILL reach the other side.
Focus on witnessing suffering in others around you and holding compassion for the entire yin and yang of it all, the darkness and light of the world… the richness here is a different twist on helping to find meaning in suffering and the gift here is being able to open your heart even wider then you thought possible before.
During the holidays there are tons of community outreach programs, from donating to a gift drive to cooking up and serving a holiday meal to those in need, that it’s probably the most easily accessible time to express gratitude and compassion.
Keep your eye open for flyers and ads in local businesses and libraries, church bulletins and neighborhood drives, for ways that you can give of your time and energy in a way that uplifts you instead of adds to your to-do list. Others have done the hard work for you of arranging ways to donate — sign up for something as little or big as you like!
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation is even harder to bear on folks during times of anxiety or stress.
If you are going through a time of stress, it is more important than ever before in your entire life that you sleep well.
You MUST SLEEP in order to recover from the stress of the day and prepare for the next day ahead.
In fact, sleep is so powerful that it is totally possible to treat anxiety solely through increasing the quality of your sleep.
Look over these blog posts I’ve written on the importance of sleep, or just head right over here for more ideas on increasing sleep quality tonight!
If you find the holidays are dragging you down or overwhelming you… STOP and take a nap.
Even 20 minutes can improve the quality and experience of the rest of your day.
10. Body work.
The feeling of worry and stress and anxiety is often the stress of energy that is accumulating in the body without release.
I know I personally feel this as a ball of pressure right in my solar plexus, but it’s different for everyone.
Irritability, crying, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, tension, muscle stiffness, decreased or increased appetite, weight loss or gain, insomnia… often these all represent energy that just needs to be released to make room for the natural healing process and optimism and energy to return.
If you are feeling stuck and in need of physical release, do any or ALL of the following to help assist your body in letting go of stress — doctor’s orders:
11. Light Therapy.
The fact that the holidays (for those of us in the northern hemisphere) comes during the darkest part of the year, yet require the most energy out of us, is very very stressful.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real and natural consequence of getting less light. Less light means less mood boosting serotonin in our brains. Which can equal anxiety, depression, even trouble sleeping for many of us.
But the flip side of that, though, can give us a very simple, very effective treatment: light therapy!
Light therapy has been clinically proven to boost mood.
Published August 2015 in Biological Psychiatry, researchers found that after only 30 minutes of daily light therapy in the mornings, fear and anxiety levels were significantly reduced and stimuli that used to trigger panic did not trigger an anxiety response in the way that it did before the light therapy.
You can use a Lightbox to boost morning light exposure, or simply make a habit of going out every morning immediately after waking up and grabbing 30 minutes of daylight.
Light therapy can be used safely in conjunction with medical treatments (including Rx medications) so if you are on an anxiolytic medication, augment your treatment with light therapy and it’s possible you can work with your physician to decrease dose!
I hope this list of 11 things you can do to release stress and support your health… even in the middle of great personal stress or seasonal overwhelm… is helpful to you and a blessing of some ideas to consider.
To a stress free holiday, my friends!