'Tis the season... for stress? NBC Dateline reports that 41% of people interviewed said that the holidays are as stressful as a job interview. In other words, "very stressful." It's not hard to imagine why this is the case. Besides our normal work schedule and routine, add to that the traditional holiday obligations: office parties, cooking, eating, shopping, wrapping, traveling, visiting and general socializing, and our capacity for stress tips the scales on the verge of overload.
Then of course, there's the economy. A Los Angeles radio station does an annual poll of its listener's resolutions. Every year "Get Fit" or "Lose Weight" ends up being the most popular goal. But this year "Get Out of Debt" ranked the highest. How do we reconcile this with the barrage of store catalogs and television ads broadcasting all the great deals we can get on all kinds of stuff? It's enough to make a person cringe every time Jingle Bells plays in the grocery store.
We can't fast forward through the season, even if we wanted to. But we can manage our stress, and find ways to relax and enjoy the beauty of this special time of year.
1. Fold your hands in prayer behind your back. When we get stressed we tend to tense up, and cave our chest in. This opens up our chest, so we can breathe more freely. Pull the shoulders back, tilt the head back, and breathe deeply.
2. Rub the circumference of each ear with your hands. Right hand rubbing the right ear and left hand rubbing the left ear. According to Ayurveda, India's 5,000 year old Science of Life, there are marma points (like acupuncture points) in the ears that correspond to the various parts of the body. Rubbing the ears in this way is like giving yourself a little mini massage!
3. Stop and smell the flowers. Keep some lavender essential oil in your desk or purse. When you feel stressed, bring it out. Close your eyes and breathe in the fragrance. Count to 5. Then exhale through your mouth to the count of 5. According to Aromatherapy, lavender is very calming, and when we close our eyes it isolates the sense of smell so that we feel it more intensely.
4. Present moment awareness. Most of the time, when we're stressed it is because we are living in either the future or the past. Bring yourself into present moment awareness by focusing on the now. Use your senses, which connect us to our environment. Hug yourself, to be more "in your body" instead of in your mind where the stress is. Look at something beautiful, a flower, a bird, the sky, and just be with that for a moment. Take a sip of sweet tea, and really taste it, and enjoy it. Be grateful in that moment, and stress just washes away. Gratitude and stress cannot be present at the same time!
5. Sit in your desk chair, or kitchen table chair - left foot on the floor, put your right ankle on your left knee, and learn forward with a stretch. Hold it as far as you can go, then bend forward a little more. This opens up your hips, and again balances that tensed up muscle feeling. Do each side equally.
6. Pay attention. Understand that it is our choice where we place our attention. We can look at the source of our stress, or we can look at the white snow, the blue sky, the green pines, the twinkling stars.
7. Release expectations. Simplify. Is it important to send out 100 cards with personal notes? Or would you be happier contacting a few close friends? Do you need to have the house decorated like something out of a magazine? Do you need to make a seven course meal? What expectations do you have of yourself, and of others? Rather than striving for perfection, allow things to just be, however they are. Know that whatever it is, it's all good.
8. Remember these words: love, peace, joy. This is what the season is all about. When those other words creep into your consciousness, the ones that set off stress, replace them with what you know to be important: love, peace, joy.
Wishing you love, peace and joy this holiday season, and always.