The American Psychological Association conducted a study on the phenomenon of "holiday stress" in December 2006. In the report, researchers noted that people in the US often experience an increase in stress around the holidays due to several factors, like heightened activity level and perceived need to meet expectations of others. Interestingly, the study also noted that we as women are more likely to stress out this time of year than men: "Women are more likely than men to report heightened stress levels during the holiday season, and that they’re less likely to take time to relax or manage that stress in healthy ways."
Do any of these statements ring true for you? If so, it doesn't have to be this way. We're here to help with a few tips for soothing your stress naturally and reminding you to slow down and savor the joys of the season.
Sip some stress-relief in the form of herbal tea.
Tea is one of the simplest, most inexpensive and enjoyable ways to naturally ease stress. Consider starting a daily ritual where you sip your favorite cup and reflect on your priorities for the day or what you're most thankful for. When it comes to herbal remedies for stress, the five most popular herbs are:
Echinacea - Native Americans relied on this herb for symptoms of respiratory distress. It's widely sought after today to combat symptoms of colds and flu. Echinacea is also a common ingredient in commercial cough drops, although the amount in that product is less than what you could get in an herbal formula. Echinacea is also important in supporting the immune system function.
Ginkgo and Ginkgo Biloba - Rising in popularity as an herb that improves brain function and memory, the full extent of its benefits are still being studied. It has been shown to improve circulation, which can help the body in managing and regulating stress. Ginkgo Biloba is also often advertised in commercial tonics and tablets; however, consumers should be careful to check that the quality and quantity of the herb is sufficient enough to make a difference.
Tulsi Holy Basil - Instantly soothe frayed nerves by drinking a warm cup of this smooth flavored herbal tea known for its balancing properties.
Chamomile - More than a flavorful tea, it's an herbal remedy that relieves the discomfort of muscle cramping and reduces anxiety. This herbal tea is also a remedy for insomnia.
- Ginseng - An herbal remedy that has been handed down from ancient Chinese culture. Ginseng is an adaptogen, a substance that can ward off physical and mental strain so that the body can return to normal levels of functioning. That's why Ginseng is recommended by herbalists for fatigue and stress, particularly when recovering from an illness.
Focus on the joy of giving to those in true need rather than how you will one up last year's gifts to your friends and family.
If the prospect of giving gifts to your friends and family brings you feelings of stress, take a step back to regain some perspective. The mere fact that you have loved ones in your life to plan gifts for is a huge blessing. If you have the ability and resources to buy or make gifts for these people, you are doubly blessed. Focus on the value and joy these people bring into your life.
To truly experience the powerful joy of giving, look beyond your immediate circle of family and friends to those who may be in need this season. This could be as simple as reaching out to a neighbor you don't know well, or perhaps sponsoring a child overseas through an international charity organization. The possibilities for giving of your time, resources and talents are endless. Check out volunteermatch.org to get connected with meaningful services projects near you.
Simplify your expectations.
Tasks like planning parties and gifting can be made rather simple if you actively manage expectations from your friends and family - and from yourself. Maybe you gave out iPhones to everyone last year; it's okay to let them know that this year you are focusing on loving them first. Loving words and acts of kindness are gifts, too.
Or maybe you threw a big holiday bash last year, complete with five-course meal and a beautiful lights display. It's OK to host a more intimate gathering this year, or nix the party altogether and just spend quiet time with family. If you feel pressured by grandiose expectations of how you'll celebrate this holiday season, chances are this is simply pressure you're putting on yourself. It's OK to let it go!
Build joyful anticipation.
There is nothing more fun than a party - that's what we are all trying to do, CELEBRATE! In the midst of planning and simplifying, don't forget to joyfully anticipate the fun events this season brings. Research shows that looking forward to an event can generate just as many positive thoughts and emotions as experiencing the event itself. Capitalize on this fact by building anticipation for fun holiday events through visual reminders, like a family wall calendar with events written out or a daily countdown you all update together.
Those of the Christian faith tradition often do this using advent wreaths to count down to Christmas and reflect on the spiritual significance of the holiday, while Menorahs are used in the Jewish tradition to mark the days of Hanukkah. Several stores sell and display "Countdown to Christmas" calendars, usually with 25 small flaps or doors to open, marking the passing of days throughout December. Whichever way you decide to build anticipation, the point is to do so in a way that's fun and meaningful to you and those who mean the most to you.
Enjoy the process.
Above all, remember that planning and spending time with those you love is a part of the journey, not just something to get through. Even if there are a few rotten eggs in the mix of it, throw all the love and kindness at them that you can handle. Plans will not pan out perfectly, even when you've made the most detailed agenda possible. And that is OK! Make the conscious choice to smile and laugh when your day throws your a curveball. Sometimes the best memories happen when we go off-script and come up with a plan B. (And if it all gets to be too much, slip away for a few minutes and sip a cup of that soothing tea we mentioned above!)
Our hope is that reading through this post has allowed you to breathe at least one sigh of relief as you look ahead to the coming season. Life is such a gift, especially when we get to spend it with the ones we love. Remember and celebrate this simple truth when you are tempted to stress, and may joyful anticipation fill your heart as you look forward to all this season brings!