With the holiday season right around the corner, the extra stress added to our days and nights are soon to follow.
Traffic, added deadlines at work, shopping for presents, daily greetings of joy and remembrance, illness, and family often add to our already stressed lives. Many often forget that the holidays are not always a happy time: others maybe are mourning, suffering, or do not have the same levels of happiness, health, or security. We can do so much through this season to help with our own stress and well-being as well as for others.
We know how bad stress is for us in Western medicine, but it is equally bad in Chinese medicine. Stress starts to stagnate our system. It can affect our energy, digestion, sleep, and so much more. At first, you may not notice that these small symptoms are the start of how our lives change with stress. Humans are adaptive – we have this wonderful ability to change when needed, so we adapt to the stress. We start over-consuming caffeine to combat fatigue, which tires us out. We start taking antacids or another medicine to get through lunch because of heartburn or to help with our now erratic bowels. We start running on less and less sleep because we still have to keep going. When it comes to stress, we are like the old analogy of how to cook a frog. You never just throw it into a pot of boiling water because it will hop out, but if you put the frog in slightly above normal temperature water and slowly increase the temperature until it gets warmer and hotter, the frog acclimates and inevitably cooks to death.
I really enjoy helping my patients start new things between treatments so they can have an active role in their health care and take more control over their stress levels. I do not know if I have ever seen a patient that was not dealing with at least one aspect of added stress in their life. Acupuncture is fantastic at helping the system re-balance, manage, and combat against stress, but it’s what the patient does between treatments that will make each acupuncture treatment that much more effective.
First, use your commute time as a way of separating home and work life. Have it become a time of decompression. Now, with the holiday season upon us and the traffic on every road and highway, we will be sitting in traffic exponentially longer, while still having to get the same amount done in the day, and trying to get to bed on time. It becomes a nightmare.
I know it doesn’t sound plausible, but it is possible to be in Atlanta traffic and not be on edge. The first thing is to not listen to anything that amps you up emotionally. We naturally do not react in a calm and cool manner if we are feeling anything strongly. So, if you feel triggered (angry, sad, etc.) by listening to certain songs, talk radio, or news, do not listen to them while driving.
We all have that song that reminds us of a horrible heartache or makes us angry for some reason. Why exacerbate the stress of traffic with those emotions? Music has this amazing power to explain and help us feel complex emotions, especially ones we often have a hard time expressing ourselves, but expressing and feeling those emotions while we are trying not to get cut off in traffic, or when we’ve missed our exit is a bad idea. Emotions are beautiful in Chinese medicine and all of them are meant to be felt, expressed, and worked through, but not while operating a motorized vehicle. So finding music that we love, that doesn’t have an emotion tied to it, is a fantastic way to enjoy traffic. Who hasn’t looked out of their window while sitting at a traffic light to see someone staring in or conducting their own rock opera? It’s hard not to smile and enjoy that!
Audiobooks and podcasts are another way of enjoying our commute. There is so much to learn and enjoy in this world. We can choose to learn something brand new (which helps our brains), we can learn more about something we love and enjoy, or we can listen to a fantastic story that we have been wanting to read forever, but haven’t had the time.
I think everyone should know what’s going on in the world, but getting upset while driving is not the answer. There are so many amazing outlets for finding out what goes on around us, why not wait until you are at home and in a less stressed situation to really take it in?
Let’s face it, if more people enjoyed their commute, everyone would be happier. The great thing about this less than enjoyable time in our day, is that we can have it be that line in the sand between home and work. It allows us to ease into what could be a stressful work day, getting us to work in a calmer place with a clearer mind better to handle what will come to us no matter the degree of stress. Or it can get us home in a better, less stressed state, to enjoy our evening by ourselves, with our friends, or with our family. Being able to separate ourselves from a stressful work day lets our home life be just that – home.
In Chinese Medicine breathing is very important. Breathing is one way to get more Qi (basically energy) into our lives and when we are stressed, we don’t breathe well; we stagnant and burn through the Qi we have. I am constantly asking patients to take a breath so they can calm down or to exhale because they are holding their breath. We respond differently to almost everything after a couple of deep breaths.
When we are breathing we help calm our nervous systems, our brain gets an extra second or two to respond without ‘jumping the gun’, and we can put ourselves in the moment and not respond through the daily stress we already have encountered. The inhale gives us a little boost in energy and the exhale is relaxing. It’s one of the reasons many people have that loud sigh (a huge sign of stress in Chinese medicine). It’s a release because subconsciously they are trying to de-stress.
One of my favorite ways to help people start to breathe is by doing one minute of deep breathing between breakfast and lunch, and one minute between lunch and dinner. Most people have the ability to take two minutes in a day to breathe deeply, but even if it is just 30 seconds at a time, take that first deep breath. In through the nose and out through the mouth is simple. There are a lot of great breathing patterns out there, and if you have one you already love, continue that practice and enjoy.
- Help Others
Another wonderful way of destressing is by helping other. I know our time is limited on a normal day, let alone the holiday season, but helping others is a fantastic way of lessening our own stress. Sociologists have done studies that show that helping others makes us feel happy. Happy is a great way to feel. Donating time to help others whether through your local church, synagogue, mosque, or volunteer organization is a great way you start. Studies are showing that helping others can help with blood pressure, a sense of community, self-esteem, and a sense of calm just to name a few. Beyond what you take away from giving to others, you are helping others who may be just as stressed and in a position where they cannot give.
The beauty of these simple ‘tricks’ is that we feel good. When we feel good we react differently to stress. Our emotions and physical responses change. And we just feel better.
I hope these simple tricks help with your stress levels and let you enjoy your holiday season.
|Allison Andersen, L.Ac., DOM, is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, who sees patients as a whole and provides treatments that complement their lifestyle, wellness goals and medical needs.|
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