The holidays are a wonderful and magical time, but they can also bring stress and anxiety for some of us. Whether it’s catching that early flight or an awkward family conversation that ruffles your feathers, it’s easy to find yourself feeling a little stressed. While this is completely normal, it’s good to remember that our reaction to stress is in our control, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
Stress and worry take a toll on our body, mind and spirit so finding little ways to create calm in moments of stress is very important to our overall well being. To help get you through the holiday season, here are several tips that can help in those not so zen moments. If you want to see these tips in video form and find out more about how acupuncture and herbal medicine can help promote a sense of calm, check out my instagram account @Earthsongacupuncture.
1. Acupressure on PC6
To find the point PC6 (pericardium 6) you can place your pointer and middle finger at the transverse crease of your inner wrist. Moving your pointer finger slightly above where it sits on your wrist, find the divot between the two tendons on your inner wrist. Once you have found the point, you can also switch to using your thumb if this feels easier. Using medium to firm pressure, press or massage this point. You can make small circles or press down and hold. I like to simultaneously open and close my palm while taking deep breaths. I’ve found this point to be so helpful for calming nerves on a bumpy flight, before any type of event that makes me feel nervous or if my chest feels a bit tight due to worry or anxiety.
2. Breathing techniques
I have two favorite breathing techniques. The first is called box breath. Essentially box breath is inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding the breath out for an equal amount of time. A count of 4 is a great place to start for most people but you can definitely do more or less to suit your comfort level. If starting with a count of 4, you will inhale for 4, hold the breath for 4, exhale for 4 and wait 4 counts before you begin the next inhale. The Cleveland Clinic touts the benefits of this technique as lowering stress, activating the parasympathetic nervous system and calming the mind. Even when you’re not feeling stressed, it’s a good way to check in and find a moment of mindfulness. Check out my instagram @earthsongacupuncture for a video showing exactly what box breathing looks like.
The second breathing technique that I like is very simple. It’s something I have found to be comforting and calming in my own life. Either way I wanted to share because it just might work for you too. It’s simply placing your hands on your abdomen while you breathe deeply into your belly. I find that by focusing on the rise and fall of my belly instead of the actual breath that I can really let go and relax. There’s no need to count or control the breath in any way. Just breathe normally and focus on the sensation.
3. Go outside and take in the sights and sounds of nature
This is so easy! Wherever you are, whether it’s deep in the woods in a cabin (yes please), in the middle of a city or in the suburbs, you can step outside. When you feel the pressures of the holiday starting to build, a quick walk or even going into the back yard to look at the trees, birds, squirrels (whatever nature you can find) is an easy and effective way to reset the nervous system.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
Our reactions to stress is very different when we’re running low on sleep and there’s a biological explanation for that. When we aren’t getting adequate sleep, our body produces more cortisol (the hormone responsible for our fight or flight response). When we do get enough high quality sleep, your cortisol levels are naturally lower. Therefore, it’s important to try getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night, to go to bed earlier (in Chinese medicine, we recommend entering sleep before 11:00pm) and to create an environment that promotes quality sleep. Avoiding eating or drinking too close to bedtime, avoiding blue light for at least an hour before bedtime and making your room as cozy and calm as possible are a few ways to start promoting better sleep.
5. Qi gong shaking exercise
This is one of my favorite tricks for quickly relieving stress. As a bonus, it also provides a quick boost of energy if you’re feeling sluggish. To do this exercise, you simply stand with both feet planted firmly on the ground about shoulder distance apart. Starting slowly, begin to gently bounce by bending the knees. Next begin to shake the wrists. Keeping everything soft, start to bend into the elbows and gently shake the forearms. As your body loosens up, you may feel a slight bouncing in your shoulders as well. Be sure to keep breathing into your stomach while you’re doing this. Try this exercise for anywhere from 2-5 minutes and I promise you will feel less stressed and full of focused energy. If you’re a visual learner, here is a link to a great video on qi gong shaking. I’ll try to post about this on my social media accounts in the future as well so stay tuned!
6. Acupuncture and herbs
The more acupuncture you receive, the more calm you’ll feel over time. Building up your body’s resilience in advance can be a great way to stay calm during stressful situations. Rest assured that the needles are doing their work, but it’s also not rocket science. The more you take care of yourself, the better you feel and the easier you can cope with life’s stressors. In additiion, there are herbal products that your licensed acupuncturist can prescribe to help you feel less stressed. Because herbal formulas are very precisely formulated to treat a variety of symptoms according to each individual’s constitution, it’s a good idea to discuss your stress levels, sleep patterns and overall lifestyle with a practitioner before taking Chinese herbs. Feel free to reach out or schedule an appointment if you have any questions about acupuncture or taking herbal formulas.