By JiJi Russell
As the holiday season picks up momentum, I have been pondering many topics of health and wellness to find a nugget of advice that might help people find balance and ease during the “season of joy.” When I consider the landscape of copious social interactions, abundant food, busy shopping—and keeping pace with an unusually packed calendar—one idea rises to the top: over- stimulation.
If your tendency during the last push of the year is to over obligate yourself, this one’s for you. I suggest you figure out ways to select and filter the stimuli you take in, rather than simply diving in, then cleaning up the mess (you!) afterwards. The more-of-everything norm that often characterizes this time of year (social engagements; packed schedules; shopping, etc.) can cause a hyper-stimulated state, amounting to an affront to your nervous system.
If you continuously tell yourself that you need to go faster, do better, and accomplish more, you might be setting yourself up for elevated stress. When our bodies perceive stress, our nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This “signals a cascade of events to help us survive a life-threatening situation,” says Geo Derick, MSc, a registered herbalist, who teaches workshops on dealing with stress naturally. So, what happens when the “fun” we think we’re trying to have overwhelms us and our nervous system? “Our heart rate and blood pressure rise; our vessels constrict; we become hyper alert,” Derick says.
Ok, so maybe we’re a little amped up. Any harm in that? According to Derick, yes, because in this state, “Our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol & aldosterone, all of which allow us to respond to emergencies swiftly, to maintain homeostasis of our critical body functions, and to perform in a crisis, Derick says. “In small doses it is good and necessary as a survival tool and learning mechanism. In continual excess, it can be damaging, causing chronic and acute health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer.”
The decibel level of parties, musical events, and kid-related activities; the visual stimuli that we take in when we shop or attend social events; the pressure to entertain; socialize; or eat—it can quickly add up.
If you’re tired just from reading this, take heart. There is good news: You still have time to take a step back and create the season you want. Here are some ideas to consider before saying “yes to everything.”
Parties: Give yourself permission to say no. I pick no more than one large social event a week during this season. Ask yourself if the proposed party will provide both strength (cohesion with your colleagues, for example) and levity. Ideally, it should be both fun and meaningful.
Shopping: Limit the to and fro. Choose to shop locally, in your own town or nearby, where you can walk outdoors from store to store. Fill in the gaps with online purchases. Forget the shopping malls. They can be highly overstimulating for the eyes, ears, nose (that perfume lady will get you!), all the while challenging you to be meek and mild as someone steals your parking space.
Cooking: Ask for collaboration. If everyone brings a dish, no one person gets stuck in the kitchen.
Apart from limiting stimuli, Derick suggests, “Maintaining good blood sugar regulation by eating a good breakfast with protein, good fats and plenty of fruits and vegetables goes a long way to stabilizing our stress response.” She suggests centering practices like meditation, yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi to keep calm.
Derick also says using adaptogenic herbs like ginsengs, rehmannia, holy basil, schisandra, ashwaganda and licorice root help modulate our internal stress response and strengthen our adrenal glands.”
Awareness is a good first step. Become aware of your schedule and to-do list, and the demands each could place on your senses and your energy level. If you know, for example, that you will be in a louder-than-usual environment—think musical events, restaurants, parades, or exercise classes at a gym—consider wearing earplugs. Take the standard foam ones from a drug store, and break one in half. The half-plug will barely be visible, and will muffle sound rather than block it out. The noise at such places is typically loud enough to hear through the “muffs,” so you won’t be cut you off from the fun.
The main idea is to think of ways to limit the stimuli in your surroundings. There is so much extra “stuff” out there demanding your attention this time of year. You don’t have to let it saturate you.
This holiday season, choose your interactions consciously and judiciously. You can have the energy and attentiveness to enjoy the people and events that make for joyful moments.