The holiday season is upon us once again. For many of us, it’s a wonderful time of the year, as we look forward to spending time with family and friends to celebrate the joy of the season. But, in preparation for the holidays, it can become difficult to strike a balance between our daily lives and these additional tasks and obligations.
Holiday stress is often taken for granted, as the pace of life speeds up, we tend to expect much more of ourselves and others. When stress is at its peak, it can be difficult to remind ourselves to stop and regroup.
Chronic stress can disrupt nearly every system in our body, and when not properly managed, can adversely affect our health.
Stress is the body’s way of responding to a demand or threat. When you are presented with a stressor, the hypothalamus releases the corticotrophin-releasing hormone, which sends a message to the pituitary to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone prompts the adrenals to produce cortisol, which prepares your body for the high-energy "fight or flight" response. The adrenals also produce adrenaline, which raises your heart rate and increases your blood pressure. These interactions continue until the hormones reach the level your body needs and a series of chemical reactions shut them off.
This complicated set of bodymind relationships and signals which exists between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and the adrenals is known as the HPA Axis, is crucial to our existence. When we are faced with continued stress, our adrenals become fatigued. When the adrenals are so depleted they are no longer able to produce or release hormones necessary to react to stressful situations. This leads to a decrease in the levels of other hormones, the neurotransmitters in the brain and body as other parts of the endocrine system attempt to compensate. We can start to feel constantly tired or lethargic, our immune system begins to weaken, and we can also experience sleep disturbances.
Fortunately, there are several easy self-care steps that we can follow to navigate through this time of year.
Start your day with Hydration: Begin your day with 4-8oz of warm water. This simple addition to your life will assist you to hydrate and detoxify your body. The body is about 70% water, long-term dehydration can lead to headaches, inflammation, circulatory and kidney issues, as well as a list of other maladies. Both alcohol and caffeine drinks are dehydrating to the body. Remember to continue to drink water throughout the day.
Be aware of your breath: Deep breathing is one of the fastest ways to lower stress in the body. When you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. Breathing exercises are a good way to relax, reduce tension, and relieve stress. Start by bringing your awareness below your navel, this is the center of the body, close your eyes if this will help you to bring your attention down from your head. Then, take a deep breath; first, fill the chest, then the abdomen, continue to increase the inhale to include the extension of the back ribs. Exhale slowly. Repeat 5-7 times. Using an aromatherapy nasal inhaler is the perfect way to create a deep breathing pattern, use 3-6 times a day.
Exercise: Although it may be challenging to maintain a regular exercise routine during the holidays, it is essential to move the body and release tensions on a daily basis. Even if this is done in several 10-15 minute intervals during the day. Try a few minutes of stretching, yoga, dancing, or a short walk into nature that will reduce stress, encourage restful sleep, and keep us grounded. Taking time every day to exercise will reduce tensions, increase your overall well-being and immunity.
Healthy Nutrition: The average American diet is deficient in vital nutrients and this seems to be magnified during the holidays. Proper nutrition, limiting alcohol and caffeine are important to promote restful sleep, overall health, and well-being. Choosing more protein and vegetables for your meals can reduce tendencies to fill up on sweets. Including a daily vitamin B supplement can also assist to lower the stress response.
Sleep: When the body is stressed, a double-edged sword exists in terms of sleep. It is often the first thing we neglect in order to meet our demands, yet inadequate rest makes it difficult to maneuver through a stressful day. Depriving your body of sleep has been associated with many health risks and places a burden on every organ system in the body.
Self-care is a gift of gratitude to yourself during the holiday season. Using aromatherapy can provide powerful support to us as we try to maintain healthful habits and achieve a balance amidst the demands. Here are some of our favorite essential oils, which can be used in a variety of ways including aromatic diffusion, a room spritzer, added to massage oil, or added to a nasal inhaler.
Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) – Having a refreshing and uplifting quality, it is useful for anxiety, depression, and stress, and invites one to see life with more optimism. (Bergamot is not for the bath or topical use with sensitive skin.) Best used in a nasal inhaler, room spritzer, or diffusing.
Chamomile, Cape (Eriocephalus punctulatus) – Cape Chamomile is sweeter in scent and action than Roman Chamomile. Is calming and relaxing, it can reduce insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. It also helps to clear the mind and create an atmosphere of peace.
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) – Cypress oil has long been regarded as a highly beneficial oil for the respiratory system, deepening the breath, and soothing stress and anxiety. Cypress is also a useful essential oil for grounding, concentration, and focus.
Frankincense (Boswellia carterii) – Like Lavender, this oil has been widely used medicinally. It helps to minimize distractions, focus one’s energy and improve concentration. The physical properties in Frankincense allow it to slow down and deepen the breath, which is conducive to managing stress and anxiety.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – A scent that is familiar to almost everyone, lavender is regarded as one of the most versatile in terms of therapeutic use. It promotes feelings of calm, helps reduce blood pressure, relieves headaches, induces sleep, and helps counter stress and tension. A drop or two, along with 1 TBSP. of jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis) is especially nice when added to the bath.
Tangerine (Citrus reticulata) - Tangerine is sedative in nature and may help calm feelings of stress while enhancing our energy. It is useful during times when we are overburdened by responsibilities and helps us find room for fun, spontaneity, and joy in our lives. (Not in the bath or topical use with sensitive skin.) Best used in a nasal inhaler, room spritzer, topical blend, or diffusing.
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides) – This oil is known as the “fragrance of the soil” has calming, cooling, grounding, and centering properties that work equally to balance the body and the mind.
Try this lovely essential oil blend of:
Vetiver (Vetiveria zizanioides)
Chamomile, Cape (Eriocephalus punctulatus)
Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens)
This combination can be used in the bath (2 drops of each mixed in 1 TBSP. of jojoba oil (Simmondsia chinensis), in a nasal inhaler (12-15 drops on the felt wick), or in a diffuser (up to 20 drops).
There are so many essential oils, and combinations of oils, that are effective to help us manage this time of year, with a variety of ways to experience and enjoy them. Adding aromatherapy to your holiday season will invite peace and serenity, restful sleep, happiness, and joy.
Wishing you a wonderfully aromatic, and stress-free, holiday season!
Self-care Photo by EpicTop10.com via Flickr