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Keys to heavenly peace: How to ease holiday stress

There are simple ways to bring down stress levels. Start by putting down your to-do list and your smartphone, neither of which is going anywhere.
There are simple ways to bring down stress levels. Start by putting down your to-do list and your smartphone, neither of which is going anywhere. THE NEWS & OBSERVER

Maybe it was seeing Halloween costumes displayed next to Christmas ornaments. Or forgetting to thaw the Thanksgiving turkey. Or hearing “Little Drummer Boy” on the radio for the 71st time.

Whatever first set your holiday heart pounding, your hands sweating and your fingers trembling, your stress level is, in all likelihood, up. It may not level off for a while.

That’s the bad news. The good? There are simple ways to bring it down. When you’re finished, you'll still have chores and obligations, but also a renewed spirit to deal with them.

Start by putting down your to-do list and your smartphone, neither of which is going anywhere.

“Checking your phone or email is sending us into a high anxiety state,” says Angela Wagner, owner of YogaSport studio in Dallas.

Ditto for well-meaning people who aren’t on your gift list – but they drop in bearing a cellophane-wrapped something for you. We can’t do anything about them, but we can offer one-word, one-minute-or-more ways to establish peace on Earth – your Earth. Here goes:

Breathe

Inhale through your nose to a count of four or five. Exhale slowly through your nose to the same count.

“When we resist and fight and judge reality, that’s what causes the stress, not the circumstances,” says Brother ChiSing (aka Norman Eng), director of Dallas Meditation Center. “Breathing mindfully increases your ability to be aware, to accept and then to make better creative choices in the moment.”

Doing so “opens your heart,” adds assistant center director Bobbie Perkins. When that happens, it’s “a little easier to deal with people, even family members you don’t like to be around all that much.”

Wagner advises doing this – not phoning a friend, not texting another one – when standing in line, for instance, with armloads of wrapping paper or rib roast. “It relaxes your whole nervous system. You’re getting that extra oxygen, getting rid of your distractions.”

Listen

Music has been used as therapy since Plato’s time, but is a lot more accessible nowadays. As for its calming nature, Gosselin says there are two schools of thought.

The first is selecting your own music. The second is choosing music that meets certain criteria: 60 to 80 beats per minute; no voices, only instruments; and no horns, percussion or anything with “a more abrasive tambour,” Gosselin says. In other words, choose piano or string instruments.

Touch

Specifically, your pets.

“There’s actually work that’s been done that shows primarily if you pet your own dog or cat your blood pressure will lower,” says Bonnie Beaver, a professor of animal behavior in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University. “It’s more significant if it’s your own. Otherwise, there’s a tension: ‘Is this one going to bite me?'”

Research suggests that when you’re stroking an animal, there’s a release of oxytocin, a calming hormone, “which then physiologically helps relieve stress,” she says. In addition, the animals tend to have a corresponding lowering of blood pressure while they’re being petted.

Soak

Bubbles are fine, but to make the most of your tub experience, be sure you’re generous – as in a cup or two – with the Epsom salt.

Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, has been touted as a stress reliever because when the body is stressed, it loses magnesium, which Epsom salt can replenish through the skin. It’s also been touted on various websites (including empathsolutions.com and Dr. Oz’s Pinterest page) as increasing energy levels.

Of course, you may need to do this before the kids are on holiday break. Or just hand the older set a threaded needle and some popcorn. By the time they tire of stringing the stuff, you'll be out of the tub and refreshed.

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