How to Lower Stress and Survive the Holidays With Acupuncture
By Sara Calabro
Acupuncture is well known for its ability to lower stress. Many people use acupuncture for stress reduction. And even those who don’t admit to or notice stress in their lives report a greater sense of lightness and evenness to their moods after having acupuncture.
During the holiday season, many of us could benefit from the stress-reduction benefits of acupuncture. But who has the time? Or the money?
If you can swing going for acupuncture this time of year, do it—regular acupuncture treatments are the best way to stay healthy and mentally balanced during high-stress times. But if you, like many people, are on a tighter schedule and budget for the coming month, we’ve got the next-best thing.
Top 10 Acupuncture Tips for Handling Holiday Stress
We asked acupuncturists from around the world to share one piece of acupuncture-inspired advice for reducing holiday stress. They had to be self-care tips that can be applied anytime, anywhere, and for free. Here are our 10 favorites:
In acupuncture, each season has an associated natural element. Winter’s is water. As the holidays cue our wintery instincts, we can use water literally and metaphorically as a natural holiday de-stressor.
Acupuncturist Sara Szmodis of San Francisco recommends starting every day with a large glass of lukewarm water. Fill your favorite glass with water and drink it slowly, followed by taking some deep breaths into your abdomen. This morning ritual helps keep your body hydrated and relaxed at a time when more-than-usual amounts of alcohol and caffeine (both dehydrators) meet higher-than-usual stress levels.
Metaphorically, water serves as a model for coping with holiday stress. When stress starts to mount, close your eyes and imagine yourself as strong, yet fluid and flexible. You are easily able to adjust around whatever gets in your way.
Go with the flow (literally)
We hear this all the time. But from an acupuncture perspective this trite piece of de-stressing advice takes on a whole new meaning.
There is a famous Chinese medical saying: Bu tong ze tong, tong ze bu tong. This is roughly translated as, “If there is not free flow, there is pain. If there is free flow, there is no pain.” In other words, physical and emotional health are achieved when there is free flow throughout the channels of the body. Disease arises when the flow stops.
Portland, Oregon acupuncturist Alexis Goldstein says we can take this thinking and apply it to holiday stress. Things never go according to plan. Whether it’s to do with travel, food or gift-giving, Goldstein suggests trying to focus less on the details and more on your ability to flow through them. Keep flowing forward and you’ll have a less stressful holiday season.
Forget the ‘shoulds’
Acupuncture is centered around the notion that we are ever changing, evolving beings. Nothing is set in stone. There are no golden rules or absolute truths. When we fail to think of ourselves as the constant works-in-progress that we are, there’s a tendency to start imposing a lot of “shoulds” on ourselves.
I “should” invite my neighbor’s second cousin to dinner. I “should” spend at least $50 on a gift for my boss. I “should” have the house decorated by now. I “should” go to that party because the host sent me a card last year when my cat got neutered.
So many of us place undue expectations on ourselves, says New York City acupuncturist Po-Hong Yu. By making a real effort to stop the ‘shoulds,’ it frees you up to live without the pressure and guilt that has a tendency to increase this time of year. You’ll feel lighter and able to live more authentically.
Get out in nature
In acupuncture theory, humans are viewed as microcosms of the natural world that surrounds them. The natural elements are essential parts of all of us, and yet many of us fail to make time to commune with them, especially when the weather turns cold.
According to acupuncturist Annie Porter from Scottsdale, Arizona, taking just three minutes a day to notice the natural world around you can be a refreshing de-stressor amid the holiday madness. Porter recommends picking a piece of nature that inspires gratitude in you. It can be an old tree, a serene pond, or crystal white snow. Maybe it is just standing outside and feeling the solid earth under your feet, or the crisp wind against your face.
Getting out in nature at holiday time is not only a nice break but also a reminder of the magnificent gifts that surround us every day.
Strive for balance
Acupuncture is all about balance. The goal of treatment is to tonify (give to) areas of deficiency and reduce (take from) areas of excess. Delphine Baumer, an acupuncturist in Vancouver, British Columbia, reminds us that this principle applies to holiday gift giving and time management.
Think about time and money in terms of balance, says Baumer. If you find yourself with extra time in the coming weeks, offer help to those who don’t. If you’re really strapped for time, ask for help. With gifts, ask yourself what you can offer that will help others without hurting you. Gifts come in all forms and should feel good on the receiving and giving end.
Be like a mountain
In addition to balancing deficiencies and excesses, acupuncture focuses on balancing Yin and Yang. Yin-Yang theory assigns certain qualities to various aspects of our lives, depending on the context within which they reside.
Yin qualities are cold, dark, quiet, contracting, deficient, weak, delicate, soft-spoken, contemplative and introverted. Yang is hot, bright, loud, firm, expanding, excessive, robust, energetic and chatty.
In comparison to everyday life, the holidays are very Yang! They are high energy, fast moving, and filled with constant hustle and bustle. While fun, this can become stressful. It is important to infuse this time of year with Yin qualities so that we remain balanced, says New York City acupuncturist Nancy Byrne.
Byrne suggests a visual meditation where you imagine yourself as a mountain. A mountain is the ultimate Yin, says Byrne—solid, rooted and still, despite the winds swirling around it. When the whirlwind of the holidays seems to engulf you, take a moment to think of yourself as a mountain. This will help you find inner calm despite the frenzy happening around you.
Find middle ground
By encouraging balance—of Yin and Yang, and excess and deficiency—acupuncture teaches us to find middle ground and appreciate moderation. It becomes a metaphor for not over or under doing it in life.
Holidays generally involve a lot of over doing it—too much food, too many drinks, too much spending, too many late nights, too much stress. It happens, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse for going to extremes in the other direction.
Los Angeles acupuncturist Laura Drago cautions against throwing off your regular routines because of a holiday slip. For example, don’t skip breakfast and try to burn 1,000 calories in a workout because you ate too much at the holiday party the night before. Extreme taxation on your body in either direction will throw things into further imbalance, says Drago. If you have a wild night, take a day to let your body recover and naturally regain its strength. (It might be a good time to try some acupressure for hangover.)
Rub your ears
The ear in acupuncture is a microcosm of the whole body, so ear points are used to address conditions that involve multiple systems. Since stress can wreak havoc throughout the entire body, treating the ears is an effective and efficient counter measure.
Rubbing your ears is a great stress-reduction tool, says San Francisco acupuncturist Eric Kerr. Use your thumb and index finger to apply acupressure to the whole ear, moving from the top of the ear down to the earlobes. You can do this simultaneously on both sides. Kerr demonstrates the technique in this video.
Brush your teeth with purpose
Acupuncture teaches us to tune into the ordinary. It heightens our awareness by requiring us to pay attention to subtle shifts. This is something we can practice on our own, by being more mindful in our daily routines. When we are more present in each moment, we aren’t bogged down by the various holiday stressors that surround us.
To practice this, Jorunn Krokeide, an acupuncturist in Oslo, Norway, suggests picking one seemingly mundane task—brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, taking out the garbage. Do this task with utmost presence. If it’s brushing your teeth, notice the way the brush feels in your hand, how the toothpaste lathers inside your mouth, the sounds of the brush against your teeth.
Presence and mindfulness are not about over thinking, but rather, letting go so that your heart and mind are free to truly experience the joys of the holiday season.
Remember your power
Acupuncture reminds us of our innate power. The driving idea behind acupuncture is that we already have everything we need to be well. We hold the power to heal ourselves. Philadelphia acupuncturist David Schiman says this idea can help us cope with holiday stress.
When you feel stress piling up, says Schiman, take a moment to ask yourself some questions:How am I handling myself? And when I look back on this in 10 years, am I acting like the kind of person I want to see? Schiman recommends reflecting on your answer and then striving to act consistently with your ideal self-image.
There is a tendency during stressful times to feel powerless, but you do have power over how you react to life and to holiday stress. So, who do you want to be?
Photo by Sara Calabro