‘Tis the season to cheer up: Tips to combat holiday stress from local experts

 (<a href=Christmas stress photo via ShutterStock) " title="shutterstock_85359982" width="640" height="360"/>

(Christmas stress photo via ShutterStock)

You’ve got a list. You’ve checked it twice. But there’s still a lot to do during the holiday season.

Since spreading holiday cheer is no easy task when stress sets in, NewsWorks compiled this list of insights from counseling, yoga, massage and aromatherapy experts from Northwest Philadelphia.


Surviving holiday family drama

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In a perfect world, your family and friends would all enjoy the holidays harmoniously together. But, as Deb Owens, a licensed professional counselor with a private counseling practice in Chestnut Hill says, “there’s no such thing as a perfect holiday.”

Owens recommends three concepts for handling clashing personalities and family tensions.

1. Ask yourself, what are your expectations for the holidays?

“The first thing I suggest is to own your intention. You may want to have a more peaceful season or to focus on family rather than material objects. Saying your intention out loud is a good thing,” said Owens, “Try to frame it in the positive such as: ‘I want to relax more and enjoy conversation with my siblings or kids’ as opposed to ‘I’m trying not to argue.'”

2. Be realistic

“You want to recognize the reality that there is no perfect holiday,” said Owens. “Speed bumps are inevitable — they don’t have to turn into full blown detours.”

3. Set boundaries

“People can set boundaries by leaving early, arriving late, moving to a different room or altering rituals that trigger people to misbehave,” said Owens. “If people own that their purpose is to have a happy, healthy holiday experience, then they can begin to make decisions that are in alignment with that goal.”

Scent the season

Seasonal scents like hot cocoa, pine and peppermint are a favorite this time of year. Maia Toll, a traditional herbalist and co-owner of Herbiary in Chestnut Hill, says finding scents you like is what aromatherapy is all about.

“Part of aromatherapy is instinctual,” said Toll. “When you smell an essential oil it works on your brain. Some scents act as a trigger and remind you of another time in your life, like when you smell something as a child.”

She say essential oils are good for quick stress relief. Some of Toll’s top scent picks are lavender, chamomile and citrus.

“Lavender is ubiquitous with stress relief. Different types of chamomile can alleviate muscle tension,” said Toll. “I also like to use something uplifting like citrus scents — orange, lemon and grapefruit. It’s a slightly different mechanism that can lift the spirit.”

Tiny vials with “sinus salts” are one of the ways Toll suggests to keep aromatherapy with you on-the-go.

“The vials are great because you can travel with them. They’re under three ounces so you can use them on an airplane, while sitting in traffic, anywhere,” said Toll. “The salt captures the oil scent, so it’s like having your own smelling salts.”

Take a moment to breathe

When the lines are long and stress sets in, Theresa Conroy, owner of Yoga on the Ridge in Roxborough, advises: “Take a moment to breathe.”

“My students talk about added stress this time of year, especially those with kids,” said Conroy. “It’s not easy to juggle work while preparing for the holidays.”

Conroy, a certified yoga teacher and yoga therapist, described a common breathing exercise to help people relax: “Come to a quiet place in your mind. Take a slow, deep breath in, and then release.”

Another quick tip: Alternate nostril breathing.

“Hold down one side of your nose and breath in and out slowly,” explained Conroy, “Then hold down the other side of your nose and repeat.”

While chair yoga is popular during office hours, Conroy says the downward facing dog pose can be done at a desk.

“Place your hands on your desk, stretch and breathe,” said Conroy. “Slow down. Come to a quiet place.”

Get merry with massage therapy

If the long lines, luggage and UPS packages have your muscles feeling tense, Cara Drescher, massage therapy manager at Mellow Massage Therapy Center in East Falls, says: “Just grab a tennis ball.”

“If you have a tennis ball you can give yourself an instant massage. Take the ball and lower it to the area of tension or tightness while leaning against a wall,” said Drescher, a nationally certified and licensed massage therapist. “Roll the ball wherever you’re having tension. It makes such a difference.”

She also recommends massaging an acupressure point that’s found in the middle of the inner side of the forearm.

“The area is a specific anxiety point,” said Drescher. “Start by measuring about three finger widths from the base of your palm, then massage the area with your thumb in small circles. You don’t have to apply a ton of pressure, just enough to feel relief.”

Her final tip? Remember to take time for yourself during the season of giving.

“There’s a lot of planning for Christmas and New Year’s,” said Drescher. “I always say it’s important to take time for yourself and help your body — and your brain — relax.”

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