Surviving the Holidays: Stress

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Dec 6th, 2012)

Welcome back to part two of the Surviving the Holidays series at BCO. This week we will be discussing the stress of the holidays and ways to avoid it or survive it. Numerous times in the past I have posted articles on Facebook and Pinterest about the impact of stress on the body so I’m not going to talk about it today. We may cover it some time in the future. Needless to say, stress is a useful tool for coping with difficult situations but is unnecessary and potentially harmful over long periods.

So what causes you stress? Family interactions, mall crowds, travel, screaming kids off from school, work deadlines? Whatever it is all the same techniques can be used to manage it. Let’s take a look now.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing from your tummy can be performed anywhere, in any situation (except underwater I guess, but that’s an acceptable time to be stressed). Sit or stand up as straight as you can and breathe from your belly. Your shoulders should not move much while breathing like this. This type of breathing provides the greatest amount of oxygen to the blood and engages the diaphragm. This diaphragm movement stimulates the Parasympthetic Nervous System which we have talked about before (the Rest and Digest side of the Autonomic Nervous System). With the PNS stimulated this decreases stress signals and increase the calming and relaxing effects of the nervous system. The greater amount of oxygen also helps to relax the body as it brings oxygen to tight muscles and the brain, which slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.

Acupuncture
Acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat any number of conditions including stress. Recently, research has shown the mechanism of this action of acupuncture’s effect on the physiology of stress. But it is rather impractical to go to a crowded mall or deal with rambunctious kids with needles sticking out of you. So see your acupuncturist during any time you can find in your busy schedule. For those of you who don’t have the time here are some points you can stimulate at home or on the go to help bring down your stress this holiday season. All you need to do is press into your skin with your nail with pulsed pressure. You need to press hard enough to leave a mark. This will be a little uncomfortable but the results are remarkable. You can walk around stimulating these points for as long as you want but to have a good effect it should be between 5-10 minutes at a time.

Conception Vessel 17 is a point in the midline of your sternum (boney centre of your chest) level with your nipples. This is generally 2 finger widths above the bottom edge of your sternum.

Conception Vessel 17

Conception Vessel 17

Shenmen is a point on the cartilage of your ears at the tip of the “Triangular Fossa” (see the picture below). If you place a finger on the lobe of your ear and move upwards along the back edge you will feel a point where the cartilage splits into two ridges, the “Helix” and the “Anti-Helix”. Follow the inner ridge (the Anti-Helix) until it splits again. These two ridges will surround the “Triangular Fossa”. This split is where the point is.

Shenmen

Shenmen

Liver 3 is a point on the foot so it would be a little difficult to work on while walking around but you can always sit down and rest while working on it. Liver 3 is located between the bones that make up the 1st and 2nd (Big and index) toes. Place your finger on the web between these toes and move it up towards your ankle. You should feel a long tubular bone on either side of your finger. At the point these bones end is a small ridge. This is the location you want.

Liver 3

Liver 3

Stomach 36 (the point used in the research I mentioned before) is another difficult one to use while moving around. This point is just below the knee cap. Feel the ridge at the front of your shin and place the tips of all four fingers (not your thumb) along the outer edge of it with the top finger also touching your knee cap. One finger’s width away from the ridge where your bottom finger lies is where the point is.

Stomach 36

Stomach 36

Chiropractic
Chiropractic care can decrease the levels of stress hormones in your body and help regulate the nervous system to bring the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems back into balance. You can’t really take chiropractic with you on the holidays but coming in when you can really makes a big difference. I shouldn’t have to say this but just in case, let me remind you; DO NOT adjust your own neck or back.

Yoga/Tai Chi/Meditation
I guess you could sit down in the middle of a mall and start meditating or strike a Tai Chi position but you might have a difficult time not getting jostled. The health benefits of these types of self-centering and meditation are many and the list is growing everyday but the one thing they are used for most often in North America is stress relief. I highly suggest taking some time to do any of these quiet, calming techniques.

With these tricks you can beat the holiday stress and have a happy and healthy season. So don’t let the stress of the season get you down. Pick yourself up and dust yourself off naturally.

Thanks for reading and good luck.
Dr. Ben

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