It can be oh-so-easy to get lost in stress amidst the hustle and bustle of the year’s end.
Nerves run high as the calendar fills up with places to be and people to see, and that month between Turkey day and New Year’s can be incredibly overwhelming. January arrives before you realize what hit you, and while those inspiring Instagram accounts you follow are insistent that this is the time to embrace change and become the “new you,” all you really want to do is binge-watch Friends on Netflix and gorge yourself on leftover Candy Joe Joe’s while you decompress from December.
While I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been there, I’ve also learned that embracing the sensory stimulation of the holidays can go a long way to reduce tension, holiday stress, and bring you into January feeling more relaxed, refreshed, and ready to dive into the new year!
So let me offer some “feel-good” examples of small pleasures that can delight your senses this holiday season.
Mmmmm That Smells Good…
Your olfactory system (sense of smell) is one of those most affected by the holidays (for mostly the right reasons). The warmth of holiday spices, earthiness of pine, and the nose-hair tingling crispness of the wintry air, turn us into bloodhounds sniffing in every direction trying to take in the intoxicating odors.
The opening of an oven door full of the building blocks for a gingerbread house releases a rush of spicy, warm air that instantly fills you with comfort. The scent lingers on clothes, resulting in a steady dose of holiday perfume. I am a firm believer in having a real tree – nothing compares to the fresh, clean resin-y smell of a magnificent pine. Burying your nose (carefully) in the prickly pine needles yields a revitalizing jolt of the great outdoors.
Mint is one of the key scents associated with the holiday seasons as well; not just for its association with the quintessential shards of peppermint bark. Consider having a bouquet of it on your table during the holidays next to your poinsettia. At the Celestial Seasonings factory in Colorado, they have one room just dedicated to mint because it’s so powerful! Whenever that door is opened, the smell released immediately awakens the mind and leaves you feeling alert and mentally refreshed.
Holiday Spice Makes You Feel Nice
Cookies, candy, comfort food, oh, my!
Holiday flavors are notorious and some people wait all year in order to have that one special treat that they can only find during this month. While it can be a joy to indulge at first, it can become a bit stressful when you realize that you’re overeating in order to sample everything that’s available. However, if you go to the basic core ingredients that provide the flavor for these tasty treats, you quickly realize that there are some great natural anxiety relievers built right into many of these holiday foods.
Quite a few people think of pumpkin pie spice simply as that double-pump of syrup in your morning latte at the local coffee shop that marks the beginning of the festive season. However, the spices that make up the well-known flavor (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves) also have some notable health benefits. For instance, all four ingredients are known to relieve and improve digestion. Cinnamon in particular is known for its ability to help control blood sugar levels. Sounds like two problems that commonly occur during the holiday season, right?!
Whether alone or in combination, these four spices can add a pleasant hint of healthy spice when added to your morning oatmeal or afternoon smoothie so that you can take advantage of the holiday flavors while not stressing about how many cookies you just housed 😉
Root vegetables are also in their peak season now, and serve as an important component of the comfort food we crave right now. Sweet potatoes are available in all shapes and colors, while roasted parsnips and carrots combine as the perfect accompaniment to that juicy brisket.
Just as with those holiday-associated spices, root vegetables are packed with a variety of health benefits. One of their main assets is that they have grounding metabolic properties. Since they’re full of complex carbohydrates, they can provide a steady stream of natural clean energy to the body, instead of causing the blood sugar spikes, that we too often see from the simple carbs found in cookies and other similar sweets. A bit of mashed sweet potato with yogurt and cinnamon can make a seriously tasty breakfast that tastes like the holidays AND satisfies the sweet tooth.
There’s an intrinsic reason why spices and root vegetables are popular right now, and the nutritional benefits gained from them can help you get through the holiday season and able to start the new year with calm & collected mind and a positive well-being.
The Beauty of Nature
Neighbors try to outdo each other with their creative house and yard decorations (with mixed degrees of success), while storefronts seek to lure shoppers in with superb window displays. Everywhere you look, people are getting into the spirit of the season, and it’s a joy to watch! All of us turn into peeping Toms as we admire the beautiful decorated trees in all the houses (they never fail to bring a smile to my face!).
Take some time to go for a walk, either by yourself if you need a bit of alone time, or with a good friend (animals included). No agenda! Just a simple walk to absorb the visual experience of the holidays and enjoy the excitement on people’s faces as they rush home with that one perfect gift they managed to find.
Be present, open your eyes, and you will undoubtedly find peace and joy 🙂
Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Jingling…
While some tend to think of cheery holiday tunes as the sound of this season, I personally believe that one of the most magical parts of the holidays is the quiet excitement that prevails from the buzz of secrets that must be kept until the opening of presents.
The quietness is enhanced when fat white snowflakes start to fall from the sky, blanketing everything with a soft cover and muffling all noise. Everything slows down a bit, and the sound of the Salvation Army bells cuts through it all with their lively chimes. The cool, crisp air keeps people in the toasty indoors, so you can usually find a bit of relief from the hubbub by escaping outdoors and reveling in the quiet.
Find what works for you – some can’t get enough of the catchy festive music and this gets them in the holiday spirit. While others find the Yuletide a bit too much, so embracing the quiet can be calming.
Feel It in the Air, Feel It in Your Bones
If you’re the type that loves being in the kitchen, this season is one that stimulates this tactile sense like none other! This is the time when all the family recipes come out that bring to mind past holidays, and it’s perfectly acceptable to bake abnormal amounts of cookies that will be doled out at cookie swaps.
There’s something so soothing about rolling out cookie dough and decorating all the wee gingerbread men. If you have some serious aggression to work out, there’s nothing better than kneading bread dough. Since most bread dough has to be worked for a good 5-10 minutes in order to develop that lovely elastic gluten structure, punching that yeasty blob against the counter can be an amazing way to work out stress, anger, AND get in a great arm workout at the same time!
‘Tis the season when hugs are shared by friends, family, and even strangers. Hugs – physical touch from others – offers a powerful antidote to stress and panic. A quick hug is simple, yet greatly uplifting and cheering. So give them out, accept them, and certainly don’t be afraid of them!
Yes, the holidays come with their share of stresses. But there are so many small pleasures we can celebrate, a little at a time. The sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and smells unique to this time of year, will give you an arsenal of all natural and free ways to keep your mind and body: warm, healthy, and collected.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!