By Guest Blogger Joan Parisi Wilcox

It’s almost a given that as you think of the approaching holidays, you feel a burst of stress. The “to-do” list grows exponentially, the guest list seems to expand by a force all its own, and the sound of the clock ticking is ever-present. Are you stressed just reading this?

Relax! Close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths. Go ahead and make a loud sighing sound. Ahhhhhhh. . .  Everything is going to be okay.

Don’t you feel better already?

Stress is all in your mind. It’s a scientific fact. Stress is not what happens to you, but how you perceive what is happening (or may happen) to you. What freaks out one person (getting on an airplane, giving a public speech, having to cook for 14 people) is just fine and dandy for someone else. Stress is as individual as each person. However, no matter what is ramping up your stress level there are many simple strategies for managing and, ideally, banishing that stress. Reducing your stress not only helps put the “happy” back in your holidays, but also helps to restore your health body, mind and spirit.

Edit Your Inner Critic
Stress is correlated to our pattern of self-talk. To avoid the holiday stressfest, become conscious of the inner worrywart or taskmaster who is cracking the whip and replace that voice with your inner guru, who says calmly and so serenely, “One thing at a time, dear. Be here now.”

Breathe Through the Bluster
When you feel stress, your body is flooded with powerful biochemicals that corrode your body from the inside out. They cause inflammation, increase your heart rate, constrict blood flow, hamper digestion, contribute to aging, and a whole lot more. And here’s the kicker: these effects can last for hours after the stressful event is over. But it takes only a few moments to stop this biochemical barrage and begin to restore inner biological harmony. Simply slow your breathing.

Slowing and deepening your breathing to five or six long breaths a minute has been shown in laboratory studies to quickly shift your body from chaos to coherence, reducing the harmful effects of stress and restoring normal physiological functioning (to say nothing of peace of mind). So to regain your inner and outer equilibrium, take your own “time out” and breathe.

Smell Your Way to Serenity
Nothing evokes memories of the good times, especially those special holiday moments, more than smell. Our sense of smell is yoked tightly to our limbic system, which is the seat of our emotions. Of all of our senses, our olfactory sense is the one most directly wired to our brain. So when you smell something, the brain responds almost instantly. That’s why aromatherapy can be so therapeutic—and effective for reducing stress. The major stress-reducing essential oils include Lavender, Bergamot, Cedarwood, Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Chamomile, Orange, and Marjoram. A few delicious whiffs and your brain gets the message “relax” and sends it high-speed to the rest of your body.

You can gently inhale an essential oil straight out of the bottle or make an inhaler to tuck into your purse or pocket. (Inhalers are available at some essential oil and aromatherapy retailers.) Or, you can diffuse the luscious scents into your home or office. You don’t need an expensive electronic diffuser. Just put five or six drops on a cotton ball and place it on a non-plastic dish and allow the scent to disperse through the air.

Of course, you can scent your entire house with the woodsy or spicy scents of the holiday and calm the whole family by diffusing a mix of essential oils. Either use a diffuser or tape a cotton ball dampened with the essential oil mix to the blade of a ceiling fan and turn it on low. Combine stress-reducing orange and cedarwood with a bit of cinnamon and balsam fir. The combinations are endless and the smells beyond heavenly.

Only two words of caution: Choose only all-natural, high-quality essential oils, not inexpensive synthetic ones (which are chemicals and not healthful). And, beware of diffusing essential oils around infants, very young children and some pets (birds, fish, cats), as they do not tolerate them well.

These are only three quick and easy strategies for turning stress into serenity. Others include:

~ Laughing (a good belly laugh lowers the load of stress chemicals, and even faking a smile stimulates healthful biological changes)

~ Adjusting your posture (stress curls us inward and tightens us, so straighten your shoulders and spine, hold up your head, relax your muscles and feel the almost immediate shift toward greater well-being), and

~ Practicing gratitude (improve your mood by shifting your focus from what isn’t working to what is).

Have you used these suggestions in the past? Do you have other ways to help reduce the holiday stress? Leave a comment below to share with readers!