As the holiday season draws ever onward and we become more and more inundated with extra things on our plate, pressing deadlines, and extra dealings with our fellow human beings it is easy for all of us to become stressed, my self included. Signs of stress can include headaches, tightness and pain in the neck and shoulders or under the ribs, irritability and frustration or outright anger, digestive issues like bloating and distension or loose stools. In traditional Chinese Medicine stress is thought to be related to the TCM version of the Liver, which controls the free flow of energy throughout the body and ensures the smooth processing of all of the bodies processes. When we come under stress, the energy and processes in the Liver become stuck and we can begin to experience all of those wonderful symptoms listed above. You can think of the Liver as a junction for several freeways coming together, each one coming and going a separate way. When things are working smoothly, there are no problems, all the vehicles can get where the need to and everything works like a well oiled machine. When stress happens it can be anything from a traffic jam to a multi-car pile up depending on the conditions, slowing or stopping the bodies processes and natural flow. As TCM seeks to prevent disease and illness, we should also seek to avoid stress in our lives to avoid all the negative symptoms associated with it.
So how can we avoid or minimize our stress in this crazy and hectic time of year? First of all, despite everything, make sure to take care of yourself throughout the day, if that means getting yourself the special drink you want or taking the time to read a good book when you have a few minutes, go for it! Things that can help you relax will help you reduce your stress, so take a hot bath at the end of the day, or make some time to watch a comedy with friends or family. Spending time with pets is a great way to reduce stress and help you to relax as well. Next, we need a little help from our diet to make sure that things are running smoothly. First off we want to avoid foods that are going to naturally agitate the Liver. Things like spicy foods, sour foods, greasy or fatty foods, excessive caffeine, alcohol, red meats and overeating in general all can agitated the Liver and hamper the bodies natural processes, exacerbating or making us prone to stress. Next we can eat foods that are soothing to the Liver and can help to keep things moving naturally and smoothly. Adding spices like basil, caraway, chive, coriander, dill seed, garlic, majoram, and tumeric to foods can all help keep the our Liver moving smoothly. A great and easy way to handle some stress is to have a Chai tea latte. Chai contains black tea, Cardamom, Cloves, Star Anise, and Cinnamon all of which can also help to us handle those stressful times. Orange Peel teas are great as well. If vegetables are your thing, Carrots, mustard greens, and radishes will do the trick too.
So now that we have some knowledge of what stress does to our body, what it looks and feels like, and some strategies to combat it, we can take educated steps to help reduce it throughout the next few weeks. Stopping the stress from continually building will ensure that we can handle whatever the season throws at us next. Holidays should be about family and friends and embracing the joy of living, now you have the tools to make sure you can!