Edmonton·Opinion

Battling holiday blues: An Edmonton lifestyle teacher's holistic approach

It’s remarkable, but not surprising, that the experience of anxiety increases over the holiday season.

‘When meeting anxiety on the battlefield, the first line of defence is the body’

Yoga instructor and lifestyle teacher Geha Gonthier recommends using a holistic approach to handling holiday stress during the Christmas break. (Supplied)

It's remarkable, but not surprising, that the experience of anxiety increases over the holiday season.

No other time is associated with the kind of expectations that are characteristic for this time of year.

Regardless of your religious faith, the greedy rituals of shiny commercialism have successfully captivated a time that was meant to be about sharing love and peace.

We are expected to find the appropriate gift for everyone; take time to decorate house and garden, send cards and packages to family, friends and professional associates around the globe.

We are expected to show up to Christmas parties, eat rich food without gaining weight, indulge in unreasonable amounts of sweets without getting sick, drink more alcohol than we usually do, and still show up smart, successful and under control.

Expectations create stress

Meeting these expectations, even partially, creates huge stress for many people.

But what would happen if we met these expectations by looking them squarely in the eyes and deciding: "I am stronger than that?"

Geha Gonthier is an Edmonton acupuncturist, yoga and lifestyle teacher. (Supplied)

What if we decided to take five minutes out of our busy day and turn our attention to what actually mattered? Not the expectations imposed from an outside source, that we seem so eager to accept as our own, but the responsibility to our soul, to our heart?

In one of the classics of Chinese Medicine, a book written about 4,000 years ago, the emperor asked his physician: "Why do people get sick in body and mind so easily these days?"

The physician answered: "Because they want too much. The wanting creates internal heat, injures heart blood, and leaves the body vulnerable to disease."

His insight is expressed in simple language, and still makes sense in our modern times. Today we call this internal heat "inflammation" and the "injured heart blood" takes the shape of anxiety, often mixed with insomnia, and possibly depression.

First line of defence is the body when facing anxiety

The tools the physician recommends for healing are rooted in lifestyle adjustments and herbal remedies.

While most of them are still applicable today, our holistic medicine chest has expanded tremendously.

When meeting anxiety on the battlefield, the first line of defence is the body.

Taking care of the body is actually fairly easy.

In a nutshell: Reduce your coffee intake to minimize the onslaught on your adrenal glands, and avoid sugar.

To help with your willpower and actually strengthen your body, replace some of these "convenient" quick-energy habits with healthy ones.

Algae micronutrients such as spirulina and chlorella have a profound impact on the vitality of our body, while supplements and foods high in magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin B are essential for physical and mental health.

There are many herbal compounds from various traditions that can increase your potential to cope with stress. Since no one individual is the same, let your accredited health practitioner make recommendations specifically tailored to you.

Tools so simple many never try them

To address the chaos of the anxious mind, there is a reservoir of weapons for fighting the gnarly undergrowth of disturbing beliefs.

The various effective tools sound so simplistic that many never try them, and when they do, they are amazed at their potency.

Yes, it takes discipline and diligence and kindness, and more is better.

Keep a daily gratitude journal to record five things to be grateful for. Take two minutes in the morning to sit quietly and watch the movement of the breath, and practise positive visualizations.

Hug a tree, explore yoga or iRest, the six healing sounds of the Daoist tradition, or engage in a short version of an active meditation like gibberish to create a safe outlet to expel mental and emotional clutter.

Originated by the Sufi mystic Jabbar, gibberish is a dynamic method, that even in a short 10-minute version can be profoundly effective. Here's how:

  • Make sure you are in a place where you are undisturbed for 10 minutes.
  • Find a wild drumming track lasting about five minutes.
  • Start talking gibberish, gesticulate, move your body, shake, get completely into it, talking nonsense and letting accumulated energy go.
  • When the music has finished, sit down, become quiet, and enjoy.

You'll be surprised how much you can let go and how good that feels.

Undoubtedly anxiety can have dimensions that can only be controlled with pharmaceuticals. This is not what is being addressed here.

Here we make a lifestyle choice and hone skills to consciously say "no" to thoughts and beliefs that do not serve us.

Our hearts and minds are powerful. We can gently own this power.

Happy holidays, truly.

Geha Gonthier is an Edmonton acupuncturist, yoga and lifestyle teacher.

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