"It's the most ... wonderful time ... of the year!"
You hear that song everywhere, right about now.
And sometimes, let's face it, there are days when you hear it and think:
No, it's not!
It's the most stressful time of the year!
“The holidays can provide us with issues around relationships, around our finances, around physical demands. It can bring up grief. It can bring up bad memories,” said E. Christine Moll, a licensed mental health counselor and chair of the Canisius College Department of Counseling and Human Services. “The stress can come from a multitude of places that we may or may not be conscious of. It may even come from left field when we’re not prepared for it.”
Beneficial stress “gives us healthy nudges, kicks us in the tush, and gets us moving,” Moll said. “It tells us, ‘I’ve got to get this paper done. I want an A for this class.’ While it might be a little distressing to write the paper, there’s something positive at the end that is motivating and healthy.”
Unhealthy stress comes from internal and external forces and causes dismay. In the short term, it can hike our blood pressure, cause rashes, give us headaches, Moll said. Persistent stress can rob us of sleep, spur cardiac and other health issues, and may lead to clinical depression.
But we bring you good tidings. You can avoid the holiday meltdowns – transcend the shopping, the gift wrapping, the office parties – and enjoy the season.
Let us count some of the ways – including a list at the end of this story.
Get out the cookie cutters and cake pans – and think of the treats you can give as gifts to family, friends or homeless shelters. As a bonus, you'll also soothe your mind.
Cooking is therapeutic, experts conclude, and baking is especially so.
John Whaite, a winner of the Great British Bake-Off, has called baking "pill-less Prozak." It stands to reason, when you think about it. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cocoa and peppermint add up to a healthy dose of aromatherapy. Plus, following a recipe can be an escapist activity.
Janice Schlau, who owned Prosit in Williamsville and plans to open the restaurant again in the spring, is blissful in the meantime with her baking business.
"The ingredients themselves lend themselves to soothing. They're soft ingredients. They're sweet ingredients. There's nothing harsh about it," she reflected. "I've always found it peaceful because it's so quiet. It's just you and your ingredients. There's no one else out there, and you can just get into that zone.
"It brings you into the moment. I was in Gestalt therapy, which brings you into the moment. You draw from the past, but you stay in that moment. I call it the zone. You're in that zone. And that's what's so healthy to me. You're not stressing over what could have been, what might have been, what's going to be. You're in that moment. And that's healthy."
Get to work. Be hands-on. Give the Mixmaster the day off, and stir everything up with a wooden spoon.
Be ambitious. Artistic endeavors lift spirits. Lose yourself in creating a lattice pie crust, forming a Yule log, or frosting and sugaring Spritz cookies. Tackle a demanding Germanic classic like Lebkuchen, a Linzertorte or a gingerbread house.
For maximum therapy, try baking a yeast bread. Kneading the dough by hand feels great, and can help you work off your frustrations.
Enjoy silence while you bake. Or use this magical time to listen to Handel's "Messiah" or Bach's "Christmas Oratorio." Classical music, studies have proven, can calm and order your mind. Plan who will inherit your cakes, bread, or cookies. Imagine their delight.
Share in it.
The relaxed sighs of customers who walk in to TeaLeafs grow more pronounced during the holidays, owner Sydney Hoffman says. Stress levels slide as visitors feast their eyes on jars stuffed with more than 225 varieties of loose-leaf teas and start to sniff their way through samples inside the shop at 5416 Main St., in Williamsville.
“People come in with a smile on their faces,” said Hoffman, who moved her 7-year-old business into the village about four years ago. “If I’m real busy, customers will talk to each other about the teas and sell my tea for me. It’s a very stress-free atmosphere.
“I think tea drinkers know the feeling that we get from tea. You get that high and you get that low with coffee. With tea, you don’t get the jolt. It’s very even-keel.”
“They’re coming out with new studies all the time,” Hoffman said. “Why did the Buddhist monks live to be 100 years old? They were up in the mountains somewhere with clean air and tea – and no stress. Plus, you’re drinking fluids.”
More than a dozen varieties of honeys (including bourbon-infused), as well as scones, flower crystals and Beeswax balms also line the shelves at TeaLeafs, as do mugs, coasters and fair trade tea warmers and pouches. A special mug steeps tea. “When it’s through steeping, you turn it and drink,” Hoffman said. “You get to see the beauty of the leaves, get to smell the aroma and see the color of the (tea) liquor. This is a relaxing tool.”
Hot tea runs $2.75 to $3.50 in a mug or filtering to-go cup; 1 ounce of tea leaves – enough to make 10 to a dozen cups - costs $4.25 to $16, depending on the variety and where in the world it came from.
Musical standards in the shop include the soothing sounds of Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Michael Buble.
The most popular teas this time of year include Green Hot Cinnamon; herbal roasted almond (“I tell people when they’re through steeping it to eat it, not throw it out,” Hoffman said) and Christmas black tea with cinnamon, clove, jasmine buds, and candy snowflakes and Christmas trees.
“I drink tea all day long,” Hoffman said, “and when my head hits the pillow at night, I’m gone.”
A good cup of tea can bring peace, stillness, and whisk one off to a pleasant memory. “It takes no longer to make than a cup of coffee but there’s something about the process that is different, more relaxing,” Hoffman said. “You’re opening up a tin, sniffing the aroma, watching the leaves unfurl, the tea brew. People love to see it change in color. I think coffee smells so wonderful but so does tea.”
Rich Nassar, 60, of Grand Island, retired three years ago as a pharmaceutical plant manager eager to spend more time with his wife, Diane, their daughters, Kristen Mantione and Kelly Candino, and granddaughter Lia Mantione, who turned 5 on Tuesday.
“I also wanted to do something for my community, so I called the Buffalo City Mission and they said they could use somebody,” Nassar said. He helps cook and serve meals to mission residents and visitors in need twice a week, as well as on holidays.
“I come down and help out for a few hours even though Thanksgiving and Christmas are family days,” he said. “I consider these guys part of my family.”
Words etched at the back of the kitchen cafeteria read, “The lives we touch become part of our tapestry, one thread at a time.”
Men, women and children end up at the city mission for a variety of reasons that include homelessness, mental and physical illness, domestic abuse and addiction. Many are older, spokeswoman Laurie Patsalides said. All are poor.
“By the time they get here, they’re in despair. Their circumstances are dire,” Patsalides said. “Oftentimes, our volunteers will tell us that they are changed from the experience. There’s a feeling of satisfaction, accomplishment.”
More volunteers always are needed to help run mission clothing stores for those in need, in receiving, at the day-care center, in the Depew thrift store and in kitchens at two shelters – one for men, one for women and children – along the edge of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Those wishing to help are encouraged to call Volunteer Coordinator Sue Cervi at 854-8181, Ext. 408.
Research from Carnegie Mellon University and elsewhere suggests that those who volunteer for altruistic reasons tamp down stress, lower blood pressure and tend to live longer than those who pass up such opportunities.
Nassar also volunteers with the Grand Island Meals on Wheels program twice each month.
“Volunteering is a source of relief,” he said. “You’re coming in, you’re constantly busy. With my background, I’m always trying to look at different ways to do things. It’s fun. You’re meeting different people. You’re learning new things. I believe that doing hands-on things, being busy, relieves stress...
“You maybe can’t save the world, but you do your little part.”
MORE STRESS-FREE HOLIDAY IDEAS
“Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind," former president Calvin Coolidge once said. "To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
[RELATED STORY: Leave the holidays behind for awhile with flotation therapy]
“That spirit of goodwill and peace will be more forthcoming from me if I’ve taken time to nurture it myself,” added E. Christine Moll, chair of the Canisius College Department of Counseling and Human Services.
Here are some suggestions Moll and others offer when it comes to that mindset:
Exercise: Take a walk and star gaze on a clear night; schedule extra time at the gym or set aside a few minutes at home.
Strengthen friendships: Make plans to meet someone at a tea or coffee shop, to go window shopping, or out for lunch or dinner.
Take time to breathe: Meditate, listen to soothing music, read or take a nap: “We have to refuel so we are in a giving spirit,” Moll said.
Stop in a church: St. Joseph’s Cathedral downtown is open during the workday and anyone is welcome to stop in and enjoy the calming ambiance.
Take in a concert: Classical music is calming, studies have shown. Seek out a calming concert in a beautiful venue to put things into perspective.
Hold off on a grudge: If a family issue has lingered, put it aside this month. Talk in advance to close loved ones about any concerns you might have about upcoming gatherings – and make an early exit plan if you think it will help.
Seek support: The holiday season can be difficult for those who have experienced a loss, illness or hardship. Several churches have "Blue Christmas" services to offer comfort, including The Church of the Nativity, 1530 Colvin Blvd., one block north of Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda. Its service starts at 7 p.m. Dec. 12.
Know your limits: Keep some – but not all – traditions. “You don’t need to go to every holiday party or event,” Moll said. “Every tradition doesn’t have to be fulfilled the way it’s been fulfilled the last 50 years.”
Schedule a massage: This is a holiday tradition Moll plans to keep.
Try aromatherapy: Peppermint, lavender and rose are among fragrances that can relax and soothe the spirit. Research suggests they can benefit mental and physical health.
Stretch the season: The Christmas season lasts at least until Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, Three Kings Day, or, as the Irish whimsically call it, “Little Christmas.” Moll and her friends get together for a party on Jan. 6, after the holiday rush, when more of them are available. You can even follow ancient tradition and stretch the season until Candlemas, Feb. 2. That means a lot of extra time to mail Christmas cards, send gifts, entertain – and relax.
“If these things don’t work, and one is persistently anxious or sad, or stressed, then seeking some professional help from your primary doctor or a local counselor or psychologist is not a bad thing, either," Moll said. Those seeking helpful resources may call 2-1-1.
Resources at the Buffalo & Erie County Public Libraries to help you ease stress
“Eat the Elephant: Overcoming overwhelm,” Karolyn Vreeland Blume
“Master of Mindfulness: How to be your own superhero in times of stress,” Laurie Grossman
“Overload: How to unplug, unwind, and unleash yourself from the pressure of stress,” Joyce Meyer
“Say Goodbye to Survival Mode: 9 simple strategies to stress less, sleep more, and restore your passion for life,” Crystal Paine
“Sustainable Happiness: Live simply, live well, make a difference,” Sarah Van Gelder
“The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you, and how to get good at it,” Kelly McGonigal
Recommended website: psychcentral.com/holidays
For more information, visit buffalolib.org.