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Prescription 2019: Holistic Holiday Survival Guide

December 24, 2019 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Although the title of today’s blog includes the word “survival”, I prefer to think of it as a short-list of resources that can help you thrive this holiday season and beyond. It may be a seemingly minor distinction, however I think it speaks to the underlying narrative that many people clutch on to around this time of year. “I can’t stand all the consumerism. That’s not the ‘reason for the season’!”. “I’m so tired of having to go to parties I don’t want to go to. Shopping, wrapping and sending cards…!”. The list of complaints and grievances go on and on. I believe much of the irritation and negativity is strongly influenced by actual and perceived stress and a general sense of overwhelm. It’s understandable. But, more importantly, it’s modifiable.

To start things off, I’m going to share two simple techniques that can ease psychological and physiological tension without breaking the bank. In fact, they’re both free.

My number one go-to stress reliever is a very basic form of breathing that takes less than a minute to practice. I first learned about this gem from Dr. Andrew Weil. It’s an exercise called 4-7-8 breathing. It works like this: You sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed. Start by taking a deep breath through your nose and exhaling fully through your mouth. Next, touch the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. While gently holding your tongue in this position, breath in through your nose for a count of 4. Then, hold your breath for a count of 7. Finally, exhale through pursed lips (as if you’re whistling) for a count of 8. Repeat this process for 4 repetitions. This is considered one set. Dr. Weil recommends practicing this technique at least twice-daily, but you can do it more often if desired or needed.

Bonus Tips: If you require a little help easing into the 4-7-8 breathing, you can add several drops of lavender oil onto a tissue. Inhale the aroma using deep breaths until you feel calm and ready to begin the breathing exercise. Also, slowly ease back into reality after you complete the 4-7-8 approach. Allow your eyes to open slowly and sit peacefully for a few moments before you get up and resume your daily activities. 

The second freebie I want you to keep in your mental health tool box is known as the Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT. The process involves tapping certain meridians (aka acupressure/acupuncture points) while focusing on and stating affirmations and issues you want to improve or overcome. This may seem rather “woo-woo” to some, but a growing body of scientific studies report that EFT and related mind-body exercises can help reduce anger, anxiety, depression and even food cravings. Below, I’ll link to a brief video tutorial that identifies the location of the relevant affirmations, meridians and how you can successfully apply the tapping procedure.

Another mind-body approach that is helpful to keep in mind is art therapy (AT). To be clear, you don’t need to be artistically gifted or inclined to benefit from AT. All you need to do is find a local or online class and style of art that is pleasing to you – drawing, painting, poetry, sculpting, wood work and so on. Recent studies in highly-respected journals such as PLoS One reveal that AT benefits the body and mind by improving heart rate variability and various metrics of psychological health including emotional control, purpose of life and self-acceptance.

The final option I’d like you to consider is lavender oil. I know what you’re probably thinking. Didn’t you already mention lavender oil?! Yes, I did recommend lavender oil … aromatherapy. But, what many people don’t know is that there is a specially-formulated, oral lavender oil that is sold in the US as a dietary supplement called Silexan. A meta-analysis from earlier this month reports that Silexan is comparable or more effective than some anxiolytic medications (lorazepam and paroxetine), but with a lower risk of adverse reactions. The standard dosage is between 80mg – 160mg or 1-2 tiny soft gels. The higher dosage appears to be more effective in relieving anxiety as assessed by changes in the study volunteers’ Hamilton Anxiety Scale.

In closing, I wish you and yours a very happy, healthy holiday season and all the best in 2020. I hope some of the resources I’ve presented today will give you a leg-up on the many blessings and inevitable challenges that life will certainly bring during the holidays and beyond.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Video – Dr. Andrew Weil 4-7-8 Breathing Guide (link)

Study 1 – Effects of Deep Breathing in Patients with Bipolar Disorder … (link)

Study 2 – Online Delivery of Emotional Freedom Techniques for Food Cravings … (link)

Study 3 – Effect of the Emotional Freedom Techniques on Anger Symptoms … (link)

Video – EFT aka Tapping Video Tutorial … (link)

Image – Visual Guide to Meridian Tapping Point … (link)

Study 4 – Anxiety Reduction Through Art Therapy in Women. Exploring Stress … (link)

Study 5 – Mental Health Recovery Through “Art Therapy” … (link)

Study 6 – Efficacy and Safety of Lavender Essential Oil (Silexan) capsules … (link)

The Effects of Silexan vs Conventional Medications

Source: Sci Rep. 2019 Dec 2;9(1):18042. (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, General Health, Mental Health

3 Comments & Updates to “Prescription 2019: Holistic Holiday Survival Guide”

  1. JP Says:

    Updated 12/24/19:


    Brain Sci. 2019 Aug 19;9(8).

    How Therapeutic Tapping Can Alter Neural Correlates of Emotional Prosody Processing in Anxiety.

    Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological disorders worldwide resulting in a great demand of adequate and cost-effective treatment. New short-term interventions can be used as an effective adjunct or alternative to pharmaco- and psychotherapy. One of these approaches is therapeutic tapping. It combines somatic stimulation of acupressure points with elements from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Tapping reduces anxiety symptoms after only one session. Anxiety is associated with a deficient emotion regulation for threatening stimuli. These deficits are compensated e.g., by CBT. Whether Tapping can also elicit similar modulations and which dynamic neural correlates are affected was subject to this study. Anxiety patients were assessed listening to pseudowords with a different emotional prosody (happy, angry, fearful, and neutral) prior and after one Tapping session. The emotion-related component Late Positive Potential (LPP) was investigated via electroencephalography. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) served as control intervention. Results showed LPP reductions for negative stimuli after the interventions. Interestingly, PMR influenced fearful and Tapping altered angry prosody. While PMR generally reduced arousal for fearful prosody, Tapping specifically affected fear-eliciting, angry stimuli, and might thus be able to reduce anxiety symptoms. Findings highlight the efficacy of Tapping and its impact on neural correlates of emotion regulation.

    Be well!


  2. JP Says:

    Updated 12/24/19:


    Asian Nurs Res (Korean Soc Nurs Sci). 2019 Nov 16.

    How Strong is the Evidence for the Anxiolytic Efficacy of Lavender?: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.

    PURPOSE: Although lavender is purported to possess anxiolytic and sedative properties and is often recommended for relieving anxiety, the efficacy of lavender has not been well established. Thus, this review aimed to evaluate the anxiolytic effects of lavender aromatherapy.

    METHODS: Ten data bases were searched for studies published between 2000 and 2018. Randomized controlled trials investigating the anxiolytic effects of lavender aromatherapy with any type of application for persons with or without clinical anxiety were included. The outcome variables included self-rated anxiety, vital signs, and salivary cortisol and chromogranin A (CgA) levels. In the meta-analysis, standardized mean difference and 95% confidence interval were calculated as effect measures by applying the random effect model and inverse variance method.

    RESULTS: Twenty-two trials met our inclusion criteria. Lavender aromatherapy was found to have favorable effects in relieving anxiety (Hedges’ ĝ=-0.65; 95% CI, -0.84 to -0.46) and decreasing systolic blood pressure (ĝ=-0.22; 95% CI, -0.43 to -0.02), heart rate (ĝ=-0.53; 95% CI, -0.74 to -0.32), and salivary cortisol (ĝ=-1.29; 95% CI, -2.23 to -0.35) and CgA (ĝ=-2.29; 95% CI, -3.24 to -1.34) levels. However, the meta-analysis did not reveal any significant effects of lavender on diastolic blood pressure (effect size: -0.17; 95% CI, -0.37-0.04).

    CONCLUSIONS: Aromatherapy using lavender oil might have favorable effects on anxiety and its physiological manifestations. Future studies are recommended with an emphasis on methodological quality. In nursing practice, it is suggested that lavender aromatherapy be included in programs intended to manage anxiety in patients across diverse healthcare settings.

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Updated 12/24/19:


    Psychiatry Res. 2019 May;275:129-136.

    Creative art therapy for mental illness.

    Creative art therapy (CAT) for severe mental illness (SMI) represents an extremely heterogenous body of literature that encompasses the use of a large variety of creative mediums (i.e. visual art, music, dance, drama, writing) in the treatment of mental disorders. The present review provides a narrative summary of the findings on the use of CAT for the selected SMI, being: schizophrenia, trauma-related disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. A database search of PubMed and the Cochrane Library was conducted related to the use of CAT in the treatment of mental disorders published between January 2008 and March 2019. A total of 9697 citations were identified to match the search criteria and 86 full-texts were reviewed. Although literature suggests CAT to be a potentially low-risk and high benefit intervention to minimize symptoms and maximize functioning in individuals living with SMI, the lack of methodological rigor, and inconsistency in study methods and outcome measures have prevented the advancement of CAT for use in SMI. Although creation of a single CAT regimen for all psychiatric disorders stands neither practical nor advisable, greater standardization of methods would improve evaluation of CAT interventions. Future research should elucidate biological mechanisms underlying CAT methods.

    Be well!


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