If when people sing 'Oh ho, the mistletoe…' you hear 'uh oh, the stress and woe…', then you need an injection of calm this holiday season. Stress and anxiety can ruin yuletide festivities, but rest assured, there are ways to embrace the insanity – in fact, every global culture has methods of keeping cool in tense times.
Lonely Planet's new book, Calm: Secrets to Serenity from the Cultures of the World, profiles the diversity of the world's approaches to calm, and it's quite a nifty little practical ideas manual to boot. Thus in the spirit of giving, here are some lessons from around the world on how to reduce stress.
1. Declutter, get organized and focus
Your environment affects your state of mind, so before tackling your holiday projects, make your house an oasis of calm. Follow China’s 4000-year-old tradition of feng shui and start with a clutter-free foundation of order. Often known as the art of placement, feng shui uses techniques including clearing excess material objects to optimize the flow of chi, or universal energy, thereby enhancing wellbeing.
As France’s renowned chefs can attest, preparation is the key to success. The French term mise en place refers to the practice of ensuring ingredients and equipment are prepared and assembled, so everything is ready to go when you are. At home, a little mise en place – thinking about the process, planning ahead and getting organized – can lead to a far more relaxing experience.
In Bhutan, archery contest participants practice focus, targeting one aim, and eliminating distractions – big life lessons in this staunchly Buddhist Himalayan nation. So when tackling that overwhelmingly long to-do list, pick one task at a time, block out distractions, and focus on hitting your target – even if it’s just wrapping one more gift.
Bhutan's archers exemplify focus and calm. Image by Peter Adams / Getty Images.
For the indigenous Tarahumara people of Mexico’s Sierra Madre region, distance running is not a grueling training regimen, but a way of life and a fun way to accomplish tasks, such as delivering messages and transport between villages. And they arrive with a smile. There’s no need to run an ultramarathon when you get stressed out, but make it – or other forms of exercise, which release endorphins and reduce stress – a way of life and a pleasure, not a chore.
And while running or exercising, channel the core concepts of kaihogyo, Japan’s approach to peace on earth through intense physical exertion. The secret: focus on the repetitive cycle of your breath to eliminate distractions – and achieve enlightenment (bonus!).
Or sweat out your stress on the dance floor with other holiday-crazed denizens. In Lebanon, the dabke folk dance is a group activity where everyone links arms, joins the dance line, and merrily stomps across the floor. Everywhere in the world, dancing is a fail-safe way to lift your mood and restore tranquility.
Tarahumara woman running in Mexico's Copper Canyon. Image by Ryan Heffernan / Getty Images.
3. Get a massage
The magic of touch as a soothing force is no secret. In Greece they simply relish the feel of kombolói, or worry beads, in their hands to reconnect with the here and now. In the Kalahari region of Botswana, Namibia and Angola, the !Kung San tribe practice baby-wearing – near-constant carrying of babies by their mothers – because they believe in the deep calming qualities of human contact. And in Hawaii, rhythmic lomi lomi massage is a revered, centuries-old art that seeks to unite the soul with the infinite, and release the knots of both muscles and mind.
Massage melts away holiday stress. Image by OJO Images / Getty Images.
4. Get a drink
We're not suggesting going on a bender. Conversely, emulate the Polynesian kava ceremony. This hours-long process of sharing a bowl of beverage reveres friends and family, elders and hosts, and the sacredness of our connections to each other. Emulate this feeling of unity and community at the pub – simply toast your friendship before downing your pint.
Or wait, is it afternoon, top of the hour? It’s tea time! In Britain, tea has been synonymous with relaxation for almost 200 years. So whether you honor tradition and carefully prepare this cultural iconic symbol or sip a quick cuppa while waiting for the soufflé to rise, enjoy the warm, soothing, 30-minute respite – just enough time for the caffeine to kick in so you can get back to it.
Fijian men prepare a traditional kava ceremony. Image by Michele Westmorland / Getty Images.
Emily K Wolman is Lonely Planet's editor-at-large. When not regretting that she over-packed, Emily lives in Oakland, California.
Lonely Planet’s Calm: Secrets to Serenity from the Cultures of the World explores how different global communities contend with the stresses of daily life – serene practices, festivals and traditions – and features 50 of these calming cultural secrets as well as ways to implement them.