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A Cornucopia of Strategies to Beat Holiday Stress

November 23, 1998|BARBARA THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As the holiday season thunders on, the stress level rises. Necks tighten, shoulders hunch as phone calls fly back and forth about who's cooking which meal.

Had enough?

We've found very different ways to relieve the holiday jitters. And we promise not one of them will demand you knock off the caffeine and get plenty of exercise.

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Carolyn Cohen

acupuncturist, Oriental medicine instructor

It's no wonder people find the winter holidays stressful, says Cohen.

"Winter is the yin time of year," she says, when "animals hibernate, the days are shorter, we have less sunlight. We need to adapt our natures to be more yin."

Based on the Chinese philosophy of yin and yang, the complementary sides of nature, yin is the softer, more reflective time. Yang is summer, when we really should be celebrating major holidays, Cohen says.

During yin, Cohen says, "we're running through malls, buying tons of presents and working overtime to be able to afford them. . . . Then, on New Year's, we make resolutions to exercise harder and make money.

"We should be home baking bread, sitting by the fire, ordering our gifts through catalogs," she says.

Cohen teaches a class at Yo San University in Santa Monica on Shen disharmonies.

"Shen is simply the spirit of the person," she says. The Chinese believe that many physical ailments start with Shen disharmonies. "We believe in genetics and accidents and germs. But you can do a lot of self-healing."

Make it your goal to preserve your energy during the holiday season, Cohen says. "Be kind to yourself. Get a massage and eat really warm, nourishing kinds of foods.

"Certainly, it's a time to be attending to the spiritual or meditative side of the holidays."

She suggests giving small meaningful presents and phoning faraway family and friends. "Who wouldn't rather stay home by their fireplace and be more quiet during that time of year?"

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Elizabeth Miles

ethnomusicologist and author

You're walking through the mall, being bombarded by sales and glitter. And then there's that canned holiday music that may be stressing you out more than you think.

Which brings us to Miles, the L.A.-based writer of "Tune Your Brain: Using Music to Manage Your Mind, Body and Mood" (Berkley Books, 1997). Miles, who has a regular on-air spot on classical music station KKGO-FM, says people have been using music for more than entertainment since the beginning of humming.

Music is helpful in so many ways, from making smarter babies to helping adults focus, recent scientific findings have shown.

"The first thing music does is really get you at your emotional core," she says. Because the holidays can be so intense, holiday music can uncover all sorts of ancient memories--good and bad.

When listening to Christmas music, Miles says, make sure it's music "you really love." "It's taking you back in a mood and memory way on a very deep neurological and physiological level."

For Miles, Handel's "Messiah" always reminds her of a magical high school romance. For some people, "an album of Christmas music, if you're far from home, can make you very unhappy," she says.

During the holidays, Miles says, "you are, in fact, assaulted by music, especially canned music. Save your sanity. If you don't like the music you're being subjected to, wear earplugs. . . ."

Miles takes music that can help people and breaks it into several categories, including music to relax, energize, uplift or cleanse.

* To relax, she suggests soft, slow, soothing music such as Christmas jazz, Gregorian chants, the second movement of most classical pieces, and works by singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell.

* To energize, try loud, rhythmic music with a big beat. Her personal favorites are James Brown, the Ramones and the final movement in Mozart's Piano Concerto.

* To uplift or to battle holiday depression, try Frank Sinatra, modern swing, hip-hop, gospel or Broadway musicals. Miles listens to Count Basie and Louis Jordan.

* To cleanse oneself of anger, try the blues, especially Mississippi Delta blues, or Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Miles says.

Fans of punk rock and heavy metal have always known that music can be an outlet. Bali has an ancient tradition in which a male choir yells, rather than sings, and the Spanish have flamenco, which purges the soul of pain, Miles says.

"Another thing not to neglect during the holiday time is the incredible power of silence," she says. "Sometimes we forget that we need five minutes of quiet to clear the mind."

*

Steven Angel

drum therapist

Angel knows a thing or two about stress. The drummer, now in his early 40s, has spent a good deal of his adulthood recovering from his years as a child prodigy playing at age 6 for Buddy Rich and at 15 for Jimi Hendrix.

"All the things you heard about child prodigies are true," he says. His drums became a way of healing himself.

"As an adult, I decided to use drums as a way to heal other people."

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