The most wonderful time of year has arrived, and with it comes the not-so-wonderful added stress in nearly every aspect of our lives, from social events, to end of year work obligations.
I am sharing five top tips for reducing holiday stress, naturally, and help put you on a path to wellness for the New Year.
How To Cope With Stress During The Holidays
1. Give yourself the gift of self-love
In the midst of making your list and checking it twice, it’s easy to forget the essential act of caring for yourself first. Too much stress creates excess cortisol (a primary stress hormone) and it’s essential to tackle these conditions by taking out time for you.
Related: 10 Ways You Can Reduce Stress
You may be experiencing some common stress symptoms, including worry and anxiety, feeling overwhelmed, being emotional, digestive distress, and headaches. It is possible to get your body back in synch with simple remedies to take care of yourself. Here are a few self-love approaches:
- Taking time to plan and prioritize your day
- Enjoying a cup of green tea
- Scheduling a massage
- Taking a hot shower or bubble bath
- Curling up under a cozy winter blanket with a good book
- Listening to music
- Setting a reminder to eat every 3-4 hours and including protein with every meal
- Getting enough sleep
Research has shown that all of these seemingly simple tasks can actually boost our health tremendously.
Both reading and drinking tea can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood. Reading works its magic quickly: just six minutes of reading has been associated with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation.
Massages have the ability to rebalance the stress response by decreasing cortisol, while also increasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps create serenity, optimism, and self-confidence, while dopamine is associated with motivation, excitement, and pleasure.
2. Put down the phone and start spending time with loved ones
Between work obligations, social commitments, and travel plans, withdrawing from our normal routine of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is often the furthest thing from our minds.
However, taking occasional breaks from technology is an essential way to restore healthy cortisol levels and improve immune function.
Since the holidays have the added bonus of vacation time and different work schedules, taking a break allows us to take our eyes off the screen and spend time with others face-to-face, which research has shown to reduce stress and even add years to your life.
Connecting with others physically or emotionally has been shown to increase oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone related to bonding. Likewise, research shows that talking with a loved one can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.
Related: 10 Ways To Shake Off A Bad Mood
3. Add super foods to your holiday recipes
Several of the main culprits of holiday stress are tied back to food and behavioral eating. Whether it’s to avoid the emotional stress that comes with holiday weight gain, or the dreaded physical response from overindulgence in seasonal treats, a plan for staying healthy can be a vital tool when attacking stress this year.
It’s not mandatory to give up all of your holiday favorites, but in order to help your brain cells recover from stress in the most efficient way, include these super foods every day:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
- Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries and cranberries
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard and more
- Turmeric, otherwise known as curcumin
- Dark chocolate
Like most people, I’m pressed for time, and I have a list of go-to healthy places whenever I has a craving:
- Starbucks, which is often nearby, and has green tea as well as packages of nuts with dried fruit.
- Organic Avenue has many quick solutions from the super food list, including kale salad.
- Whole Foods is not just for grocery shopping – you can stop in to grab a super food from the deli.
Now, here’s some news that you chocolate lovers will really like: an article in LiveScience reported on a study linking the consumption of one ounce of chocolate each day for two weeks with decreased levels of cortisol.
Remember, though, that chocolate can still contain sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you’re eating the chocolate in moderation, and choose dark chocolate!
4. Get active & enjoy winter’s natural beauty
Though the weather outside is frightful, studies have consistently shown that people who make an effort to spend more time outdoors have lower amounts of stress compared to those who don’t.
Taking time to exercise, from something as simple as taking a leisurely stroll to activities that are more intense like hitting the slopes, is essential to lowering holiday stress.
Between scrambling to get shopping done and meeting end of year deadlines at work, it can be difficult to squeeze in your normal workout routine. Instead of letting non-activity add on to the stress, get creative and take advantage of nature during this beautiful time of year:
- Enjoy the snow by building a snowman with the kids (or by yourself!), having a snowball fight, or make snow angels.
- Pick a favorite winter pastime in your local area, such as sledding, ice skating, or collecting pine cones.
- Take a leisurely stroll through holiday fair shops, listen to carolers, and admire seasonal window displays.
- If you’re feeling more adventurous, think about planning an active vacation and go snow tubing or skiing.
Moving more has been known to lower stress and bring all of the body’s core systems back into balance. Simply spending time in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol, boost endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.
5. Be in the moment
For many, the holidays can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Anxiety and depression are certainly more prevalent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but there are a number of ways to help alleviate those feelings and re-balance your body’s stress response.
- Be grateful: One of the most valuable (yet underrated!) stress-busting activities is practicing gratitude. While it may seem too simple to believe that merely feeling thankful can make you healthier, research has proven it to be the case.
- Understand that emotions are normal: Another extraordinarily effective way to rebalance your stress response is to fully experience emotion, which is known to stimulate both the hormones and the neurotransmitters that lower stress. Being more emotional during the holidays is completely normal, and research shows that “talking it out” and fully acknowledging them is critical to our health.
- Laugh! Studies show that laughter can lower your cortisol levels while raising your endorphins and oxytocin, relaxing your muscles, and improving your mood. For example, a study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences linked “mirthful laughter” with decreased cortisol levels.
- Writing in a journal is also a terrific way to balance your stress response. A study published in Psychotherapy Research found that people in therapy who wrote about their emotions had less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression than a control group of patients that did no writing. The journal-writers also made better progress in therapy.
Related: 4 Health Benefits Of Aromatherapy
While your to-do is long getting ready for Christmas, including even short breaks and care for yourself, will help you manage the holiday stress and stay well. Wishing you a healthy and stress-free holiday!
Dr. Donielle (Doni) Wilson, a nationally celebrated naturopathic doctor, teaches women, men, and children how to make life-changing differences to improve their health using natural approaches. In her new book, “The Stress Remedy,” she discusses how and why we experience stress and its impact on health and wellbeing, in addition to providing expert guidance on how to reduce stress and reclaim optimal health.
Photo by dominique.rispoli