Do the holidays bring out stress for anyone else?
Countless songs call it “the most wonderful time of the year” but even on the best days, I still have a little anxiety. There are gifts to buy, meals to plan, and the pressure to deep clean the house until it looks like no one lives there. Plus sometimes there is travel or multiple holiday gatherings…and my house isn’t going to decorate itself! Of course, this is all in addition to our every day concerns of work, health, school, and family. Juggling life can put enough on your plate. How can we take the helm of our already busy ship and sail smoothly under these added stressors?
Start With Quality Sleep
Sleep is an essential human function. In fact, sleep is so necessary that even slight deprivations can affect memory, judgement, and mood. Sleep allows our bodies to rest and our brains to recharge. So if we don’t have enough sleep, or if we have poor quality sleep it can cause the body to release the stress hormone, cortisol. Yes, that’s right. As if the holiday stress wasn’t enough, the body can literally produce its own stress. Cortisol is responsible for your flight or fight reaction to danger, but too much can lead to weight gain and cardiovascular issues. Inadequate sleep can also activate a region of the brain that controls emotional processing and worry.
Adequate sleep, however, has been proven to reduce feelings of anxiety by improving your ability to process stress and react in an appropriate way. Therefore a good night’s sleep can boost your mood, outlook, and temperament thus increasing your ability to process holiday stress.
Properly Fuel Your Body
Has anxiety ever given you a “gut-wrenching” feeling or at the very least caused a few butterflies in the stomach? There is a reason for those terms. The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and the gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to our emotions. And that path travels both ways: intestinal distress can be the CAUSE of anxiety and stress! So if you are tempted to eat your feelings in a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s, take a quick pause. In addition to not solving the problem, it may actually make things worse! Instead, reach for nutritious, anti-inflammatory, comfort foods.
Another way to fuel your body is to increase vitamin D levels with nutrition or a quality supplement. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with symptoms of depression, anxiety, stress and other mood disorders. While there is not a consensus on the exact dosage of Vitamin D, The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition recommends 800-2000IU as an appropriate daily supplementation.
Virtually any form of exercise can act as a stress reliever and even a little can go a long way. Physical activity has been shown to improve mood and lower symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also improve sleep and digestion. While the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, even one 10 minute walk can release endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitter. The important thing is to find something you enjoy that you can easily incorporate into your routine. Still not sure where to start? Join us for one of our new small-group fitness classes!
Another great form of stress-relieving exercise is yoga. Yoga incorporates deep breathing which boosts oxygen to the brain. This activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) which then slows our heart rate and lowers blood pressure. The more time we spend in an activated PSNS state, the better we can handle the holiday stress that comes our way.
Seek Professional Help
It’s ok to not be ok. The holidays are a time to connect with friends and family while celebrating old and new traditions. However, this time of year looks different for everyone. For many, it may include sadness of lost loved ones or stress over financial hardship. It’s important to check in with yourself and acknowledge when feelings of anxiety creep in. There are many options to manage stress, but if you don’t know where to begin, consult an expert! A mental health therapist can help not only develop a strategy for coping in times of stress, but also ask the right questions to get to the root cause.
There are many ways to manage holiday stress and this is not an all-inclusive list by any means. Whatever this season looks like for you, remember to check in with yourself!
Wishing you peace and joy this and every holiday season!
Stress and Sleep
Vitamin D deficiency and stress
Vitamin D deficiency
Harvard: The gut brain connection
Mayo Clinic: Exercise and Stress