Just when you think you have all the stress you can endure through work, family, maintaining a home, community and social engagements, here come the holidays! While this can be a joyous time it also can add extra stress. Are you ready with an anti-stress plan for all the extra stress the holidays bring? The additional travel, shopping, overeating, tension of guests and weather changes that come with the holiday season can bring on lots of harmful stress. Stress can negatively affect the digestive system, immune system, cardiovascular system, adrenal function, cause headaches, weight gain, depression, reduced libido, diarrhea, affect memory and just plain wear us out to the point that energy levels are low. According to Michael Smith, ND, of the Carolinas Natural Health Center in North Carolina, most of us don’t even know how stressed out we are. The American Psychological Association reported in the 2009 Stress in America study that 24% of adults have a high level of tension which was a 42% increase over the year before. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 18.1% of adults deal with some type of anxiety disorder. That’s a lot of people dealing with stress and anxiety and often holiday time just piles on more.
How Stress Works
When we are physically, mentally or emotionally stressed, the brain signals the adrenal glands to release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. This isn’t entirely bad if you just need that kick in the pants to meet a deadline and then everything returns to normal. But when chronically stressed, the body stays in this mode and that’s when health problems can start. In addition, cortisol can harm the friendly bacteria in our intestines that are part of the immune system’s arsenal for fighting off bacteria and viruses that can make us sick and that help with digestion.
The best way of dealing with stress in the holidays is to get an anti-stress plan together before the holidays hit. Here are some of the ways we found experts recommend of how to deal with stress.
Laugh and Smile
Smiling and laughing are both good ways of dealing with stress. Even if you don’t feel like you have anything to smile about, using your smile muscles helps decrease stress responses your body makes and can help with lowering your heart rate. When you laugh you send more oxygen to organs and increase your blood flow which reduces stress and lowers stress hormones. Make sure this holiday season you take the time to watch a comedy, read a funny book or just get together with friends or family that make you laugh and smile. Even if it means you don’t quite get all your holiday hustle and bustle errands done, you’ll be giving yourself the gift of health.
Take a Breather
When really feeling stressed take a whiff of lavender or rosemary. Studies have shown that these aromas can lower cortisol production and cause us to relax. If you are on painkillers or anti-anxiety medicines, check with your doctor before using lavender as it can have an effect on them. If you live in an area where you still have grass through the winter, go out and smell some fresh cut grass and that will help stop stress hormones from releasing. Just deep breathing itself is relaxing for that matter as it increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream. Some experts recommend doing sessions of conscious deep breathing, making sure you breathe in a way that expands the abdomen and breathing out slowly. Doing this for ten minutes can really help your body relax, be more energized, lower blood pressure and boost your immune system. If you don’t have ten minutes, then just do it as often throughout the day as you can.
Relaxation Can Be Music to the Ears
Studies have also shown that music can aid relaxation and help in dealing with stress. One study reported an increased reduction of cortisol for participants listening to Latin choral music over those listening to a rippling water recording. It turns out that there is a difference in how music affects the mood according to what type of music is used. For example, another study showed improvement in mood for participants listening to Mozart, but did not get similar results from other instrumental music pieces and worse results when listening to music from the “Schindler’s List” soundtrack. If the music you are listening to makes you happy and adds to your smiling, then there is probably benefit to it. With the holidays, this could be carols and other spiritual tradition music pieces. If you aren’t sure what to listen to, then try singing yourself. Whether you are a great singer or not, singing has been reported to boost mood and help in managing stress. It’s also a good way to incorporate deep breathing into your day and can boost the immune system.
Sweat Off That Tension
Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, decreases adrenaline levels, increases oxygen to the lungs, boosts metabolism and digestive function, helps make new brain neurons and increases dopamine and serotonin production which are hormones that regulate mood and give us a lift. Whether you do an intense workout or just go for a long walk, exercise is a great anti-stress tool. If you can do your exercise outdoors then you get an extra benefit in boosting mood. If you are really stressed, a 30 minute workout can do wonders, but if you don’t have that kind of time, do what you can and look for ways to incorporate exercise into your day. You might park farther away from the door at work or a store so you have to walk further or walk in place while folding laundry or cleaning or include family dance time in your holiday activities.
You probably know that eating fast food, junk food, sugary foods and simple carb filled foods are not good for you. In times of stress your body is subjected to oxidative damage from the stress and then these types of foods add even more. The problem is that the holiday season is often filled with just these types of foods. Don’t beat yourself up about indulging in some of these foods over the holidays as there is research that shows eating some high-calorie comfort type foods can help reduce stress responses as they act as a kind of natural reward. Just be sure you don’t overdo eating these types of foods and then make sure you get lots of fresh fruits and veggies for antioxidant protection from free radicals to fight off the oxidative damage they cause, foods with omega-3 fatty acids like olive oil, salmon and walnuts to help boost mood, and drink green tea for the antioxidants and to relax. Foods with magnesium, B vitamins, cholorphyll and lean protein also help the body in dealing with stress. That means incorporate foods such as leafy greens, halibut, oysters, nuts, seeds, whole grains, white meat poultry, sprouts and bluegreen algae into your holiday meals.
Studies also show that being unorganized and dealing with a cluttered home or work space can add to anxiety and stress. Before the holidays get here start working on cleaning out drawers, cabinets, closets, your desk and other workspaces. Make lists ahead of time for those extra holiday chores you need to get done and schedule them in on your calendar spreading the tasks out over time so you don’t end up with a big hectic rush the day before. Find your holiday decorations or dishes and get them cleaned up and organized ahead of time. You can get the whole family into the holiday spirit by dividing up some of these chores among other family members and don’t think you have to do it all. It may be that it is time to let go of some of the traditional activities you are used to doing to save your sanity and your health. As life moves forward, so must we. If you are stressing out about cramming everything into a short period of time, re-think and re-prioritize your activities and go with the ones that are most important to you and your family.
Nutritional supplements can also be helpful during the holiday season to help in dealing with stress. Fish oil supplements can help get your omega-3 fatty acids in for reducing cortisol levels and thus reducing stress. Vitamin C and B-complex vitamins through whole foods supplements are also good supplements for an anti-stress plan. Probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus can help support the digestive system that may have to be working overtime during the holidays and support the friendly bacteria in your system. Those friendly bacteria also help produce the B-12 vitamins that help keep you calm and happy. A good digestive enzyme supplement will also help counteract the damage of sugary, fatty foods and overeating by helping with digestion, and fighting off gas, diarrhea, constipation, heartburn and bloating. Then there is of course bluegreen algae to get the chlorophyll and magnesium as well as lots of healthy nutrients to help your body in dealing with stress. Just to make it easier during the holiday season, get all these in convenient packets you can carry with you easily when traveling or just running around getting your errands done or while at the gym. Another algae supplement that can help get you through the holidays and through a stressful active life in particular is this supplementwith a combination of organic wild bluegreen algae, eleuthero, Ginkgo biloba, Lion’s Mane, bee pollen, wheatgrass juice, and noni that was created for those with a demanding, high-stakes lifestyle, where heightened focus and mental clarity is a critical factor. Ubiquinol is an active antioxidant form of coenzyme Q10 which is important for stress relief and improved daily energy and is good for the heart. Heart nourishment is important to joy, which is after all what the holiday season is all about, right? You’ll find it in this supplement that also has reishi and oyster mushrooms, polyphenols from olives, and AFA bluegreen algae. Reishi mushrooms are high in beta glucans, polysaccharides and triterpenoid compounds as well as being rich in proteins, enzymes, and minerals. Oyster mushrooms are not only rich in protein, but high in B vitamins and lovastatin which helps balance blood cholesterol levels.
We hope you have a wonderful, relaxing holiday season this year whatever traditions you celebrate. Get a jump on holiday stress now by using some of these tips for dealing with stress and make this the healthiest holiday you’ve ever had.