December can be a month of great joy for those who enjoy the sights, sounds, feasts and festivities of the holidays. We can have too much of a good thing though, and some people find the holidays to be a very stressful time that brings extra commitments, pressures and expectations. Here we break down holiday stress, signs that you may be taking on too much, and some suggestions to help you tackle stress head on.
What causes holiday stress?
The triggers of holiday stress are different for everyone but are rarely singular. Behavioral, emotional and physical factors underscore many of the common issues. Since the holidays are often a time for social events with a variety of indulgent food and drinks, common culprits of holiday stress can include:
- Too many commitments
- Financial pressures and anxiety
- Tense family dynamics
- Overeating or drinking
- Grief or sadness from feeling a lack of social or family connections
The discomfort you experience from any of these items may feel like something you don’t need to address or maybe even can’t, but be aware that this stress is causing a response in your body. Increases in hormones like cortisol and adrenaline can lead to increased blood glucose levels and an impaired immune system response. These feelings of discomfort often lead to negative physical symptoms as the stress takes its toll on your body.
What signs should I look for?
A little stress can be a good thing in the right situation, however chronic, persistent stress can lead to more serious problems including:
- Increased inflammation
- Impaired memory, concentration or ability to focus
- Metabolic issues, including weight gain
- Sleep problems
- Digestive issues
How to address stress?
Stress is inevitable in life but there are several strategies you can use to decrease the amount of stress in your life and improve your resilience to stress.
- Be mindful. Identifying how you are feeling and what is bothering you is key to addressing holiday stress. This may require some deeper thought, journaling, or an open conversation with someone you can speak openly and honestly with about your situation. Allow yourself to feel whatever you may be feeling, accept the situation and then take a breather to restore your inner calm.
- Move your body. People tend to abandon exercise as the shorter and colder days of winter set in. Studies continue to show that exercise is vital for maintaining physical and mental fitness. In just one session you’ll increase the release endorphins, and decrease cortisol and blood sugar levels, which can improve energy levels, cognitive function, sleep quality, mood and mental health.
- Focus on a whole-food, plant-based diet. The high amounts of sugar and unhealthy fats found in highly processed foods can make the symptoms of holiday stress worse — but plant-based, whole foods provide balanced sources of energy and nutrients to promote healing in the body. By focusing on fresh and minimally processed ingredients, you’re likely to increase the anxti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, pre- and probiotic powers of your diet. The major food categories to include in this type of diet are fruits, vegetables, tubers (root vegetables), whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.
- Try adaptogenic herbs. Adaptogens are plants and herbs that contain substances that appear to improve the body’s response to stress. Ashwagandha is one plant that has been used in Ayurvedic, Indian, and African and Unani (Grecco-Arab) medicine as far back as 6,000 years. It has been increasing in popularity over recent years due to an increasing number of studies suggesting it may improve sleep, mood, cognitive function and symptoms of stress or anxiety. Look for clean products that have been tested for impurities and contaminants that could place more stress on your body. Sunbird Organics’ ashwagandha products are tested three times to make sure you’re getting pure and potent ashwagandha.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Making relaxation a habit allows you to recover from stress. Make a practice out of relaxation techniques and they may even provide long-term physical benefits. If you’re a beginner, a simple search on any search engine will produce tons of app and video recommendations for yoga, meditation, deep breathing techniques and more. Even taking the time to read a book or listen to calming music will provide you with the relaxation you need.
If you’re not seeing improvements
If you've tried different strategies to manage your symptoms and stress but are not feeling any improvements, you should make an appointment to see a healthcare provider. It is important to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice you have been experiencing symptoms of stress for extended periods of time as they'll be able to assess if there is a more serious underlying issue.