Handling Holiday Stress
Manage Holiday Stress with these Healthy Habits
1.Exercise — A quick high-intensity workout may be the thing to boost your mood and relieve stress.
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter and endocannabinoid produced in your brain that temporarily blocks feelings of pain and depression. It’s a derivative of the Sanskrit word “bliss,” and a deficiency is associated with increased anxiety and stress.
Exercise also creates new, excitable neurons along with new neurons designed to release the GABA neurotransmitter, which inhibits excessive neuronal firing, helping to induce a natural state of calm.
Exercise also boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. This may help buffer some of the effects of stress. Mind-body exercises, such as yoga, may be particularly beneficial in warding off stress.
In fact, 1 of the negative effects of exposure to higher stress-induced cortisol levels is cognitive deficits as you age. Research found, however, that 8 weeks of yoga can improve those cognitive deficits and improve memory, a benefit gleaned because it mitigated stress levels.
2.Emotional Freedom Techniques — The beauty of EFT for stress is that you can use it anytime, anywhere, and it’s valuable for all ages, even kids. It requires no special tools and, once you learn how to do it, it can be your go-to when feeling overwhelmed.
EFT is a psychological acupressure technique that’s based on the same energy meridians used in acupuncture. However, instead of stimulating the pathways with needles, EFT uses tapping with your fingertips along with voicing positive affirmations.
EFT is particularly powerful for treating stress because it targets your amygdala and hippocampus, which are the parts of your brain that help you decide whether or not something is a threat.
In a study of nursing students, a population known to experience significant stress, EFT led to decreases in feelings of stress and anxiety including a decrease in physical symptoms. The researchers concluded, “Overall, findings suggested that EFT can be an effective tool for stress management and anxiety relief …”
In another study, participants received one hour long EFT session, which led to significant improvements in anxiety and depression, along with a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. “The decrease in cortisol levels in the EFT group mirrored the observed improvement in psychological distress,” the researchers explained.
3.Meditation and Proper Breathing — If you are not yet taking advantage of the health-boosting powers of meditation, there is no time like the Holidays to start. Even among people with anxiety disorder, those who learned mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques like mindfulness meditation did better under stress than those who used other stress reduction methods.
Practicing “mindfulness” means you are actively paying attention to the moment you are in right now. Rather than letting your mind wander, when you are mindful, you are living in the moment and letting distracting thoughts pass through your mind without getting caught up in their emotional implications.
Mindfulness meditation is just one type, and may reduce stress via stress-reduction pathways in your body.The longer you meditate, the more benefits you may receive, as studies suggest experienced meditators have reduced stress and inflammatory responses.
According to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology: “[E]xperienced meditators reported higher levels of psychological factors associated with well-being and resilience. These results suggest that the long-term practice of meditation may reduce stress reactivity and could be of therapeutic benefit in chronic inflammatory conditions characterized by neurogenic inflammation.”
Meditation can be done right at home with very little formal training necessary. Just sit quietly, perhaps with some soothing music, breathe rhythmically, and focus on something such as your breathing, a candle, a mantra or just being there, fully aware, in the moment.
Applying Buteyko breathing, which involves breathing through your nose, not your mouth, also really helps to calm the mind and get into deep states of relaxation.
4.Proper Sleep — It’s virtually impossible to cope with stressful situations if you are not well rested, so getting quality sleep is especially important during the Holidays. Lack of quality sleep is known to elevate physiological markers of stress, such as cortisol levels, while also exaggerating the neuroendocrine effects of psycho-social stress.
Getting back to the basics of improving your sleeping environment is important, including sleeping in complete darkness and avoiding exposure to blue light, including LEDs, after Sunset.
5.Optimize Vitamin D — Vitamin D plays a role in facilitating serotonin production, a brain hormone associated with mood elevation. When your serotonin levels are low, you may be susceptible to stress. In fact, a study on mice revealed that vitamin-D-deficient mice were more vulnerable to the effects of social stress.
The best way to optimize your vitamin D level to the recommended 60 to 80 ng/ml is through sensible Sun exposure, but for many, oral supplementation will be necessary as well, especially during the Winter. The only way to accurately assess your need for supplementation is to measure your vitamin D level regularly.
6.Tend to Your Gut — The greatest concentration of serotonin is found within your intestines, not your brain, and the state of your gut health can have a significant effect on that of your mood and anxiety level. Probiotics, or beneficial bacteria, have been found to reduce psychological stress in patients about to undergo surgery.
To tend to your gut health, eat plenty of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and kefir and reduce your intake of processed foods and sugars.
7.Essential Oils, Especially Lavender — Sometimes sending stress packing can be as simple as adding a few drops of your favorite essential oil to your bathwater, massage oil or diffuser. Lavender essential oil is especially useful when you need to calm your nerves.
“Several animal and human investigations suggest anxiolytic, mood stabilizer, sedative, analgesic and anticonvulsive and neuroprotective properties for lavender,” researchers explained.
A component in lavender oil, linalool, has also been found to produced relaxation effects in mice similar to those produced by benzodiazepines, but without their motor impairment and sedation side effects.
If you enjoy the scent of lavender, this can be your go-to when you need a quick dose of calm; try rubbing a drop of diluted oil on your pulse points when the Holidays give you that frantic feeling.
If you do not enjoy lavender, there are many other essential oils to choose from, many with equally calming effects, including bergamot, chamomile, rose, clary sage and vetiver.
If you find that the Holidays have lost their joy and magic, leaving you with nothing but a big to-do list and debt come January, it may be time to get back to the basics and celebrate a Holiday focused on gratitude, friends and family instead of decorations, presents and obligations.
By cutting back on your holiday demands, many of which are self-imposed, you can reduce the source of your stress and free up mental and physical energy, along with time and financial resources, to devote to the things that make you happy.
And eat Real Food…
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively