Stress and the Holidays – How to survive the season | By Dr. Alex Coulson, ND B.SC CISSN | #WellbeingWednesdays
Rejuvenating, peaceful, relaxing or exhausting, hectic and stressful? Which three words describe your holiday season? December ends, January begins and we should be feeling rested, healthy and calm not tired, sick and limited to drawstring pants. How do we survive the holidays? The answer is simple, minimize stress.
The American Psychological Association reported that half the population experiences at least moderate levels of stress daily. Chronic stress is quickly becoming the norm and the holiday season seems to be the perfect storm of stress-inflicting events. Stress is much more than a feeling or perception. When we process a stressor, hormonal messages are sent to the adrenal glands causing a release of Cortisol. This elicits a cascade of physiological effects that if chronic, can be harmful and damaging to our bodies.
For example, prolonged stress contributes to weight gain by changing the way we metabolize fat, and stimulating appetite. Additionally, increased cortisol has been correlated with mood altering effects including depressive symptoms, as well as anxious and angry tendencies. If that’s not bad enough, cortisol suppresses the function of the immune system thereby hindering our ability to fight infection. Metabolism, mood, immune function and energy are all tools that should be performing optimally during the holiday season. We have parties to attend, family to visit, and meals to prepare. The holidays should be a time of enjoyment and a time to be thankful. But it’s hard to feel that way when we’re sick and burnt out. Stress and the way we deal with it is at the root of our holiday challenges. Here are five suggestions to help minimize the stressors you’ll inevitably encounter.
1. Watch your diet.
Holidays mean candy canes, chocolates and alcohol. Since cortisol affects metabolism it’s important to monitor the amount of sweets consumed. Pick one or two nights to indulge, but remember health is built on lifestyle choices, and for most of us the holiday season can extend over 2 months which amounts to 1/6 of that lifestyle.
Sleeping 7-8 hours/night can really help to counteract harmful stress-effects. This might mean budgeting party nights, or compensating with daytime naps. And remember, even though alcohol is a depressant, it prevents good quality REM sleep. So if you’re feeling particularly exhausted, stick to one glass of wine before bed.
3. Take two days.
Find a way to have two days (at least) for yourself. People are going to ask things of you, but you need to put yourself first. Run a bath, read a book, sit by the fire- anything that will promote relaxation and put the brakes on stress hormone circulation.
4. Let it go.
Discard your ideals of perfection. Bad weather will happen, you will probably spill something on your white party dress, and you will most likely take an embarrassing fall on the ice. Instead of getting worked up about it, let it go. If you don’t perceive stress, it can’t negatively affect you.
5. Plan Ahead.
No one should ever be in a mall, grocery store or liquor store 72 hours before Christmas day or New Years Eve. Get your shopping done well in advance so you can spend your time with family, not in line.
DR. ALEX COULSON, ND is a licensed and board certified Naturopathic Doctor practicing at Balance, a Toronto boutique fitness centre. balancefit.com