It’s the most wonderful time of the year…again.
According to research, the holiday season is not only the most joyful time of year, but it’s also the most stressful time of year. Many people find that they feel more stress, fatigue, and irritability during the holidays than they do at any other time during the year.
In the past, stressors would fall under the categories of awkward family dynamics, strained finances, and falling behind at work would. Today, however, the stressors have become a bit more acute. Worries such as “will I be able to see my family this year?” Will there be a new strain of the virus?” and “I hope my older family members don’t get sick” are ringing in everybody’s ears, and hearts.
Does this mean we should skip the holidays altogether? Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is still a lot to enjoy about the holiday season, even if things look a little different than they did a couple of years ago.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- What stress does to your brain
- Why self-care should be your number one priority
- What to avoid to keep your stress at bay
- Research-backed techniques for maintaining the calm in the storm
2021: A Year We’ll Never Forget
While 2020 came with its own unique set of stressors (i.e. politics and COVID), 2021 was supposed to be our fresh start.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the world didn’t perfectly right itself overnight as 2021 rolled in. In fact, the lingering pandemic has only brought in more confusion with vaccines, boosters, and new strains popping up.
As a nation, and truly as a globe, we are in a constant state of stress dealing with this background noise of uncertainty. And the research shows that the stress induced by COVID-19 is increasing mental health issues like fear and anxiety across the board – something we certainly didn’t need more of.
Luckily there are tools that you can use to reduce your stress response, despite what’s happening around you. Before we jump into those tools, let’s take a look at how stress impacts your brain.
How Stress Is Impacting Your Brain
Stress affects the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of your brain. Your PFC is the region of your brain responsible for adaptation and executive functions. This means that when you’re stressed you aren’t able to think clearly, you may make poor decisions, and you’re generally operating from a place of fear.
As you can imagine, if you’re already dealing with one stressor and inhibiting activity in your PFC, any new stressors can act as potentiators, and you could end up spiraling into a chronically stressed and anxious state. This is the last place you want to be around the holidays.
Does this mean that you’re bound for doom and gloom this holiday season? Absolutely not. With the right lifestyle tools and tips, you can beat holiday stress and bring your best self to a time of year that should be filled with joy.
7 Ways To Beat Stress This Holiday Season
#1 Watch Your Diet
Paying attention to what you eat has benefits far beyond weight loss and weight maintenance. The food you eat everyday makes up the building blocks of your body. And when it comes to brain health, foods high in omega-3 fatty acids make excellent building blocks. Under stress, your body experiences more oxidation. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may help to combat this oxidation that occurs in the brain.
What’s more, there is a strong link between mental health and neuroinflammation (inflammation in your brain). Omega-3 fats also help to combat neuroinflammation, making them an ideal nutrient for brain health and mental wellness.
In addition, consuming foods rich in antioxidants can further support your brain and the rest of your body by boosting your defense system against reactive oxygen species. Fruits and vegetables are fantastic sources of antioxidants and should make an appearance at every meal if possible.
Don’t forget that it’s important to manage your blood sugar. When your blood sugar spikes so does cortisol. You can control your blood sugar by reducing consumption of sugar, flours, and carbohydrates.
#2 Limit Your News Exposure
Although it can be tempting to keep your finger on the pulse of every news story, the reality is that most of the news you’re bombarded with daily is meant to shock and raise anxiety. While living under a rock won’t do you much good, allowing yourself to be inundated first thing every morning with the ever-changing state of the world may be just as bad.
If you find yourself obsessed with the news these days, tracking the state of the pandemic or following the ups and downs of the post-election drama, try taking a break. One easy way to cut back on your news exposure is to delete the news app from your phone. This makes it a little less accessible.
You can also limit your check-ins to once a day. Maybe you check the 5 o’clock news for an update or google exactly what it is you’re looking for during your lunch break, then move on. One thing is for sure — if anything groundbreaking happens, you’ll be hearing about it.
#3 Carve Out Self-Care Time
This may seem obvious, but it can be more difficult during the holidays than ever to find a little “me” time. Even ten to fifteen minutes a day could make all the difference in your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Enjoy a brisk walk in nature, sit down with some tea and a good book, buy yourself some soothing bubble bath and take a candlelit bath, meditate, listen to some soothing music and sit in stillness. Whatever it is that makes you feel grounded, make time for it.
Meditation is, by far, one of the most well-studied stress-management techniques. Some people find it had to stick to a meditation routine, but don’t let the idea of sitting in silence turn you off. There are several different meditation techniques that you can use to calm your mind, with most including guidance or brain-wave music that helps you to get into a calm state.
If you’re a beginner, using a guided meditation may be the best way to start. I love guided meditations. I listen to Niki Gratrix meditations every single day in the morning and the evening. I LOVE them. You can find them on Nikigratrix.com. You can start with as little as ten minutes a day and build up as you feel more confident. The best part of meditation is that as you start to feel the stress-reducing benefits, it is easier to keep going.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation, in particular, can help to build the gray matter in your brain which is responsible for memory, emotions, muscle control, speech, decision making, self-control, and more
#5 Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial for helping your body and mind manage stress. While you sleep, your body repairs itself and builds up its reserves to help you manage the day ahead. While you can’t control the stressors in your life, you can build up the resilience you need to handle them.
Research shows that proper sleep is crucial for producing a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a major contributor to something called neural plasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt to change, and plays a critical role in mood disorders.
Research into BDNF has even shown links between insomnia and depression due to low levels of this vital protein.
If you have trouble with sleep, there are several tactics you can use to unwind and help your body and mind get ready for bed. Some examples include:
- Using blue blocking glasses after sundown to help with melatonin production
- Switch off electronics a couple of hours before bed to decrease your blue light and EMF exposure (EMFs can inhibit melatonin)
- Read in bed instead of watching TV
- Have a light snack if you get hungry, but avoid anything heavy or sugary 3 hours before bed
- Take a warm shower or bath with epsom salts – this promotes deep sleep
- Diffuse some calming lavender essential oil
#6 Exercise Regularly
Physical activity is a proven way to reduce stress, and it also increases BDNF.
It’s easy to fall off of your exercise routine during the holidays, but this time of year is quite possibly the most important time to keep it up. With the mounting social obligations along with unprecedented amounts of treats and alcohol being passed your way, staying active is absolutely crucial for staying in balance.
If you find yourself short on time, try doing quick HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts or even sneaking in extra walks throughout your day. Even a ten minute walk will suffice. Anything will help.
Yoga also offers some unique benefits for your mind and body; if you have an extra ten to twenty minutes, follow a yoga workout on YouTube, or create your own with your favorite postures.
#7 Unplug From Technology
Research shows that there is a clear link between the use of SmartPhones and the internet and the incidence of depression and anxiety. Whether you’re comparing the state of your life to friends or relatives on Instagram, or you’re catching up on the latest fear-mongering news, your SmartPhone is clearly a source of stress.
Even those sweet little cat videos may be slowly draining your energy and time. Although it may feel like a quick fix for uncomfortable feelings, using your phone as a coping mechanism has detrimental effects over time and may leave you feeling more vulnerable and less empowered to handle your emotions in the long run.
When you consciously decide to unplug from technology, you get to interact with the world around you more. This breeds more feelings of connectedness to not only your environment but the people in it. At the end of the day, your phone is just an inanimate object that can’t truly provide the love and support that we all need.
Don’t let the unfortunate events of 2021 (and 2020!) ruin your holiday season this year. Although it may seem like there’s more to worry about than to celebrate, when you turn your focus away from the stories on the news and allow yourself to enjoy the good that’s happening around you, your outlook just might change.
Keep in mind that stress can become cumulative; if your brain is already hijacked from one drama, you’re much less likely to deal with other stressors in a calm and mindful manner. Therefore, get ahead of stress by using tools like meditation, yoga, and self-care time to build your reserves.
Getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating healthy fats, fruits, and veggies are also simple ways to keep yourself on track this season. And perhaps most compelling of all — limit your SmartPhone and internet exposure. The research supporting the connection between social media and mood is incredibly strong, and your goal should be to build healthy coping mechanisms instead of using distractions like Instagram, Facebook, and news outlets.
Click Here for References+
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