5 Tips for Coping With Stress During the Holidays

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Stress Remedy Tip #1: Give Yourself the Gift of Self-Love

In the midst of making your list and checking it twice, it’s easy to forget the essential act of caring for yourself first. In THE STRESS REMEDY, I share the warning signs of when too much stress creates excess cortisol (a primary stress hormone) and how to tackle these conditions by taking out time for YOU.

For example, worry and anxiety about life, feeling overwhelmed, being emotional, to physical symptoms such as digestive distress, headaches, frequent infections, fatigue and weight gain, all indicate that your body has been affected by stress.

It is possible to get your body back in synch with simple remedies to take care of yourself.

Here are a few self-love approaches I recommend:

  • Taking time to plan and prioritize your day
  • Enjoying a cup of green tea
  • Scheduling a massage
  • Taking a hot shower or bubble bath
  • Curling up under a cozy winter blanket with a good book
  • Listening to music
  • Setting a reminder to eat every 2-4 hours and including protein every time you eat
  • Getting enough sleep

Research has shown that all of these seemingly simple tasks can actually boost our health tremendously. Both reading and drinking tea can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood. Reading works its magic quickly: just six minutes of reading has been associated with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation.

Having a massage has the ability to rebalance the stress response by decreasing cortisol, while also increasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps create serenity, optimism, and self-confidence, while dopamine is associated with motivation, excitement, and pleasure.

Stress Remedy Tip #2: Disconnect with Social Media & Reconnect with Loved Ones

Between work obligations, social commitments, and travel plans, withdrawing from our normal routine of e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc. is often the furthest thing from our minds. In my book, I outline that taking occasional breaks from technology is an essential way to restore healthy cortisol levels and improve immune function.

Since the holidays have the added bonus of vacation time and different work schedules, taking a break allows us to take our eyes off the screen and spend times with others face-to-face, which research has shown to reduce stress and even add years to your life.

Connecting with others physically or emotionally has been shown to increase oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone related to bonding. Likewise, research shows that talking with a loved one can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.

As a mom I found this study interesting: Young girls were given stressful tasks. After completing the tasks, some of the girls were allowed to call their mothers, while others were not. The ones who spoke with Mom showed decreased blood levels of cortisol and increased levels of oxytocin. Girls who hugged their mothers in person had a similar response.

Stress Remedy Tip #3: Boost Brainpower by Adding Super foods to Holiday Recipes

Several of the main culprits of holiday stress are tied back to food and behavioral eating. Whether it’s to avoid the emotional stress that comes with holiday weight gain, or the dreaded physical response from overindulgence in seasonal treats, a plan for staying healthy can be a vital tool when attacking stress this year.

It’s not mandatory to give up all of your holiday favorites, but in order to help your brain cells recover from stress in the most efficient way, I recommend that you include these super foods as much as possible:

  • Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
  • Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel and sardines
  • Berries: strawberries, blueberries and cranberries
  • Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard and more
  • Turmeric, otherwise known as curcumin
  • Dark chocolate

When you are pressed for time, here is a list of go-to places to pick up something to eat that’s good for you:

  • Starbucks has green tea as well as packages of nuts with dried fruit.
  • Organic Avenue has many quick solutions from the super food list, including choco-nuts.
  • Whole Foods is not just for grocery shopping – you can stop in to grab a super food from the deli.

Now, here’s some news that you will really like: An article in LiveScience reported on a study linking the consumption of one ounce of chocolate each day for two weeks with decreased levels of cortisol. Remember, though, that chocolate can still contain sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you’re eating the chocolate in moderation, and choose dark chocolate!

Stress Remedy Tip #4: Beat Stress by Getting Active & Enjoying Winter’s Natural Beauty

Though the weather outside is frightful, studies have consistently shown that people who make an effort to spend more time outdoors have lower amounts of stress compared to those who don’t. Taking time to exercise, from something as simple as taking a leisurely stroll to activities that are more intense like hitting the slopes, is essential to lowering stress at this time of year.

Between scrambling to get shopping done and meeting end of year deadlines at work, it can be difficult to squeeze in your normal workout routine. Instead of letting non-activity add on to the stress, get creative and take advantage of nature during this beautiful time of year:

  • Enjoy the snow (when it comes) by building a snowman with the kids, having a snowball fight, or make snow angels.
  • Pick a favorite winter pastime in your local area such as sledding, ice skating, collecting pine cones, etc.
  • Take a leisurely stroll through holiday fair shops, listen to carolers, and admire seasonal window displays.
  • If you’re feeling more adventurous, think about planning an active vacation and go snow tubing or skiing.

Moving more has been known to lower stress and bring all of the body’s core systems back into balance. Simply spending time in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol, boost endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles, and improve mood.

Stress Remedy Tip #5: Experiencing Seasonal Emotions & Being Fully Present

For many, the holidays can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Anxiety and depression are certainly more prevalent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but there are a number of ways to help alleviate those feelings and re-balance your body’s stress response:

  • Be Grateful: One of the most valuable, yet underrated stress-busting activities is practicing gratitude. While it may seem too simple to believe that merely feeling thankful can make you healthier, research has proven it to be the case.
  • Understand Emotions are Normal: Another extraordinarily effective way to rebalance your stress response is to fully experience emotion, which is known to stimulate both the hormones and the neurotransmitters that lower stress. Being more emotional during the holidays is completely normal, and research shows that “talking it out” and fully acknowledging them is critical to our health.
  • Laugh! Studies show that laughter can lower your cortisol levels while raising your endorphins and oxytocin, relaxing your muscles, and improving your mood. For example, a 1989 study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences linked “mirthful laughter” with decreased cortisol levels.
  • Writing in a journal is also a terrific way to balance your stress response. A study published in Psychotherapy Research found that people in therapy who wrote about their emotions had less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression than a control group of patients that did no writing. The journal-writers also made better progress in therapy.

DR. DONI WILSON is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, natural health expert, nutritionist, and midwife specializing in gluten sensitivity, intestinal permeability, adrenal stress, and insulin resistance. She helps women, men, and children overcome their most perplexing health challenges and achieve their wellness goals. She does this by crafting individualized strategies that address the whole body and the underlying causes of health issues. She is the creator of The Hamptons Cleanse and author of The Stress Remedy: Master Your Body’s Synergy & Optimize Your Health. Find out how stress of all types affects your body at TheStressRemedy.com, and sign up for Dr. Doni’s Weekly Wellness Wisdom e-newsletter for tips to empower you and your path to wellness!

About The Author

DR. DONI WILSON is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine, natural health expert, nutritionist, and midwife specializing in gluten sensitivity, intestinal permeability, adrenal stress, and insulin resistance. She helps women, men, and children overcome their most perplexing health challenges and achieve their wellness goals. She does this by crafting individualized strategies that address the whole body and the underlying causes of health issues.

The is the creator of The Hamptons Cleanse and author of  The Stress Remedy: Master Your Body’s Synergy & Optimize Your Health.

Find out how stress of all types affects your body at TheStressRemedy.com, and sign up for Dr. Doni’s Weekly Wellness Wisdom e-newsletter for tips to empower you and your path to wellness!

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© 2002–2014 Donielle Wilson, ND and www.DoctorDoni.com, all rights reserved
DISCLAIMER: Donielle Wilson is NOT a licensed Medical Doctor (MD). She is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in CT and WA states and practices as a health consultant in New York. Any reference to the practice of naturopathic medicine does not apply in New York State. Information on this website is provided for general educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute (i) medical advice or counseling, (ii) the practice of medicine including psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy or the provision of health care diagnosis or treatment, (iii) the creation of a physician patient or clinical relationship, or (iv) an endorsement, recommendation or sponsorship of any third party product or service by the Sponsor or any of the Sponsor's affiliates, agents, employees, consultants or service providers. These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly.