Stress-Free Holidays: A Healthy Gift to Give Yourself this Time of Year
Resolutions Aside, it’s Time to Avoid Stress,
Get Healthy and Stay Healthy!
During this season of giving, we shop ’til we drop for the perfect gift. We donate to the mitten tree at church. We chip in at the office for a coworker who can’t afford to buy the kids Christmas gifts this year. We make cookies and candies for parties and gifts. But how much energy do we spend taking care of ourselves?
Personally, I love doing all of the above. Somehow I also manage to “gift” myself the pair of leather boots on the 60% off rack (what a deal!), or the indulgent peppermint hot chocolate at the local coffee house (they only sell it once a year!). I convince myself that these strategies help manage the holiday stress. But are these “gifts” to myself truly helping?
But later on the guilt sets in and I’m thinking either 1) I just paid $100 for a pair of boots when I should have spent that money on gifts or 2) the $5.00 I spent on the decadent drink should have gone to the man ringing the bell outside of Macy’s.
A recent ABC news story entitled, The Hormone Effect: Why Christmas Makes Us Nutty, highlights the effects of stress hormones on our bodies during the holidays. And the news is not good. What’s more, I’m afraid my splurge on boots and hot cocoa will not solve the problem.
But what exactly are stress hormones? What do they do? And how can we effectively manage holiday stress in a healthy way?
Stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline – were our saving grace hundreds of years ago. They helped us fight or flee in dangerous situations. A threat from nature (like a nine foot grizzly) triggered the stress response, increasing blood pressure, heart rate and blood glucose to prepare us for attack. Cortisol also stopped processes that are not needed in a fight-or-flight situation, such as immune system responses and digestion.
Where does that leave us in today’s world where we no longer fight off grizzly bears?
The mental stress that comes from the holidays as well as our daily lives (rush hour traffic, families, school and careers) can trigger the same hormonal response. The problem is that we are not fighting or fleeing to use the energy our body has created for that purpose. And as cortisol halts normal processes – like immunity and digestion – our risk for catching a cold or the flu or having an upset stomach increases.
Now don’t get me wrong, you could fight your coworker or flee the office to burn off that energy, but then you’ll have a whole new set of stressors.
So what do we do with all this energy? We can “stew and chew” by sitting and worrying over everything and eat comfort foods to feel better, but again, this doesn’t solve the problem.
To help manage holiday stress, look to activities that make you feel happy, relaxed and energetic, and consider removing items from your to-do list to alleviate some of the stress:
- Rather than ‘stew and chew’, choose to ‘walk and talk’. Grab a coworker for a break in the middle of the day or after work to unwind and connect.
- Spend meaningful time with friends and family to boost serotonin – a “feel good” hormone
- Take time off from work if possible during the holidays. Use weekdays off to shop in less crowded stores or avoid them altogether and shop online
- Get some sunshine on your lunch break. No matter how it works or why, we all know that it’s good for the soul. Lunch time is most likely the warmest time to be outdoors in the winter as well
- Cross off non-urgent to-do list items, like the routine car maintenance, and reschedule them for January.
- Stick with Good Measure Meals. I signed up for the meal plan this month simply to take two things off my to-do list – grocery shopping and cooking. I’m sharing my plan with a friend and it’s serving its purpose well!
– Bethany Smith RD, CSO, LD Community Wellness Representative