Before Things Get Crazy: Stress Management Advice for the Holidays
By JiJi Russell
As the holiday season picks up momentum, many people find that stress has a tendency to creep in (or blast through the door), revealing an underbelly to the “season of joy.” Consider the landscape of copious social interactions; abundant beverages and food (much of it unhealthy); hyper-active shopping; and keeping pace with an unusually packed calendar.
The more-of-everything norm that often characterizes this time of year can cause a hyper-stimulated state, amounting to an affront to your nervous system. Over-stimulation certainly can amplify stress.
If you jump right into the holiday season with a faster-better-more mentality, you might be setting yourself up for elevated stress levels. When our bodies perceive stress, our nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This “signals a cascade of events to help us survive a life-threatening situation,” says Geo Derick Giordano, MSc, a registered medical herbalist.
Our heartrate and blood pressure rise; our blood vessels constrict; and we become hyper alert,” says Giordano, who teaches workshops and coaches individuals on dealing with stress naturally.
Ok, so maybe we’re a little amped up. Any harm in that? According to Giordano, yes, because in this state, “Our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and aldosterone, all of which allow us to respond to emergencies swiftly, to maintain homeostasis of our critical body functions, and to perform in a crisis. In small doses it is good and necessary as a survival tool and learning mechanism. In continual excess, it can be damaging, causing chronic and acute health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer.”
The decibel level of parties, musical events, and kid-related activities; the visual stimuli that we take in when we shop or attend social events; the pressure to entertain; socialize; or eat party foods — it can all add up quickly.
If you’re overwhelmed just from reading this, take heart. There is good news: A little awareness and change of habit might create more meaning and eliminate the need to clean up the mess (you!) in the wake of the holiday season. Here are some ideas to consider before saying “yes to everything.”
Give yourself permission to say no. Ask yourself if a proposed party or event will provide both strength (cohesion with your colleagues, for example) and levity. Ideally, it should be both fun and meaningful. It should build you up rather than break you down. If you think it will drain you, opt out.
Limit the to and fro. Choose to shop locally, in your own town or nearby, where you can walk outdoors from store to store. Fill in the gaps with online purchases. Forget the shopping malls. They can be highly overstimulating for the eyes, ears, nose (that perfume lady will get you!), all the while challenging you to be meek and mild as someone steals your parking space.
Ask for collaboration. If you are planning an event; helping out with your child’s event at school; hosting a meal, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If everyone brings a dish, for example, no one person gets stuck in the kitchen. If everyone hangs one snowflake, your arms won’t be as tired as if you had hung 20.
Take a time-out for you. While a “spa day” might have to wait until January, think of creating a habit of re-sets where you physically turn off external stimulation and take a few deep breaths. If you are inclined to stretch or practice a contemplative movement like yoga or tai chi, then make your practice a habit as well. As for two minutes of only breathing, though, you might be surprised by the benefits it can bestow.
While party foods tend to harbor excessive sugar, salt, and heavy ingredients like butter, which are better in smaller amounts, healthy eating during the holidays can provide a source of strength and resilience. Giordano suggests that “maintaining good blood sugar regulation by eating a breakfast with protein, good fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables goes a long way to stabilizing our stress response.” Fuel up properly before the long, busy days.
Giordano also says using adaptogenic herbs like “ginsengs, rehmannia, holy basil, schisandra, ashwaganda, and licorice root help modulate our internal stress response and strengthen our adrenal glands.” These can be found in teas; tinctures; and even edible powders or capsules.
When the party cocktails flow, and the tendency to become ever more mirthful emerges, do yourself a favor and drink a glass of water or seltzer after each alcoholic beverage. Perhaps this will slow your consumption, and also keep you better hydrated.
This holiday season, choose your activities and involvements consciously and judiciously. Set yourself up to mitigate stress and cultivate the energy and attentiveness so that you can enjoy the people and events that truly make for joyful moments.
Three More Tips for Staving off Stress
Consider giving up or reducing ìC.A.T.S.î which are known to cause fluctuations in energy and mood.
C=caffeine A=alcohol T=tobacco S=sugar
Make a goal of seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Sleep is a necessary event for emotional health and for keeping stress hormones at bay.
Make a cut-off time for all electronic communications, and stick to it!
Bringing your attention inward helps with resiliency; while constant communication with others interrupts attention on yourself.
JiJi Russell is a corporate wellness coordinator and a yoga instructor, specializing in stress management.