It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the pressure of the holidays can often mean a stress overload. Here’s what to do about it.
Though you look forward to it all year, when Christmas arrives the experience can be pretty overwhelming. Trying to get everything ready in time can be incredibly stressful, especially for women – a third of whom feel more stressed in December than any other month, according to research. And small wonder - money worries, family tensions, pressure to socialise, and over-excited children on a sugar high is hardly a recipe for success. And, if you struggle to stay at your happy weight or often turn to food as a way of coping or rewarding yourself, being surrounded by treats and snacks over the holidays rarely has a happy ending.
Managing stress levels is important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in so many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.
If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress, so don’t wait to take action. It’s also worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store it around the middle. This is because the human body hasn’t evolved much since caveman times, when the extra energy was stored where it was most easily accessed, so it could be used to run away from the sabre-toothed tiger.
You might also be thinking ‘are you crazy?! I’m too busy to get through my to-do list, let alone do your self-care list Liz!' – I hear you, I really do. But if our self-care always comes ‘after X, Y , Z’, we are basically saying that ALL of those other things are more important than our health and happiness. And who wants to be the Grinch at Christmas? Nobody! So for your sake and for everyone else’s, take a few minutes to read my top 7 ways to keep stress under control in the run up to the holidays:
My top 7 ways to keep stress under control in the run up to the holidays:
Reframe - this is my ultimate top tip for a more peaceful life, and it's so simple. Instead of looking at that huge to-list with all of those things that you 'have' to do, try reframing it to the things you are 'choosing' to do because 'you want to do them'. Get clear on your 'why' for doing them. For example, "aren't I lucky that I have a partner/ friend/ child/ parent/ dog that I love so much and get to buy/ cook/ bake/(whatever) for". "I have TEN parties I 'am choosing' to go to this year. Aren't I blessed to be invited to so many." OR "I don't have any parties to go to this year, aren't I lucky that I've conditioned my life in such a way that I get to relax at Christmas instead of rushing around people pleasing." You get the idea. You know who you are and what makes you light up. Tune into that and use it as a simple reframe and a nod of gratitude for your life, just as it is. It sounds so simple that it's almost annoying. But trust me, it really does work.
The 10-minute mind trick: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed. Try to clear your mind of all worries. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface, as this is completely normal! The more you resist the more it will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app (I like ‘Insight Timer’ to lead you through the process
Eat regularly: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional snacks, only of needed) a day and your digestion will thank you for it. Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, wholemeal bread or pasta).
Cut back on alcohol and caffeine: I know it’s hard, especially at Christmas when socialising revolves around drinking, but try ditching (or significantly reducing) your alcohol and caffeine intake. Caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands - the last thing you want if you are already stressed! At first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), but it is quickly metabolised to sugar that can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me onto my next tip.
Prioritise sleep: Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, no TV, no laptops or tablets), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana may help to support undisturbed sleep.
Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress.
Get to the cause: Look at the root cause to any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about that, I warmly invite you to add yourself to my waiting list for the New Year to get your FREE 30-minute consultation to talk about how I may support you on one of my 3 month 121 programmes or one of my Hormone balancing group programmes. I specialise in women's health and hormone balancing. Perhaps 2024 is the year when you wrap yourself up the gift of health.