From nutrition, to stress management and much more, learn how to decrease anxiety and stress for better mental health during the holidays.
The holidays are a time for celebrating with family, friends, and - hopefully - guilt-free holiday treats. But to some, the holidays can also be a time for added stress, overeating, and disrupted sleep schedules. Understanding how we cope with this added stress while learning to make small changes may help to ensure our holidays are as magical as the Hallmark movies we watch.
Lifestyle Holiday Adjustments
1. Learning to say no to overwhelming activities.
2. Sharing the burden of shopping and hosting.
3. Setting a gift budget and focusing more on personal gifts, including the gift of time.
4. Sharing feelings with a loved one.
5. Taking some time for yourself through meditation or exercise.
6. Learning to indulge in a healthy way through replacing sugar with substitutes such as allulose or monk fruit, focusing on eating sweets after your protein, and filling your plate with proteins and veggies.
7. Getting out and moving, even if it's just a walk to the post box down the street.
How Do We Respond to Stress?
There are a lot of different reasons we become stressed over the holidays. These sources can stem from the need to find the perfect gift to the staggering responsibility of entertaining large groups of people in our homes in addition to maintaining dietary restrictions. The question remains: how do we normally respond to this sort of stress that we see manifest in various forms?
According to Harvard Health Publishing, our stress response begins in the brain. When we perceive stress, our senses send this information to the amygdala located in the brain. From the amygdala, a distress signal is sent to another part of the brain: the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is divided into two nervous systems: parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic side is where our fight-or-flight response is triggered. We experience this type of stress when something frightens us or if there is an immediate danger in our environment. Some of the most commonly recognized symptoms of this type of response is a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, and tense muscles.
On the other hand, our parasympathetic nervous system helps to calm our body down once the emergency has passed. This helps to promote ‘rest and digest’, as proclaimed by Harvard Health Publishing.
The greatest difference between how the two are applied is that the immediate stress we feel in short, dangerous situations will pass almost as quickly as it arrived. But when we are dealing with holiday stress, it is harder to define the period of time during which it begins and ends.
Managing Stress Over the Holidays
Of course, there is no doubt that the overindulgence on treats and other relatively unhealthy food during the holidays manifests as a result of the continued stress one may feel from the holiday season. According to healthline.com, the average American gains anywhere from 1-10 pounds over the holidays.
Those who find themselves stressed over the holidays are also facing higher levels of a hormone called cortisol within their body. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone and can increase sugar levels in the bloodstream. High levels of cortisol have been linked to an increase in food intake and as a result, weight gain.
While it can be hard to avoid all the tempting treats and processed foods, consuming too many can make a significant impact on our health and stress levels. To better understand how processed foods affect our bodies compared to whole foods, check out this post and learn more about the differences these changes can mean to your body.
We often don’t realize that overeating can cause us to become more stressed. It is a vicious cycle: we eat because we are stressed; we are stressed because we are overeating; and we eat to destress while the cycle repeats itself over again.
You may be a victim of stress-related eating if, for example, you mindlessly munch on snacks or eat late at night. Craving sweets or fatty, salty foods is also another hallmark of stress-related eating habits. Even those who wait to eat until they are starving or skip meals could be feeling overly stressed and their eating habits continue to suffer because of their practices.
However, what is likely to affect us the most is the excess sugar we end up consuming over the holidays.
If this feels like you, you may find yourself suffering from reactive hypoglycemia. This condition occurs from low blood glucose that happens within 2-5 hours after consuming a meal. It can cause a variety of symptoms including anxiety, irritability, and rapid heartbeats. Essentially, it can also add to the stress you may already be feeling from the holidays.
So, how do we reverse this sugar habit we have created? There are many different ways to handle this. First, we can look at the sugary treats we are consuming and replace some sugar with better alternatives. You can read more about some great sugar substitutes here.
To help flatten your glucose curves, courtesy of @glucosegoddess
1. Eat a savory breakfast, not a sweet one.
2. Start every meal with a plate of veggies and fatty foods such as avocados, eggs, etc.
3. Eat your starches after your protein and veggies during a meal.
4. Consume fruits whole and never juiced or dried.
5. Pair your starches with protein, fat, or fiber.
6. Go for a ten-minute walk after each meal.
7. Eat sugar as part of a dessert after a meal and never on an empty stomach.
Other Steps You Can Take To Combat Holiday Stress
While it is important to pay attention to overeating particularly when it comes to sweets, we can continue to combat holiday stress in other ways. If money is a concern, set a spending limit and stick to it. You may also choose to give something personal or homemade. Parents often appreciate time spent together rather than a gift.
If you are taking on more commitments than you can handle you may need to get more organized. Regardless if you use pen/paper or an app on your phone, keep track of everything to ease the fear that you will miss an important appointment or item on your to-do list.
If you find yourself being pulled in too many directions, share the load with someone willing to help. While you may not be able to make two simultaneous holiday school concerts, asking a grandparent, aunt, or uncle to substitute for you and record the event can ease your conscience and place your mind more in the present.
Remember, it is okay to say no to things if you are feeling overwhelmed. Most importantly, it is perfectly acceptable to take time to handle your own mental wellness. Examples include talking out your feelings over a beverage with a close friend or even skipping a holiday party because you need to recharge your social battery at home.
Exercise, meditation or other calming activities can greatly help to cope with stressful feelings over the holidays. Lastly, try and stick to a healthy routine. If you still feel like it is too much, seek professional help.
Our mental health can be negatively impacted over the holidays. Therefore, it becomes even more important to recognize the signs that are leading us to act the way we do. Are we overeating because we are stressed about the holidays? If so, can we alter our plans to lessen this stress?
If you are in a pattern of eating too many sugary treats, try to eat healthy meals first, and then indulgences second. Focus on keeping a regular routine, one that includes wholesome meals, exercise, and enough time for recovery in between events.
It is important to put our health as a priority, especially during spans that we know to have added stressors and can trigger unhealthy behaviors in ourselves. The holidays are meant to be a time of gathering with loved ones and celebrating the joy we feel in our hearts, not a time that we need to struggle through.
My Toolbox Genomics empowers individuals in their healthcare journey by creating reports focused on genetic predispositions derived from published research. Test results and suggestions are intended to lead to consultation with one’s healthcare practitioner. MyTBG reports do not diagnose disease or medical conditions. Any lifestyle changes should result from consultation with qualified healthcare practitioners.