5 Helpful Healthy Tips to Fight Holiday Stress
By Dr. Alice Fong
The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend with family, eat delicious food, put up bright lights and decorations, and engage in fun and festivities. However, on the other side of that can be the stress of traveling, shopping, cooking, and even spending too much time with family. Not to mention, the dark gloomy weather isn’t exactly helping you get into the holiday spirit. So in case the holiday season isn’t all joy, cheer, and laughter, and you need some help dealing with the not-so-fun aspects, consider these helpful tips to get you through the end of the year.
Get a Light Therapy Box
I think the holidays were purposely placed in the dead of winter to increase social interactions so people would be less depressed about the weather. However, if you’re one of those people that finds yourself a little more blue regardless of the number of tinsel and twinkly lights there are, yes maybe it could be the stress of dealing with the holidays, OR it could very well be the fact that you haven’t seen the sun in forever. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of Americans every year, most of which are women. Some symptoms include extreme fatigue, loss of energy, depression, and increased appetite. Consider getting a light therapy box (widely available in many retail stores and online). Sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes every morning. Other ways to help improve mood and energy include going outside more (I know it’s cold, but just bundle up), or trying Vitamin D supplementation.
When it Comes to Food and Drinks, Cut Yourself Some Slack, But Not Too Much
I understand how extremely difficult it is to turn down all the wonderful sweet treats and other temptations that will be constantly in your face around this season. And as a doctor, I’m giving you permission to indulge a little for these special occasions. However, just because you slipped a bit on your healthy diet regimen, doesn’t mean you have to completely fall off the wagon. It doesn’t mean you are allowed to avoid all vegetables until January. Enjoy a slice of Aunt Sally’s famous pecan pie that you only get to try once a year. Forgive yourself, move on. Do not tell yourself, “Well now that I’m eating sweets again, might as well eat that brownie, 4 cookies, 9 truffles, and 3 more slices of that pie.” Sugar is a very addictive substance and a slippery slope. Yes, it is hard to stop after just one treat, but believe in yourself. Continue to be mindful of what you are putting in your mouth. Help to avoid temptation by keeping it out of your house. Try diluting sugary drinks. Cut back on the adult beverages by drinking lots of water in between. And if you have to, consider keeping a diet diary by either writing it down or getting an app for your phone. You might start to notice you have been cheating a lot more than you realize.
Avoid the Mall
Okay, maybe go to the mall so your kids can get a picture with Santa. But THAT IS IT! The mall is particularly crowded and chaotic this time of year. It’s hard to not have a stress response in this kind of setting. And if your body is constantly in a stress state, it can have detrimental effects on your health such as weight gain, poor sleep, fatigue, and high blood pressure. Even if you’re determined to get that perfect gift at that perfect price, is it really worth the harm it could have on your body by going to the mall. Okay, that might be a little unrealistic. But if you MUST go to the mall (and I’m going to assume you tried to buy it online from the convenience of your home first and it wasn’t available. Because why wouldn’t you?), try to make a list of exactly what you plan to get, and get in and get out as fast as you can. Also try to minimize the number of trips you have to go to the mall. Or try convincing your family to go the Secret Santa route, where everyone only has to get 1 gift for another person in the family, instead a gift for E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. Gifts are great and all, but quality stress-free time with each other is also nice. Consider instead going ice skating or caroling or maybe to the movies. Anything BUT the mall.
Get Enough Sleep
I know you might have lots to do, plans to make, commitments to fulfill, but sleep still needs to be a priority. Sleep deprivation not only makes you more irritable and fatigued, it can impair your judgment, make you more prone to accidents, and decrease your immune system so you are more susceptible of being taken out of commission by a cold or the flu (and then how will you get everything that needs to get done, DONE?) Chronic sleep loss also puts you at a higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems. Not to mention the possibility of weight gain due to the hormonal imbalances created from lack of sleep. Helpful tricks, give yourself a time limit to get things done. Make a commitment to yourself and your wellbeing that by 10pm (or whatever time feels appropriate to you) you’ll stop everything you are doing for the night, and start preparing for bed. Leave electronic devices outside of the bedroom. And if you still need a little help, try valerian root, an herbal supplement to help calm down your nervous system. It is relatively safe to take, but consult with a doctor before taking it if you are on a sedative medication or Xanax.
There is no rule against having to focus all your attention on getting gifts and treats for your loved ones. Showing yourself some love is just as important. So go get a massage or facial. Or take a nice hot Epson salt bath at home with perhaps some lavender essential oils. The Epson salts have magnesium that will help with your tired, achy muscles. Or curl up with a good book in a quiet space or go for a walk. Let your spouse or nanny take the kids off your hands for an hour or two so you can have some ‘YOU’ time. You deserve it. If you’re having trouble relaxing, consider scheduling a naturopathic consultation to learn how to train your body, particularly your nervous system, to cope with those stressors in a better way.
Have a great holiday everyone!