Stress and the Holidays

by Health Coach Kelli Wilson

The shopping and crowds. Back-to-back diet-busting parties. The interminable chats with the in-laws. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year.  When we are stressed, a lot goes on inside our bodies. Stress causes our bodies to go into a protective state; hormones are released, heart rate increases, blood pressure goes up, the process of digestion slows, etc. Our bodies respond by going into a ‘flight or fight’ mode that allows us to get out of a potentially dangerous situation. When we are in that dangerous situation, this system works really well; however, when we aren’t in immediate danger and have chronic stress this system may not be so effective

Long-term stress is linked to weight gain. This is because when we are stressed and our bodies enter the ‘flight or fight’ mode, the cortisol hormone is released in to the body. This is present in small/regulated amounts in your body at all times, but if you are suffering from chronic stress, elevated levels of cortisol can increase appetite and abdominal fat. It can also have a number of other negative effects, such as, decreased bone density and muscle tissue, higher blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, suppressed immunity and thyroid function, it can even affect memory and sleep.

While we may not directly be able to affect how much cortisol is floating around our bodies, we can certainly impact how we handle stress by implementing activities and routines to help reduce stress and ensure that we make good choices, get enough sleep, and move. If you find yourself getting especially stressed-out around the holidays, below are some tips to help you relax and actually enjoy this year.

Fit in exercise: It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re stressed out, but going for a hike, walking, or hitting the gym can actually make you feel better. Research has found that workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours. Also, by hiking or walking the beach you can get some sunlight which stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin!

Stay positive: The holidays may make you crazy, but try not to focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger your body’s stress response, just as a real threat does. It is the time to celebrate with your family and friends. Hang with the fun crowd, laughing like crazy reduces stress hormones and in turn can help immune cells function better.

Go tech-free: Constant cell phone buzzes and email alerts keep us in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode due to bursts of adrenaline. Not only is this exhausting, but it contributes to mounting stress levels. What better time to turn your gadgets off than during a holiday get-together? Enjoy spending time with your family and friends without the worry.

Do less, enjoy more: We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event! Learn to take care of yourself by saying no at least once and try not to over schedule your time. Remember: It’s OK to slow down a bit.

Turn up the tunes: Anxious? Listen to your favorite music, whether it’s Jingle Bell Rock or an upbeat new release! Research shows that hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. That not only calms you down but is good for your heart, too

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