As we proceed from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, it seems our calendars fill with events and obligations that must be filled into our already overburdened schedules.
Because of this, we put our own well-being at the bottom of our to-do list. We can disrupt our normal routines, and once this happens, it is just a matter of time before we are sleeping less, eating poorly, and experiencing personality changes that are even Grinch-like. While it should not be the case, stress is as much a holiday tradition as eggnog and mistletoe.
The disrupted daily routines can quickly impact our cortisol balance, which then disrupts sleep and optimal eating, exercise, and stress reduction modalities. This then becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. While stress is inevitable, how we allow it to affect us should not be. First, changing our mindset and thoughts about stress is the first way we can prevent the craziness that zaps us of holiday cheer. Reframe the meaning of gifts. Be open to what you truly value and consider gifts of health and experiences. Be okay with saying no to some of the social obligations, and allow yourself time to enjoy the season. Try to schedule time to relax and gift yourself with some comfort and joy. Lastly, make sure you are keeping to your daily health habits of drinking water, eating right when not celebrating, and sticking to your normal sleep and exercise schedules.
Even when we mindfully approach holiday stress, the seasonal stressors of travel, family, and dietary changes can affect our systems and leave us with tension headaches, insomnia, gastrointestinal disruptions, and personality changes. The HPA axis (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis) is responsible for maintaining our homeostasis or the body’s cruise control, and these stressors can drive a higher-than-normal production of cortisol, the stress hormone, throwing us off our balance.
Implementing lifestyle habits will certainly help balance cortisol levels. Mindfulness practices like meditation and breathwork and restorative practices like yoga and tai chi will help to restore balance as well. In fact, a recent study out of Stanford showed that 5 minutes of breathwork (Deep inhalation associated with prolonged exhales) improved mood and anxiety symptoms as well as other cortisol effects. You can certainly include this practice while preparing a festive meal or wrapping presents!!!
A little supplementation may also be helpful to navigate the ups and downs of the holiday season.
Adaptogens like ashwagandha, along with other herbs and amino acids, have been shown to modulate stress effects. Ashwagandha and formulations that contain it have been shown to statistically reduce stress scores and blood cortisol levels in placebo control trials. The amino acid L-theanine has been shown to promote alpha waves, which can induce a state of relaxation and reduce the stress response. Lavender oil and chamomile have been shown to help relaxation and improve sleep quality. Sleep can have a significant influence on managing the stress response.
The GI tract can also use attention as our food choices, stress, and alcohol intake can throw off gastrointestinal function and a healthy microbiome. Daily GI repair supplements, which include digestive enzymes, prebiotics and fiber, natural anti-inflammatory herbs, and DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice), can help to support the mucosal lining and the digestive environment, leading to a reduction in occasional stomach discomfort. Probiotics added during this time may help reduce the microbiome balances during times of stress and disordered eating and drinking.
Lastly, sharing holiday cheer can be synonymous with sharing holiday germs. Stress and lifestyle changes can make us much more susceptible to the viruses responsible for the common cold, COVID-19, and the flu. Supporting our immune system as well as our stress response can help ward off the sequelae of these bugs.
While holidays can often herald stressful times, by planning for this, you can ensure balance and enjoyment of the season.
Incorporate non-negotiable self-care techniques daily and consider stocking up on the support to help you stay jolly through January.
Calm Support (Klaire Labs)
Take 1-2 nightly and up to twice a day for up to 6 weeks
Melatonin SR (Pure Encapsulations)
Take one to two following evening meals for up to 2 weeks
GI Repair (Vital Nutrients)
Can take one to two up to three times a day for occasional gastrointestinal upset or use one twice a day for prevention during times of dietary indiscretions.
Daily Probiotic-Thera-biotic Complete (Klaire Labs)
One a day with food
L-Theanine (Integrative Therapeutics)
Take 100- 400 mg up to every 12 hours to help with stress and anxiety