Horseman’s Health: Managing Stress for the Holidays

With Dr. Madalyn Ward

As if life isn’t stressful enough juggling family, work, and social commitments, the holidays are here to bring a whole new level of stress. Sure the holidays can be a fun and joyous time, but there’s no denying they also bring on stress with preparing for celebrations, travel, and possibly having more people in your home.

Even if you are a super multi-tasker and think you have it all under control, according to Michael Smith, ND, of the Carolinas Natural Health Center in North Carolina, most of us don’t realize the amount of harmful stress we are under. That includes the 24% of Americans reported in the 2009 Stress in America study by the American Psychological Association that reported this statistic to be a 42% increase from 2008. Then consider the 18.1% of people reported by the National Institute of Mental Health as having anxiety disorders and you’ve got a lot of stress and anxiety going on in this country that can cause problems with digestion, immunity, adrenal function, memory, and energy levels, give us headaches, and cause weight gain and depression.

Physical, mental and emotional stress can all cause the brain to signal adrenal glands to release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Sometimes a short burst of these hormones are helpful for us to get something accomplished, but chronic stress that keeps the body in this state can lead to a variety of health problems. Since you know this time of year is liable to bring on extra stress, your best defense is having a plan for how to deal with stress. There are a variety of natural solutions you can choose from to help in dealing with stress. Take a look at some of the ways we’ve found and try some out for yourself to choose ones to add to your stress relief plan.

Organize Your Holidays
The first step in your anti-stress plan needs to include getting organized. Clear up any cluttered counters, closets, cabinets, guest rooms, or anywhere else you will be working or will need space during the holidays. Make lists of chores for cleaning, decorating, shopping, and any other categories of activities you need to add into your already busy schedule. Plan out time in your schedule as to when to get these type of extras done by adding them to your day planner or calendar like making an appointment with yourself to do them. This will help you avoid a mad rush at the last minute and help you keep the stress down. Add delegation into your plan too as other family members, even the kids, can help. You don’t have to do it all by yourself. If your list is really big, you may even need to hire some cleaning or cooking help or do some shopping online to save yourself time and stress. You may even need to rethink some of your holiday plans. If you already have a crazy schedule, then consider if it is really worth the extra stress to do everything you would like to do or just usually do. Are there things that could come off the list and still make it a special holiday? Weigh your options taking the benefit to your health from the stress relief into consideration to see if there is anything you can mark off your list.

Relax and Take Breaks
With all the extra stress getting ready for holiday celebrations and during those celebrations, be sure you remember to take time to relax. It may fall to you to make sure the holidays are special and fun, but make sure you take some time to enjoy them too. You know what they say about all work and no play. When you don’t have the time to sit down and really relax, try some aromatherapy with lavender or rosemary as research shows these odors can have a relaxing effect and lower our production of cortisol. Or stop for just a few minutes and do some deep breathing to get more oxygen flowing in your bloodstream, get an energy boost, and help your body relax. You can also use music for stress relief and to help you relax. Studies show some types of music actually can reduce cortisol production. One study reported more significant results of this type with Latin choral music compared to a recording of rippling water. Another study found the music of Mozart to be more effective than instrumental pieces or than music from the Schindler’s List soundtrack. The main thing is to find music that lifts your spirit and makes you happy though. You might listen to recordings of Christmas carols or other traditional spiritual music as you work or just sing by yourself as singing has also been found to boost mood and to be good for dealing with stress.

Be Happy
Whether singing, watching a comedy movie or TV show, reading a funny book, or just getting together with friends and family that you enjoy, be sure to laugh and smile lots. Even if you are stressed and don’t particularly feel like smiling, “fake it ’til you make it” and do it anyway as this is another anti-stress tool. Smiling can actually lower your heart rate and reduce your body’s stress responses. Laughing sends more oxygen to your body’s organs and increases blood flow that reduces stress hormones.

Sweat It Out
Take some time out to exercise as this will increase blood flow to the brain, lower adrenaline levels, send more oxygen to your lungs, boost your metabolism, help your digestion, and increase production of dopamine and serotonin to lift your mood. Doing a full workout is great, but even if you don’t feel you have time for that at least go for a walk or find ways to incorporate extra exercise into your day. I recently saw a video of a woman doing squats while folding laundry and leg lifts while drying dishes. You can park further away from stores causing you to have to walk further, take the stairs instead of the escalator or elevator, or take your dog for an extra long walk when he needs to go outside. Be creative and think outside the box and you may be amazed to find places and ways to get some extra body movement into your day.

Stress Relief with Nutrition
Don’t beat yourself up about indulging in some of the holiday treats that aren’t on your usual healthy eating plan. This will just add to your stress level. Yes, those sugar filled, simple carb, fatty foods are not particularly good for you, but eating a few treats in moderation for a few holiday events isn’t going to blow your whole diet. You can plan ahead when going to parties and fill up on fresh fruits and veggies beforehand so that you aren’t as likely to overindulge. Getting back on track the next day with extra antioxidant foods can help you repair any free radical damage those less than healthy treats may encourage. Get your body ready knowing that you will probably eat some of these treats by boosting up your nutrition before the holidays hit and again after. Besides lots of fruits and veggies for extra antioxidants, include omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as fatty fish, AFA bluegreen algae, nuts and seeds, as well as magnesium, B vitamins, chlorophyll and lean protein foods. All these give you the nutrition to help your body in dealing with stress.

Rushing around getting ready for the holidays often leads to not taking the time to eat right though. If you find you don’t have time to be cooking healthy meals and are ordering take-out to save some time, wholefood nutritional supplements can help you out. Probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus can help keep your supply of friendly bacteria healthy to produce the B vitamins that help the body in managing stress and boost mood. Digestive enzymes can help in digesting the holiday treats you indulge in and in reducing gas, heartburn and bloating. And if you are traveling for the holidays, consider these convenient packets that give you AFA bluegreen algae, probiotics and enzymes already measured out for the day.

I wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday however you celebrate. Make a plan for dealing with stress and you’ll be more likely to have this wish come true.