Post by Chiara Phillips, a dietetic intern from Meredith College currently working with Rex Wellness Centers.
It is the most wonderful time of the year! But wait, it is also the most stressful time of year. Everyone’s to-do list seems to be ever-expanding and for all the stress and planning, the job can be thankless. When the realities of our day-to-day life conflict with our efforts to make our holidays memorable and perfect, stress ensues.
We accept this stress as normal part of the holiday season. Stress is a normal reaction, when our body is “at war.” Stress causes our bodies to go into “fight or flight,” releasing hormones that allow our bodies to focus on the task that it causing the stress. Our main stress hormone, cortisol, shuts down the systems we are not using such as reproductive, immune, and digestive and increases the body’s availability of glucose.
This increase in glucose causes an increase in insulin to control our blood sugar. This reaction leads to an increased appetite, stress eating, weight gain, and difficulty losing weight. This causes unhealthy food choices during the holiday when junk food is plentiful. So, how do we combat this stress and its negative effects? Here are five simple steps to help you handle the holiday stress:
Do you know that most of us only breathe out of the upper ¼ of our lungs? Taking deep breaths and truly filling your lungs improves our circulation, slows our heart rate, and lowers our blood pressure. So, when our in-laws, parents, children, siblings, or spouses are pushing our buttons this holiday season, take some deep breaths before you explode.
Exercise reduces stress! Physical activity bumps up our production of endorphins. Our endorphins help make us happier and more content. Find an activity that you enjoy. Walk for 15 minutes around the neighborhood looking at your neighbor’s decorations.
During the holidays we are blessed because our families and friends remind us how much we are loved, but often their love is shown through food. Often the food is not healthy. Preventing stress eating begins with being a mindful eater. Planning your meals before you eat can help avoid extra calories. At holiday parties, notice all of the options before you prepare your plate. Splurges are okay, but consume the smallest amount necessary to satisfy the craving. When you build your plate, make sure you can still see the bottom of your plate.
Don’t skimp on sleep. University of Pennsylvania researchers found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night for one week reported feeling more stressed, angry, sad, and mentally exhausted. When the subjects resumed normal sleep, they reported a dramatic improvement in mood. Be at your best during joyful and memorable times. Aim for 6-8 hours a night.
Something doesn’t need to be funny to laugh. So, laugh to laugh. As we age, the less we are laughing. Children smile 300-400 times a day and laugh 150 times a day, but adults are only laughing 17 times a day. Whether laughter is fake or real, it has the same benefits. Laughter reduces stress, increases blood flow, increased immune response, and helps with relaxation and sleep. So, when you feel that bit of holiday stress approach just laugh it off. Then laugh and laugh again!