It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the pressure of the holidays can often mean a stress overload. Trying to get everything ready in time can be incredibly stressful, and throw in some money worries, inevitable family tensions, the pressure to socialise, and over-excited children on a sugar high, you’re hardly looking at a recipe for success. Fear not! For it’s not just Santa who has a helper… now you do too. Here are a few tried-and-tested ways to beat the stress as the festive season approaches. Harness these new habits now, and you’ll breeze through to see in the New Year calm and collected.
Managing stress levels is important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in so many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma. If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress (such as death and divorce), so don’t wait to take action. Instead, TIP 1, the 10-MINUTE MIND TRICK: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed. Try to clear your mind of all worries. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface, as this is completely normal! The more you resist the more it will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app or CD to lead you through the process.
If you struggle to stay at your happy weight throughout the year, or often turn to food as a way of coping or rewarding yourself, being surrounded by treats and snacks over the holidays rarely has a happy ending. Whereas eating your body weight in honey roasted cashew nuts might seems like a good idea at the time, it’s worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store it around the middle. Yikes! This is because the human body hasn’t evolved much since caveman times, when the extra energy was stored where it was most easily accessed, so it could be used to run away from, say, a sabre-toothed tiger. Or in the case of the forthcoming holidays, an unbearable relative. This brings me to TIP 2…. EAT REGULARLY: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional healthy snacks) a day and your digestion will thank you for it. Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, wholemeal bread or pasta).
TIP 3… Cut back on alcohol and caffeine. WHAAAAAAT??! I know it’s hard, especially over the holidays when most days revolve around drinking, but try at least to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake. Why? Well caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands – the last thing you want if you are already stressed! And whereas at first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), it’s quickly metabolised to sugar that can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me onto my next tip…
TIP 4… Prioritise sleep: Yay! Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, TV, laptop or tablet), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana may help to support undisturbed sleep.
TIP 5… Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress. Magic!
TIP 6… Get to the cause: Look at the root cause to any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about it, I warmly invite you to book a free 20-minute consultation here