Many people look forward to the holiday season and the start of a new year. It often provides an opportunity to spend quality time with family, take a few days off from work, or go on a winter vacation. But if the thought of holiday season gives you visions of stress and chaos, you are not alone. While the holiday season can be a fun and joyous time, it can also be very stressful. The combined effort of shopping, attending social events, and entertaining guests can quickly become too much to handle.
The body’s reaction to stress is meant to protect us. Our natural reactions to danger or challenge can be positive, but when we feel intense pressure or feel out of control these reactions become negative stress. The “fight or flight” response from the sympathetic nervous system occurs as we react to physical and mental changes in our equilibrium. In Chinese medicine, excessive emotional stimulation or suppression causes imbalance, thereby injuring the body and producing disease. And if you read last month’s newsletter, you know that stress is one of the things that will lower your immune system.
Here are several ways to minimize stress and anxiety so you can thoroughly enjoy this festive time of year and stay well at the same time.
Nix the Sugar
Some call this the “sugar season” which officially begins the day after Halloween and goes through New Years with many occasions to indulge in desserts, festive beverages and the like. If you want to reduce stress, sugar is one of the first things to cut out of your diet. When you’re stressed, your body releases more cortisol, a hormone responsible for helping us manage both stress and blood sugar levels. That’s because when you eat sugary foods, blood sugar levels spike, and the body must release more cortisol to balance blood sugar. The problem is that increased cortisol can also cause sleep issues, decreased immune response, headaches, and unhealthy food cravings. Additionally, rapidly fluctuating blood sugar levels cause feelings that are similar to stress, including anxiousness and fear. By eliminating foods with added sugars—like pastries, flavored yogurt, and soda—and eating more whole foods, you’ll keep your blood sugar stable, boost your immune system and will have fewer mood swings, reduced stress, and a happier body
Get Enough Sleep.
Being well rested is one of the best things you can do to reduce stress. If you are living with babies, pets, your partner’s snoring, and other outside circumstances that interrupt your sleep, it may difficult for you to “get enough sleep.” But if you can actually make changes to improve your sleep time like sleeping in a different room, for example, less stress will be your reward along with improved mental clarity and more energy.
If you are one of those people who wakes up at 3 a.m. worrying or with aches and pains, or you have trouble falling asleep herbs, acupuncture, and/or meditation may be a good solution. Take a good look at how you can get more sleep like turning the TV or your phone off earlier, installing light blocking curtains in your bedroom, or allowing yourself to take naps, and saying no to social obligations when you really are too tired. If you use caffeine to “get through the day.” you may want to gradually cut down on caffeine to allow yourself to be tired, and then to sleep when you feel tired.
The fall and winter are times to be a little less social, to slow your activities down, get more sleep, and to cozy up.
Studies show that exercise boosts the immune the system by decreasing the body’s stress hormones and by increasing our feel good hormones that encourage a good night’s sleep. Try to get thirty to sixty minutes per day of moderate exercise like walking and move around throughout the day. Take a break from sitting for extended periods and do some light activity. Just getting up and moving around is a powerful way to reduce stress, because it allows our muscles to move, encourages blood to flow and helps us feel better. Exercise also gets us breathing deeper, which triggers the body’s relaxation response.
In general we all have stress. In a world where change is the only constant, stressful situations will always arise. There is nothing we can do about that. We can, however, learn to respond better to stress. “Responding “better” to stress takes a concerted effort to understand when you respond poorly to stressful situations and then finding new ways to cope.
I frequently share information on meditation, yoga and tai chi which are great ways to reduce your stress. Even just 10 minutes a day makes a big difference. One study showed that people who meditated over an 8 week period had improved immune response up to four months later. There are a number of yoga studios and other healthy living groups in our area that teach yoga, meditation and tai chi. I teach yoga in Tyrone at the Library on Thursdays at 5:55 pm. The Healthy Lifestyle Network has yoga and tai chi classes, the PTC Recreation Dept offers tai chi and the Fayette County Parks and Recreation and the Coweta Recreation Center also offer yoga. A quick Google search with yield a number of local yoga studios. Check them out to see what feels best for you.
Spending time with loving friends and family also can help relieve stress, or watching funny movies, laughing more, dancing, listening to or playing music, getting a massage, acupuncture, taking a bath, exercising….there are many ways to de-stress, you just have to discover (or remember) what your way is, and commit to it before things get out of control. Lowering your stress levels boosts your immune system, not only preventing colds and flus, but other more serious diseases, too.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention acupuncture for stress reduction. Getting regular acupuncture treatments helps to turn off the stress response as well as boosts the immune cells that kill infection. Acupuncture can alleviate stress symptoms by releasing endorphins, the body’s own natural painkillers, and improving the circulation of blood and lymphatic fluids, which brings fresh oxygen to body tissues. This increased oxygen flow eliminates waste products from inside the body and enhances recovery from diseases. Chinese medicine also decreases the stress hormone cortisol, lowers blood pressure, reduces heart rate, and relaxes muscle tissue.
Don’t wait to stress proof your body! Start now before the holidays are upon us.