© Carolyn Franks | Dreamstime.com
Most of us know from personal experience that the holidays can be as much a stressful time as one of comfort and joy. The majority of Americans stress over at least some aspects of the season. The gifts, parties, travel, and family—or perhaps the absence of these things—can make the holidays overwhelmingly stressful or sad.
Health Consequences of Stress
Chronic or excessive stress has substantial damaging impacts on physical and mental health. It causes maladaptation of the body’s primary stress response system—the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis—which then disrupts metabolism; immune, nervous system, and hormonal function; and more.
Chronic stress can also trigger or exacerbate depression and anxiety, emotional eating, weight gain, and addictive behaviors.
The two basic rules for dealing with stress are to reduce your exposure to stressors when possible and to take active steps to help yourself handle the inevitable stress you can’t control. Below, in our “Top 13 Holiday Stressors” chart, we list common causes of holiday stress points.
So which holiday stressors affect you, and which ones can you eliminate? Here are some examples:
- Too much to do? Choose wisely, plan, prioritize, and delegate, but, most of all, remember that it’s okay to say “no.”
- Can’t afford it? Set a budget, pool resources to buy group gifts, draw names from a hat, or give handmade gifts or the gift of time.
- Be realistic. You’ll only be disappointed if you don’t keep your expectations realistic and focus on what’s really important to you.
- Lonely? If you don’t have family or friends to be around, attend local holiday concerts or community events, see if any co-workers are without holiday plans and have a potluck, or spend your time giving to someone else in need by volunteering. If you are far from family, try creative ways to connect like videos or Skype.
- Hate crowds? Shop online and have it delivered to your door.
- Difficult family? Let arguments go, walk away, take a break, and practice acceptance and non-criticism. Of course, if your family is truly abusive or unhealthy for you, decline spending time with them.
For the stressors that you can’t avoid, try stepping back and relaxing. There are hundreds of relaxation techniques and dozens of stress-reducing lifestyle practices that you can choose from. Some examples:
- Download free, short, guided meditation, progressive relaxation, deep breathing, or guided imagery exercises.
- Try to maintain a regular exercise schedule.
- Schedule some bodywork or energy work.
- Take a short, brisk walk or do some yoga poses.
- Support your adrenal glands by taking a B-complex vitamin and vitamin C.
- Carry healthy snacks that include protein, like nuts, to keep your blood sugar levels stable and help prevent cravings.
- Practice mindfulness, kindness, or humor.
- Notice the sights and sounds around you, call an old friend, or take deep breaths.
Take a Natural Chill Pill
If all else fails and you need some immediate stress relief, you can always take a natural chill pill—an herbal extract or natural supplement with quick-acting anti-anxiety effects. Three of our favorites for quick relaxation without sedation are:
- L-theanine (200 mg)
- Kava kava root extract (standardized to 30% kavalactones; 250 mg)
- GABA (250 mg)
By identifying the holiday stressors that are specific, personal triggers for you, and by using some practical strategies and natural healing techniques, you may even find peace and joy in this year’s holiday season.
Originally published in 2015 and updated.