‘Tis the season to be jolly, but in fact many of us are feeling exhausted at this extremely busy time of year and can’t wait for the 25th – just so we can have a lie-in, or a break from work.
Are you feeling frazzled and stressed at the moment? – If so, you’re not alone. It starts with the crowded shops, long shopping lists, worrying if the receivers will like or use your gift, anxiety waiting for online websites to deliver in time, hunting down this year’s children’s must-have toy, plus spending hours wrapping presents and planning festive menus.
Next comes the social calendar, fitting in friends and family, travelling from one end of the country to another, getting in and out of the car countless times, wrapping up in twenty-five layers of clothes, Christmas parties, drinking too much, eating too much, then feeling guilty for drinking and eating too much, squeezing in healthy nutritious food, worrying what to wear, doing hair and make up for all the different occasions and so on.
But controlling stress is crucial for good physical and emotional health. Stress is the body’s natural response to a threatening situation which is a reflex that dates back to caveman times; if you were being chased from your cave by a grizzly bear, your body would switch from calm and relaxed to an emergency mode where the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released – which gives you a jolt to run to safety.
We all know that hot, uncomfortable panicky feeling that can arise when in an overcrowded shopping centre, or the shakiness when the red mists of anger, annoyance or irritation descend. Not only does it feel horrible, it’s incredibly bad for you and can knock years off your life in the long-term – so learning coping mechanisms to control our body’s ancient stress responses is crucial.
Unfortunately, the pressures of modern life mean that many of us are living a near-permanent state of stress and never switching back to relaxed; we are running on excess cortisol, insulin and adrenaline, day in day out, relying on caffeine (which also mimics the stress response) and sugar to fuel us through our busy lives.
Think of it this way; every time you flick your stress switch, you’re also shortening your precious telomeres, creating wrinkles and straining your immune system. Not only that, you’re likely to be suffering from stress-induced insomnia.
In the long-term, this frenetic high-stress lifestyle comes with many health problems including unwanted weight gain, headaches or migraines, extreme fatigue, depression, diabetes, obesity, anxiety and many digestive complaints.
Here’s three easy steps to a stress-free festive season:
• Make time for yourself every day to be still and breathe. Finding just ten minutes every day to be quiet can be valuable, precious healing. Spend the time switched off from social media, phones and people (if possible), sit in a quiet and relaxed place, maybe burn an aromatherapy candle, or listen to some relaxing music and concentrate on your breathing. Take several deep breaths, close your eyes and concentrate on relaxing your body from your feet all the way up to your brain. It’s a wonderful way to start and end a day on a happy note and to see the bigger picture during time of stress.
• Slow down when you are eating and try to eat mindfully. Eating too quickly signals to the body that it is in stress response, which triggers excess cortisol and insulin (hello, weight gain!) and decreases absorption of vital nutrients. It also decreases calorie and fat burning and causes digestive shutdown – resulting in bloating, overeating, gas and heartburn. Take time to slow down and take pleasure in the food you are eating and enjoy a stress-free meal; even if the rest of the day feels like it has been a train wreck. Turn off the television and your phone, if you’re with family or friends eating at the table with phones and other electronics switched off often results in some much needed stress-busting laughter.
There’s plenty of other seasonal stress relieving tips here, you can try a ten minute yoga sequence here, or an instant happiness boosting self-hypnosis method that works here. And, if you need help sleeping at night, then we have a step by step guide here. Pack as much turmeric into your diet as you can; it has been shown in studies to be more effective than Prozac for battling moderate depression in many cases, and will give you a lift in less than 15 minutes if you juice it.
You might not be able to change the amount of stress you have in your day, but you can work towards changing how your body and mind react to it. Focus on welcoming in 2017 with a fresh, revitalised mindset, if you start getting in the habit of building time to relax into your day now you’ll be surprised how easy it is to keep up with the festive season out of the way come early January.
Let us know your tips to deal with seasonal stress in the comments below.