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Managing Stress During the Holidays

When we think of the holidays, we often see images of wintry wonderlands, happy children, and smiling families. We think of time spent together, gift giving, and cookie making. Indeed, at its best, the holidays should be a time to reconnect and enjoy the company of family and friends.

However, there is the other side of the holidays that Hallmark doesn’t display. The transitional meltdowns, the sensory over-stimulation, the tantrums over unwanted toys or presents. There is the constant running around, the demands on parents to shop, plan parties and events, and attend dinners daily. In other words, the holidays can be stressful.

Stress can be manageable when it is short lived, but when we experience long-term exposure to it, there is more to be concerned with in regards to health. This video shows a great example of how the brain responds to stress.

Essentially, long-term stress effects what genes are active, gut health, learning, memory and behavior. When cortisol is active for long periods of time, sleep, digestion and mood can be altered. The following list of stress symptoms from WebMD summarizes the effects of long-term stress exposure.

So during the holidays, or any time of the year, if you are stressed (and let’s be honest, who isn’t these days) you are taking a negative toll on your health.  It is one thing to recognize you are stressed, but you should understand that not handing stress can mean the difference between chronic migraines and no headaches or the cause irritable bowel disease, and can even lead to depression.

Dr. Daniel Amen reports that 30% of your genetics are set in stone. The rest of them are left up to epigenetics, meaning that they can be turned on and off, depending on your lifestyle, diet and stress management techniques. So I challenge you, instead of letting the holidays drive you into a total burnout, have this be the time when you set limits and take care of yourself.

It’s better said than done, right? Here are some ways you can actively and mindfully focus on de-stressing during the holidays, even with a bustling family, active social life and work commitments.

Set time aside to do things you want to do. Make this as important as any other critical errand in your life. Is there an exercise class you have wanted to try?  Do you dream about curling up with a book by the fire? Is there a long lost friend you would love to connect with? Or are you feeling complete and satisfied with your busy schedule? Carving out time for yourself will help take the edge off of the other, less desirable things you have to engage in this season. Ultimately, it will all get done. But placing your needs as a priority will help balance out your psyche.

During the holidays, it is important to be organized and schedule things that are important to you. Try making a holiday bucket list, and take time to feel grateful for each event you experience. This list does not need to include trips on the polar express with matching pajamas, or getting the perfect Christmas card pictures. Instead, it should be things like family game or movie night or a dinner out at your favorite restaurant. Take the time to make the memories and be in the moment. Time goes quickly, and soon your kids will be grown and your traditions may change. Try to find peace in the chaos.

The power of meditation and gratitude journaling has shown higher rates of blood flow and neuron development in your prefrontal cortex (your executive functioning/reasoning center.) We love headspace and muse as meditation devices. Also, amazon sells some great gratitude journals that can help guide you into getting into this positive habit.

Stress does not feel pleasant, and during the holidays, it can quickly and easily take over. It is very important to set your intention, allow yourself to feel gratitude, and try your best to de-clutter your schedule. Your brain (and your genome) will thank you.