It happens every year. Even with the best intentions to keep calm and carry on, the holiday season hits and we get too busy, sometimes overwhelmingly so. As the end of the year rapidly approaches, we may find ourselves with deadlines at work, multiple travel plans, more interaction with family members, and a surfeit of social opportunities. While the “most wonderful time of year” may infuse some people with more energy, for others it can be very draining.
We’re all familiar with stress by now, and we know it’s not good for us from a health perspective. Particularly when we experience chronic low-level stress, the body needs to produce more stress hormones to deal with it, taking resources from other parts of the system to compensate. The result may be increased feelings of anxiety, mental overload, stiff muscles and joints, lower immunity and susceptibility to illness, and weight gain.
But there are a few relatively simple ways we can lower stress levels and minimize negative symptoms. This year, let’s not just survive, but actively thrive, as we countdown to 2019.
One of the simplest and fastest ways to manage stress is to focus on your breath. My favorite technique is to close the eyes, breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, then exhale to a count of 8. If you do this a few times, you’re telling the body’s nervous system that life is not an emergency and it’s okay to calm down. You also lower your heart rate and push more oxygen into your cells. Put a timer on your phone or a post-it note on your computer reminding yourself to pause for some deep breathing exercises several times per day.
If you have more time, consider adding in 10-15 minutes of meditation first thing in the morning. The Headspace app offers timed guided meditation that make it easier to start a practice. As with all things, the more you practice, the easier it becomes and eventually a healthy habit is formed.
2. Sweat it out
Exercise is a great way to relieve the body of stress and anxiety. Nothing resets the mind quite like a long run or a good workout. Schedule exercise on your calendar (make it non-negotiable) or make plans to attend a fitness class with your friend to keep you accountable.
If you’re feeling that you don’t have the time or the energy (this is the busy season after all!), then consider taking time to just get in a good sweat when you can. Sweating helps detoxify the body and relax the muscles, as well as providing an endorphins boost. This can be as relaxing as sitting in a sauna or steam room for 10 minutes (infrared saunas are our favorite because it warms the body from the inside and promotes detoxification), or going to an urban sweat lodge like Shape House (locations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn) where you can lie on an infrared bed and watch Netflix.
3. Caffeine’s quirks and perks
I have a very on again, off again relationship with coffee. That steamy, creamy mug of joe just lights up my insides and makes me ready to face a busy day ahead with a smile on my face and a zip in my step. But when it’s part of my daily routine for a little too long, next thing I know I’m like a junkie who can’t live without her fix. I’m more tired and grumpy in the mornings than I should be, and I find myself thinking that a second cup in the afternoon really isn’t such a bad idea. My sleep starts being affected, and my stress and anxiety levels take a subtle but noticeable turn for the worse.
Reducing the amount of caffeine in your day is a wise idea in at this busier time of year. And because caffeine is dehydrating, making swaps for tea or water gives you the added bonus of extra hydration. Have a glass of water as soon as you wake up, as well as a small cup before bed. My favorite coffee swap is a warm cup of our Dandelion and Chicory Daily Roast. This tea is caffeine-free but just as satisfying with its dark roasted flavor and subtle coffee flavor. It’ll do the trick in boosting your body’s hydration and energy levels instead of zapping them.
4. Eat this, not that
Holiday food and not having the time to prepare healthy meals are probably the biggest causes of stress, weight gain, brain fog, and low energy at this time of year. From Halloween candy to slices of pie and plates of cookies, the opportunity to indulge is everywhere. But a little planning can keep you on track to enjoy the sweets of the season as well as look and feel great in your party clothes. Focus on adding more plant-based foods and well-sourced proteins that give the body energy, and crowd out the sugar and processed junk. Remember, worrying about food and feeling guilty is not the way to reduce stress! Instead, enjoy your social engagements, but set yourself up for success by having healthy options ready and waiting for you when hunger hits, both at home and at work.
The holidays don’t have to be stressful, if we can begin to prioritize our health and happiness with a few simple techniques. Incorporate one or all of the above and see if the light of the season can bring more joy and energy into your life instead of stress and overwhelm. Let me know how it goes!
Caroll Lee - Founder of Provenance Meals
Caroll is an avid cook, mother of two, Board Certified Health Counselor and the founder of Provenance Meals. Her passion in life is to feed people real food -- food that is raised, grown and prepared in traditional ways that are good for your health and good for the planet. Caroll practices holistic nutrition, understanding that a healthy diet must be combined with other sources of nourishment—loving relationships, enjoyable physical activity, meaningful work and spiritual connectedness—to reach true health and happiness.