Stop the Holiday Stress Cycle and Have the Happiest Year Yet
After our big Thanksgiving has passed, it’s safe to say the winter holidays are here!
Does that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Or do you sink a little anticipating the stress that’s waiting to rear its ugly head?
The holidays are meant to be a time of fun and relaxation. But sadly, statistics show that the holiday season is linked to increased health issues like heart attacks, stroke, depression, and other health issues. So what has happened to our holiday cheer?
Let’s explore our relationship with the holidays and learn a few helpful tips to make this holiday season your happiest yet!
Why are the Holidays So Stressful?
Of course, we all experience stress differently and for different reasons during the holidays, but here are a few of the main reasons our stress skyrockets during the winter holidays:
- We have too-high expectations
Unrealistic expectations have been robbing us of our joy for ages, but they seem to take their biggest punches during the holidays. When we imagine what we hope our holidays will look like and our all-too-human family disappoints or we don’t have the endless hours we need to accomplish all of our holiday tasks, we feel defeated. To make matters worse, these days we are constantly bombarded with picture-perfect homes and families and gifts through social media. This disconnect is a major cause of stress, depression, and anxiety that can linger far beyond the holiday season.
- We indulge too much – and pay for it.
What would the holidays be without indulging in our favorite treats? While I am all for enjoying treats in moderation, it can be hard to keep the balance during the holidays. Unfortunately, this affects more than our waistlines. The refined sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, dairy, processed foods, and additives that are common in our favorite holiday foods can lead to increased inflammation, brain fog, sugar crashes, and more. Over time, these foods can contribute to increased stress on the body and even depression.
- We put off self-care because we’re busy
It’s no surprise that the holidays are a busy time, and this in and of itself can increase stress even in the most resilient of us. But the deeper reason holiday busyness causes increased stress is because we tend to put off or neglect our self-care when the to-dos pile up. You ditch your regular exercise habit to work through lunch, you snooze through morning meditation because you went to bed late, or you skip your skincare routine because you can’t bear to do anything but fall into bed at the end of the day. As a result, your mind and body don’t get the rest they need, and stress only grows.
- Stress begets stress
Here’s the most annoying reason of all: we’re stressed, so we become more stressed. The mere presence of added stress in our lives from the holidays, end of the year, or winter itself can start a vicious cycle. We make stress – and our response to it – a habit. That stops here!
Being stressed during the holidays is common, but doesn’t have to be expected. The best way to stop the stress cycle is to take on the holidays a little differently – and with a sense of calm! Let’s learn how!
6 Holiday Habits to Stop the Stress Cycle and Have the Happiest Year Yet
Holiday stress is inevitable, but we can fight back quickly and save our mental (and physical) health with the right habits and tools.
- Simplify, simplify, simplify! Simplifying life is always a good stress-relief technique, but it never comes more in handy than during the holidays. This year, plan to schedule less, commit to less, and buy less. With the coronavirus pandemic still a major concern around the world, this year might be the perfect excuse to take things easy and focus on embracing the true spirit of the holidays at home.
- Swap traditions. Is there a holiday tradition that drains you? One that you dread doing each year, but hold on for the sake of tradition? This year, when everything has been turned on its head, is the perfect time to do a “tradition swap.” Trade your tired tradition for something new and refreshing. Borrow from other cultures or ask your friends what simple traditions they enjoy the most.
- Reframe holiday giving. The holidays are an amazing excuse to give from the heart. But in recent years, our giving traditions have lost their spark. The pressure to give bigger, better, and more elaborately is a major cause of holiday stress – and financial issues – for many people. It’s time to reframe what holiday giving is all about. Rather than giving lots of material gifts from big businesses this year, consider giving in different ways. Buy from a friend’s small business, donate to charities, or offer small acts of kindness each day of December. If you have a young family, this can be a great opportunity to show your kids how fun giving during the holidays can be.
- Have a go-to emergency stress relief kit. Of course, lifestyle habits like a healthy diet and exercise keep us resilient against stress, but sometimes we need a little extra help. Make your own go-to emergency stress relief kit with some of my favorite natural remedies:
- Citrus essential oil (take a quick sniff or diffuse during times of stress for uplifting relief)
- Chamomile, peppermint, or Pukka’s Relax tea
- CBD massage oil (for a quick foot or neck massage)
- A mini journal and pen (unload any stressful thoughts, worries, or to-do lists from your head)
- High quality, gut-friendly dark chocolate (dark chocolate can instantly boost the mood and relax tension – in moderation of course!)
- Squeeze an acupoint in between your acupuncture sessions.
As an acupuncturist, I can’t help but think of all the amazing acupuncture points to help reduce stress and anxiety. Staying current with your regular acupuncture schedule (or starting a new course of acupuncture treatments) is essential for managing the stress and health issues that tend to pop up around the holidays. Stay on track and book your holiday visits now!
Outside of the clinic, we can also use acupoints to manage stress and tension. One of the easiest acupoints that you can press during times of stress, or as a simple preventative daily habit, is called “hegu” or Large Intestine 4. This point is located in the meaty part of the muscle between the forefinger and the thumb. It is known to calm stress, ease muscle tension, and fight headaches among many other things.
- Eat for happiness
Diet is a vast and complex topic, but when it comes to holiday eating there are two rules that I find to be most important. One, enjoy the season and eat what makes you happy. Two, remember to keep the balance. So, while you enjoy your favorite holiday treats, be sure to pile on the nutritious dishes too. This balance helps you appreciate your favorites that much more and offers you a chance to fill up on some seriously good brain food. Try adding these mood-boosting foods to your daily diet to keep you smiling all month long:
- Brussels sprouts
- Leafy greens
- Citrus fruits
- Pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and chia seeds
- Black beans
- Halibut and salmon
- Get outside. Feeling stuck? Stressed? Bored? Overwhelmed? Blah? Simply step outside. Taking a break in nature is one of the easiest ways to give your mind a quick reboot when the stress takes over. Studies show that spending time in nature is a natural anti-depressant and can even boost productivity and sense of purpose. Here in California, we are blessed with mild weather most of the year, but it can still be tempting to stay indoors when the holiday stress kicks in. Set an alarm for twice a day to take a break outside, or plan to do your daily exercise outside to reap these healing benefits.
Happy, Healthy Holidays are Ahead
After the immense stress of the past year, we all deserve to finish the year with a healthy dose of relaxation. I hope that these tips help you create some calm this season, and help you feel restored and ready for a fresh new year ahead. Wishing you a happy, calm holiday season!
Hi! I'm Angela
Acupuncturist, Herbalist, Integrative Wellness Consultant and Mood-Gut expert.
I’ve dedicated my career to helping people like you overcome their stress and anxiety and help them change their lives for the better. If stress has taken over your health or happiness, let’s work together to create a healthier future! Book your initial consultation or contact me to learn more.