How to Beat Holiday Stress, According to Experts
Holiday stress-busting tips
The shopping and crowds. The back-to-back diet-busting parties. The interminable chats with the in-laws. We understand how easy it is to feel not so wonderful at this most wonderful time of the year.
That's why we've rounded up these 25 expert-endorsed ways to help you dodge the seasonal blues and stay happy, healthy, and energized.
From quick stress-survival strategies to mood-brightening foods, here's your cheat sheet to holiday cheer.
RELATED: 10 Foods That Fight Holiday Stress
Get some sunlight
- It stimulates the production of feel-good serotonin and also helps relieve seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which impacts millions of Americans every year, Judith Orloff, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, tells Health.
- To ease SAD symptoms, spend time outdoors or near a window on sunny days, or ask your doc about phototherapy (a treatment using a box that emits full-spectrum light).
Sniff citrus essential oil
Researchers studying depression have found that certain citrus fragrances boost feelings of well-being and alleviate stress by upping levels of norepinephrine, a hormone that affects mood.
For an all-day pick-me-up, dab a little lemon or orange essential oil on a handkerchief to tuck in your pocket.
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Take a walk
"The rhythm and repetition of walking has a tranquilizing effect on your brain, and it decreases anxiety and improves sleep," Ann Kulze, MD, a nutrition-and-wellness expert, tells Health. Aim for a brisk, half-hour walk every day.
Sleep better with 5-HTP
This plant extract (available in capsules at most drugstores) is thought to increase serotonin, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep. Dr. Orloff recommends 150 milligrams daily. If you take antidepressant medications, talk to your doc before trying it.
Squeeze an accupressure spot
The fleshy place between your index finger and thumb is called the hegu spot in traditional Chinese medicine. Applying firm pressure there for just 30 seconds can reduce stress and tension in your upper body. So if you start to feel overwhelmed by the holiday chaos, give your hand a squeeze and take a deep breathe.
Do less, enjoy more
"We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event," George Pratt, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California, tells Health. "Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more."
Stick with your daily routine
Prioritize your workouts, book club, etc., and don't try to squeeze in more holiday than you can handle, Katherine Muller, PsyD, an assistant professor of psychology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, tells Health.
Laughing like crazy reduces stress hormones. That, in turn, helps immune cells function better, psychologist Steve Wilson, founder of the World Laughter Tour, an organization that offers therapeutic-laughter training, tells Health.
Stop obsessing over doing it all. The world is not going to end if the house is a little cluttered or dinner is on the table a few minutes late. "Focus your energy on enjoying the people in your life," Donna Schempp, the program director for the Family Caregiver Alliance, tells Health. Don't sweat the small stuff and your holiday will be much more enjoyable!
Get out of the house
If your family members often pick on one another at the holiday table, taking the fun out of meals, consider eating family brunches or dinners in restaurants. "Being in public discourages loud voices and bad behavior," says Muller.
Forget old customs
Abandoning old customs can be a good strategy if you're lonely or grieving, Cathy Frank, MD, medical director of the Henry Ford Behavioral Health Outpatient Center, tells Health. Experiment with a different culture's customs, or invite isolated colleagues over and start some new traditions.
Be a picky volunteer
"Scale back and what you plan to do and be responsible for," Gail Saltz, MD, psychologist and host of the Personology podcast, tells Health. "Ask for help for what needs to be done, realign expectations to something more reasonable."
Be smart with your requests
Ask individually instead of emailing groups of colleagues, relatives, or friends, Noah Goldstein, PhD, an assistant professor of human resources and organizational behavior at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, tells Health. In mass requests, recipients assume they don’t need to volunteer to help because someone else will do it.
Limit tech use
Constant cell phone buzzes and email alerts keep us in a perpetual fight-or-flight mode due to bursts of adrenaline. Not only is this exhausting, but it contributes to mounting stress levels, especially in women. What better time to turn your gadgets off than during a holiday get-together? Enjoy spending time with your family and friends without worry.
Savor a spicy meal
Hot foods trigger the release of endorphins—the natural chemicals that trigger feelings of euphoria and well-being, Dr. Kulze says.
You'll get an instant kick and energy for the long haul. According to a review in Pharmacognosy Research, honey's antioxidant and antibacterial properties may improve your immunity. Here's a tip: The darker the honey, the more powerful the antioxidant punch.
Eat breakfast with your coffee
Caffeine on an empty stomach can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can cause attention problems and irritability, Joe Cilona, PsyD, a New York City–based clinical psychologist, tells Health.
Give your partner a massage
In one study, participants who gave massages had fewer medical woes and less stress than those who received rubdowns. Best scenario: You and your partner gift each other.
Say yes, yes, yes!—to sex
In addition to boosting immunity, a satisfying romp can slay stress and raise self-esteem, experts say. Orgasms increase endorphins (natural painkillers) and raise oxytocin levels, which promotes sound sleep.
Turn up the tunes
Anxious? Listen to your favorite music, whether it's Jingle Bell Rock or the latest from Jay-Z. Research from the University of Maryland shows that hearing music you love can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow. That not only calms you down but is good for your heart, too.
Add mango to your meal
Craving something sweet? Ditch the holiday cheesecake and try a delicious mango pie instead. The sweet, tangy scent of mangoes—whether they're fresh or jarred—may alter your blood chemistry and send a wave of calm over your body, research in Pharmacognosy Review shows.
Fit in exercise
It may be the last thing you feel like doing when you're stressed out, but going for a run or hitting the gym can actually make you feel better. A study of 1.2 million people in Lancet has found that workouts can boost your mood for up to 12 hours.
If you're feeling stressed and overwhelmed by your holiday agenda, don't over schedule your time and take on more than you can manage. Remember: It's OK to slow down a bit.
Plan a vacation
Taking at least four or five days off work dramatically lowers your stress levels. If you have kids and opt for a staycation during the holidays, take turns with your partner doing kid-duty—or send them off to their own vacation at grandma's.
The holidays may drive you to your breaking point, but don't focus on the bad. Negative thinking can trigger the your body's stress response, just as a real threat does. Remember, it's time to celebrate with your family and friends (even if they do stress you out!). An optimistic outlook will help you cope with challenges that come your way.
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