Don’t Let Stress Derail Your Holiday Season
Learn how to prevent and manage stress with simple and effective naturopathic approaches.
The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy, family, giving, and compassion…but unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let stress take control during this incredibly busy time of year
According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, more than eight out of ten people anticipate a stressful holiday season. Whether you’re fretting about your gift list, entertaining guests, or travel plans, it’s important to find ways to manage your stress levels so you can have a healthy and happy holiday.
“Don’t let stress solutions stress you out,” says Dr. JoAnn Yanez, the executive director of the AANMC. “Find fixes that are easy to implement, leave you recharged, and lighten your load.”
Naturopathic medicine can help individuals prevent and manage stress and improve overall wellbeing.
Stress occurs when an event triggers a stress response, which is often referred to as the fight or flight response. There are many ways that the body will try to bring itself back into balance, and different people respond differently to the same stress stimuli.
Stressors can be anything from work, finances, relationships, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, lack of nutrients, and exposure to environmental toxins.
“As a certified mindfulness practitioner, I stress (no pun intended) the undeniable relationship between our emotional and mental health and that of our entire being,” Dr. Jennifer Botwick, clinical adjunct faculty at the University of Bridgeport, says.
“The relationship between diet, physical activity and stress is a deeply interconnected cycle. When we are stressed, most people tend to crave and indulge in more quick fixes. Most people can recognize this, but not break the cycle,” Dr. Lindsay Chimileski, from the University of Bridgeport, explains.
Diet and nutrition play a large role in the body’s stress levels.
“Stress often leads people to reach for the most convenient food, one that normally does not have much nutritional value (which is in and of itself a stressor). This just makes things worse, as the body needs good nutrition to balance the effects of the stress response,” Dr. Emma Norton, an assistant professor at Bastyr University, says.
“Without good nutrition and in the presence of chronic stress, the body is destined for a variety of stress related problems.”
“Stressful times are more physiologically demanding, so you need more nutrients (vitamins and minerals) during this time. You can’t always avoid the situations that your body will perceive as stressful. You can, however, provide the body with proper nutrition through dietary choices that will enable the body to balance the nervous system faster and with less anxiety or responsiveness,” she explains.
“You need more protein, more healthy fats, more B vitamins, more vitamin C, and more magnesium. The focus of the diet should be a whole food plant based diet, not necessarily vegetarian, but containing most of the calories from plant sources, because they are the highest in the micronutrients we so desperately need when we are stressed,” Dr. Norton says.
Dr. Chimileski adds, “Eating in a rush is one of the most important, almost silly, self-imposed health issues of our time. Everyone’s digestion is compromised because they cannot find the time in the day to sit down and chew their food; let alone shop, prep, and cook good meals. It physically stunts our digestion.”
Exercise and physical activity are also linked to stress levels.
“When you exercise, your body makes chemicals called endorphins, which act as your body’s natural opiates, making you feel good, thus counteracting the stress and anxiety that people feel when under stress,” Dr. Norton says.
“Lack of exercise and “play” time can contribute to stress because for most people exercise and fun activities can diffuse stress.”
“Physical activity helps to bring us out of our heads and into our bodies,” Dr. Chimileski says. “Instead of the constant rolling mental to-do list. It also trains our minds and bodies to work through stressful situations.”
Of course, mental habits contribute significantly to stress levels.
“Mental habits like overthinking or thinking that there is nothing you can do to change the problem can really make a stressful situation much worse,” Dr. Norton explains.
“Self-sabotaging, overcommitting and having unrealistic expectations are also major contributors to stress, which are within our control,” Dr. Chimileski adds. “By being loving and kind with ourselves and making the time for self-care, we enter into all activities of the day in a better mindset and more able to deal with whatever curve balls are thrown at us.”
“Overcommitting and self-shaming for only finishing 99 of the 100 things on the to do list is so unnecessary. There are many sources out there on the power of saying no and not agreeing to do things that you either can’t or don’t want to do. You can take control of your day this way,” she says.
These naturopathic doctors shared their tried and tested tips to prevent and manage stress.
Approaches to managing stress vary greatly, but they all are rooted in the naturopathic principle of treating the cause.
According to Dr. Norton, approaches can include: “lifestyle education on proper whole food nutrition, encouraging adequate rest and exercise, testing for and treating nutritional deficiencies, testing for and correcting hormonal imbalances, mind body techniques to promote a positive mental attitude and increase activity of the parasympathetic nervous system, botanical and nutritional supplementation to support the nervous system and adrenal glands, constitutional homeopathy that focuses on treating the whole person, hydrotherapy techniques aimed at promoting relaxation and increasing parasympathetic tone and physical medicine techniques that encourage proper spinal alignment and muscle tone.”
Dr. Norton recommends the following preventive stress tips:
- Get enough sleep and relaxation time
- Spend time around the people that support you and bring you joy
- Seek out places that make you feel grounded and in control
- Use simple techniques like diaphragmatic breathing to calm the mind and allow for a positive mental attitude
Dr. Emma Norton
“Find something in your day to bring you out of your head,” Dr. Chimileski says. “This can be something big or small – a yoga pose between clients, squats before the shower, prepping a lovely meal, going for a walk outside, doing or seeing some art, laughing, loving.”
Dr. Chimileski recommends physical, herbal, and mental techniques:
- Fun physical activity that uses multiple parts of the brain: yoga, qi gong, dancing, hiking
- Acupuncture to balance the body
- Herbs used in daily life to bring individuals to the present moment: adaptogen herbs to strengthen and balance stress response, herbal nervines and teas to wake up senses, improve digestion, and calm nerves
- Chew your food thoroughly before swallowing
- Mindfulness, meditation, and grounding exercises like positive affirmations and mantras
- Making time for art
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Say no to requests that are not going to be beneficial to your health or stress level
- Journal three things that made you happy each day
- Use an app that promotes mindfulness, encourages stretch breaks, or sends positive reminders
- Set goals that are achievable and simple, and celebrate small successes
Dr. Botwick recommends self-care:
- Remember to breathe
- Be mindful
- Cultivate self love
- Stay present
She also relies on whole foods, anti-inflammatory foods, regular physical and mental health exercises, cranio-sacral therapy, acupuncture, massage therapy, and reiki.