The most wonderful time of the year has arrived, and with it comes the not-so-wonderful added stress in nearly every aspect of our lives, from social events to end-of-year work obligations. While our normal bodily stress response is triggered an estimated 60 times on a regular day, one can only imagine what it’s like with added seasonal stress.
As a preview to the stress-relieving wisdom contained in her new book, “The Stress Remedy,” Dr. Doni Wilson — a naturopathic doctor, stress expert and nutrition specialist — has provided five essential stress relievers to help people cope with seasonal emotions and transform stress during the hectic holiday season.
1. Save some time for yourself.
In the midst of making your list and checking it twice, it’s easy to forget the essential act of caring for yourself first. In “The Stress Remedy,” Dr. Doni helps us see the warning signs of when too much stress creates excess cortisol (a primary stress hormone) and how to tackle these conditions by taking out time for YOU.
For example, you first need to identify stress symptoms — which range from worry and anxiety about life, feeling overwhelmed and being emotional, to physical symptoms, such as digestive distress, headaches and more. It’s possible to get your body back in sync with simple remedies to take care of yourself. Here are a few self-love approaches she recommends:
- Taking time to plan and prioritize your day
- Enjoying a cup of green tea
- Scheduling a massage
- Taking a hot shower or bubble bath
- Curling up under a cozy winter blanket with a good book
- Listening to music
- Setting a reminder to eat every three to four hours and including protein with every meal
- Getting enough sleep
Research has shown that all of these seemingly simple tasks can actually boost our health tremendously. Both reading and drinking tea can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles and improve mood. Reading works its magic quickly: Just six minutes of reading has been associated with a slower heart rate and muscle relaxation.
Massages have the ability to rebalance the stress response by decreasing cortisol, while also increasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps create serenity, optimism and self-confidence, while dopamine is associated with motivation, excitement and pleasure.
2. Disconnect with social media & reconnect with loved ones.
Between work obligations, social commitments and travel plans, withdrawing from our normal routine of Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media is often the furthest thing from our minds. However, taking occasional breaks from technology is an essential way to restore healthy cortisol levels and improve immune function.
Since the holidays have the added bonus of vacation time and different work schedules, taking a break allows us to take our eyes off the screen and spend times with others face to face, which research has shown to reduce stress and even add years to your life. Connecting with others physically or emotionally has been shown to increase oxytocin, a stress-reducing hormone related to bonding. Likewise, research shows that talking with a loved one can decrease cortisol, increase endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles and improve mood.
As the devoted mother of a young girl, Dr. Doni sheds light on an interesting study in which young girls were given stressful tasks. After completing the tasks, some of the girls were allowed to call their mothers, while others were not. The ones who spoke with Mom showed decreased blood levels of cortisol and increased levels of oxytocin. Girls who hugged their mothers in person had a similar response.
3. Boost brainpower by adding healthy foods to holiday recipes.
Several of the main culprits of holiday stress are tied back to food and behavioral eating. Whether it’s to avoid the emotional stress that comes with holiday weight gain or the dreaded physical response from overindulgence in seasonal treats, a plan for staying healthy can be a vital tool when attacking stress this year.
It’s not mandatory to give up all of your holiday favorites, but in order to help your brain cells recover from stress in the most efficient way, Dr. Doni recommends including these healthy foods every day:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, and hazelnuts
- Fatty fish: wild salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Berries: strawberries, blueberries and cranberries
- Leafy greens: spinach, kale, chard and more
- Turmeric, otherwise known as curcumin
- Dark chocolate
Like most people, Dr. Doni is pressed for time, and has a list of go-to healthy places whenever she has a craving:
- Starbucks, which is often nearby and has green tea, as well as packages of nuts with dried fruit
- Organic Avenue has many quick solutions from the healthy-food list, including choco-nuts
- Whole Foods is not just for grocery shopping — you can stop in to grab a nutritious snack from the deli
Now, here’s some news that you will really like: An article in LiveScience reported on a study linking the consumption of 1 ounce of chocolate each day for two weeks with decreased levels of cortisol. Remember, though, that chocolate can still contain sugar and lots of calories, so make sure you’re eating the chocolate in moderation, and choose dark chocolate!
4. Beat stress by getting active & enjoying winter’s natural beauty.
Though the weather outside is frightful, studies have consistently shown that people who make an effort to spend more time outdoors have lower amounts of stress compared to those who don’t. Taking time to exercise — from something as simple as taking a leisurely stroll to activities that are more intense like hitting the slopes — is essential to lowering stress at this time of year.
Between scrambling to get shopping done and meeting end of year deadlines at work, it can be difficult to squeeze in your normal workout routine. Instead of letting non-activity add on to the stress, get creative -Enjoy the snow by building a snowman, having a snowball fight or making snow angels.
- Pick a favorite winter pastime in your local area, such as sledding, ice skating or collecting pine cones.
- Take a leisurely stroll through holiday fair shops, listen to carolers and admire seasonal window displays.
- If you’re feeling more adventurous, think about planning an active vacation and go snow tubing or skiing.
Moving more has been known to lower stress and bring all of the body’s core systems back into balance. Simply spending time in nature has been shown to decrease cortisol, boost endorphins and oxytocin, relax muscles and improve mood.
5. Experience seasonal emotions & be fully present.
For many, the holidays can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Anxiety and depression are certainly more prevalent between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, but there are a number of ways to help alleviate those feelings and re-balance your body’s stress response:
One of the most valuable, yet underrated, stress-busting activities is practicing gratitude. While it may seem too simple to believe that merely feeling thankful can make you healthier, research has proven it to be the case.
Understand emotions are normal.
Another extraordinarily effective way to rebalance your stress response is to fully experience emotion, which is known to stimulate both the hormones and the neurotransmitters that lower stress. Being more emotional during the holidays is completely normal, and research shows that “talking it out” and fully acknowledging them is critical to our health.
Studies show that laughter can lower your cortisol levels while raising your endorphins and oxytocin, relaxing your muscles and improving your mood. For example, a 1989 study published in the American Journal of the Medical Sciences linked “mirthful laughter” with decreased cortisol levels.
Write in a journal.
Writing in a journal is also a terrific way to balance your stress response. A study published in Psychotherapy Research found that people in therapy who wrote about their emotions had less anxiety and fewer symptoms of depression than a control group of patients that did no writing. The journal-writers also made better progress in therapy.
Dr. Donielle (Doni) Wilson, a nationally celebrated naturopathic doctor, teaches women, men and children how to make life-changing differences to improve their health using natural approaches.
In her new book, “The Stress Remedy,” she discusses how and why we experience stress and its impact on health and well-being, in addition to providing expert guidance on how to reduce stress and reclaim optimal health. A single mom, Dr. Doni is no stranger to stress and attributes her good health to mastering how to support the body, by applying science, with food, exercise, sleep and stress remedies.