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The Holiday Season Can Be Rough

Six Ways to Reduce Stress

Christmas is a magical time for me, bringing back lots of wonderful childhood memories, celebration and quality time with family. However, for many people, the month of December is very stressful and depressing. The reasons vary but often include the pressure of spending money on gifts, further increasing your debt or the stress of entertaining. For others,  Christmas season reminds them of who they have lost and won’t be able to celebrate with. Managing your stress level is often very difficult but here are simple steps you can take to relieve the pressure and regain control.

 

1. Identify the sources of stress in your life.

This one can be difficult because most of us have regular stressors such as money, kids, relationships, family, job etc. Journaling seems ridiculous for some people but it can really help you figure out what your stressors are, how you felt physically and emotionally at the time and what steps to take to reduce or avoid them. You have to remember that chronic stress damages your immune system and can lead to mental and physical health problems.

2. Learn healthier ways to cope with stress.

People cope differently with stress. Some turn to food, sugar, alcohol, drugs, spending money. Some don’t cope, they just plain ignore it. However, simple changes to your coping mechanisms can be healthier for you.

 

  1. Stay physically active!! We all know the benefit of regular physical activity on our health, but often we are too busy and stressed to fit it into our daily routine. Exercise lowers levels of the body's stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers that also boost your mood and make you feel energized. Exercise can also improve your sleep, which is often disrupted by stress, depression and anxiety. 30 minutes of exercise per day is optimum. It doesn’t have to be all at once; doing small activities throughout the day can add up. The first step is to start moving.

  2. Control your caffeine and alcohol consumption!! Caffeine is a stimulant that elevates cortisol levels, and leads to increased anxiety and poor sleep quality. Alcohol is a double edged sword. In moderation, alcohol may help deal with stress in the short term. But in the long run it can contribute to depression and anxiety and make stress harder to handle.

  3. Breathe!! When you are under stress it can lead to rapid, shallow breathing. When you notice this happening, make a conscious effort to take slow, controlled, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose for five seconds, hold for two seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for seven seconds. Concentrate on every breath until you are calm. Practice yoga, meditation or get a massage.

  4. Distract Yourself!! Watch a movie. Read a book. Listen to some music. Buy an Anti-Stress Colouring Book (yes they do make adult colouring books). The key is to focus your brain on something other than the stressors in your life.

  5. Get support!! Everybody has stress and has to deal with it. You are not alone. You're more likely to give in to anxiety and stress if you lack a good support network. Lean on friends and family. Tell them you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Also, consider joining a support group. Often they are a wonderful way to get unbiased advice.​

 

3. Setting healthy boundaries.

A good friend of mine always told me to set boundaries around myself. It’s very difficult to do with family, friends and coworkers but you need to identify your limits and stick to them. Once you figure out what it is that is causing you to feel overwhelmed or stressed, decide what is required to remove yourself from the situation.

 

4. Learn to say NO.

Often people will take on more tasks than they can handle in their personal or professional life, creating anxiety and stress. Don’t feel uncomfortable about saying no to an unreasonable request and learn to delegate.

 

5. Calm yourself with Health Herbs!!

Some herbal supplements can reduce stress and anxiety over short periods, but they are not magic bullet long-term solutions.

 

  • Chamomile. Traditionally, chamomile preparations such as tea and essential oil have been used to relieve anxiety and help sleep.  This herb contains two compounds that promote relaxation, apigenin and luteolin. Researchers found that low doses of chamomile may relieve anxiety, while higher doses help sleep.

  • Lavender. This herb has also been used as a remedy for ailments ranging from insomnia and anxiety to depression and fatigue. Some evidence suggests that aromatherapy with lavender may slow the activity of the nervous system, improve sleep quality, lift mood and promote relaxation.

  • Valerian. Valerian has been used for centuries to ease insomnia, anxiety, and nervous restlessness. Its mechanism of action is still unknown, but scientists believe it increases the amount of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain which helps regulate nerve cells and has a calming anti-anxiety effect.

  • Siberian Ginseng. Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus) is classified as an adaptogen, which increases the body’s ability to handle stress (physical, mental and emotional), reduces fatigue and naturally supports healthy adrenal function and hormone levels.

  • Passionflower. Passionflower is a traditional calming herb used for anxiety and insomnia. Like Valerian, it is believed that this herb works by increasing levels of a chemical called gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain that helps decrease the activity of some other brain cells, promoting relaxation. In addition, passionflower is often found in combination with other anti-stress herbs such as valerian, hops, chamomile and lemon balm to help reduce anxiety and promote sleep. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to distinguish the unique qualities of each herb.

  • Ashwagandha. This ayurvedic herb also known as Withaniasomnifera, is an herb made from the roots of a small evergreen shrub.  It is used for various kinds of disease processes especially as a nervine tonic. In 2009,  the medical journal "PLoS One” published a study showing significant improvements to mental health, concentration, fatigue levels, social functioning, vitality, and overall quality of life in participants that took 300 mg of ashwagandha supplement compared to the participants who had psychotherapy and the placebo. 

 

6. Take Time for You

Scheduling “me time” every day, even for only 15 minutes may seem selfish but can reduce your stress level significantly, help center you, and help you relax. During the holiday season try to have some fun, remember to laugh, catch up with family and friends, and be grateful for everyone who has touched your life. When you have an attitude of gratitude, your body and mind will leave you feeling healthy, happy, and whole.