The holiday season is supposed to be the “most wonderful time of the year!”

If this is true, why do so many people suffer through this season? There are a lot of factors that can contribute to feeling the holiday blues, but one of the main reasons is stress. Not to mention, COVID-19 has thrown a whole other level of stress into all of our lives. 

There’s so much pressure to buy gifts, host family members, and cook delicious meals (while social distancing and remaining healthy) that it’s easy to see where the joy gets sucked out of celebrating such a wonderful season. Unfortunately, this stress can also lead to health issues that contribute to weight gain, anxiety, depression, and more! 

To help you better manage your stress levels, I wanted to share a few healthy habits to adopt to ensure that stress (and sickness!) doesn’t get the best of you. Let’s dive in…

Why Holiday Stress is So Dangerous

Before we dive into my healthy habit suggestions, let’s take a minute to digest why stress can be so harmful to the body. 

First and foremost, when you start to feel stressed, your nervous system responds by releasing a flood of stress hormones–adrenaline and cortisol. These chemicals put your body in “emergency mode” heightening your senses, increasing your blood flow, tightening your muscles. 

When these hormones continue to flow through your body, it takes a toll on your respiratory and cardiovascular systems. At the same time, these chemicals make it difficult for you to “shut off” so you can rest and get sleep. 

If you’re unable to ease the stress in your body, you might experience…

  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Racing Heart 
  • Insomnia

Worst of all, do you know how many people end up managing stress? The answer: eating. 

When you eat, oxytocin (your body’s feel-good chemical) is released. The more you eat, the better you feel. And now, instead of simply dealing with stress, your body weight is affected. 

If this cycle keeps up, your body is going to suffer in more ways than one, which is why it’s so important to learn healthy strategies for managing stress. 

What might those strategies be? Here’s what I recommend…

Stress-Reducing Tip #1: Fuel Your Body with Healthy Food Choices

Consuming healthy, nutritious foods builds a foundation for a healthy body. When that foundation is in place, the outside effects of stress have less of an impact. 

Having healthy foods on hand is also important for when you feel the need to eat during stressful times. While it’s important to not overeat, eating a handful of bell peppers or a bowl of yogurt is much better than digging into a bag of chips or a carton of ice cream. 

Most importantly, a healthy diet helps keep you strong in the event you contact an illness, such as COVID-19. While I can’t claim that healthy food choices can cure you, they will provide you with a firm foundation to fight illness in the event you get sick this season.

Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy items! 

Stress-Reducing Tip #2: Practice Self-Care

During the holidays, it’s easy to focus on everyone else and forget about yourself. 

Self-care is so important and can help you unwind and relax before too much stress builds. Practicing self-care looks different for everyone. If you’re not sure how to add self-care into your routine, try some of the following ideas…

  • Take a walk
  • Enjoy a hot bath
  • Read a good book 
  • Make time for a cup of coffee with a friend 
  • Prepare a healthy meal/snack for yourself 
  • Watch a movie
  • Tap a nap 

Stress-Reducing Tip #3: Learn to Say No 

Are you someone that burns yourself out doing things for others? Today is the day to learn how to say no. 

You have absolutely no obligation to attend every holiday party you’re invited to, to bake homemade cookies for your kids’ classroom, or to take part in every activity that’s going on in your community. 

Prioritize the things that are most important to you. Mark your calendar. And politely decline invitations to things that don’t interest you. 

Stress-Reducing Tip #4: Set Realistic Expectations

A false sense of expectations often leads people to panic when things don’t go as planned. This year, don’t let unrealistic expectations bog you down. 

Set realistic goals. It’s ok to hope for the best when it comes to cooking meals, giving gifts, and hosting parties, but understand you’re not perfect—nor is anyone else! 

Do you best and focus on what matters most…time spent with the people you love. 

Stress-Reducing Tip #5: Get at Least 30-Minutes of Exercise Each Day 

Finally, exercise is a wonderful way to naturally reduce your stress levels while also keeping your body healthy. In fact, exercising releases the same feel-good chemical that eating does! 

I know you probably have a lot going on this time of year, but I encourage you to make the time to exercise for at least 30-minutes a day. 

Take your dog for a walk, climb up and down your staircase, or stream and online yoga class. There are so many ways you can get moving! 

I hope this season is filled with joy, love, and good health for you!