The holidays can certainly be a stressful time of the year. The pressures of family gatherings, traveling, and purchasing gifts is enough to throw anyone off their kilter. With all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s important to slow down and take care of yourself by managing your stress during the holidays. By practicing some simple, yet effective, stress reducing lifestyle modifications, you can help yourself to truly have a happy holidays.

Understanding Stress

Your stress response is actually a good thing. It warns you of danger or an eminent threat. It allows you to prepare for fight or flight. However when stress is chronic, this is when your body breaks down. Chronic stress is called the “silent killer”. And that is because many health issues can be traced back to chronic stress. Chronic stress causes a number of health issues such as

  • Heart disease
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Tension headaches
  • High blood sugar
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Common cold
  • Depression
  • Sleep dysfunction

Some of the symptoms we see related to chronic stress are:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Panic attacks
  • Sleep problems
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pains and high blood pressure
  • Indigestion or heartburn

Avoidable Stress vs Unavoidable Stress

In general, there are 3 types of stresses: physical, emotional, and chemical. Your body responds to all 3 types of stresses the same way. Some stresses like having a job, raising a family, and paying bills are unavoidable stresses. But there are also stresses that you can avoid like the foods you eat, the beverages you drink, the way you sit in your chair, and the people you choose to have in your life.

I always like to use the example of a bucket when explaining stress to my patients. Your body is like a bucket. You can only hold so much water. One drop of water in an empty bucket is not a big deal. But one drop of water in a full bucket is a very big deal. When you have too much stress in your life, it is like having a full bucket of water. Adding one more stressor can tip you over the edge. This is why it is important to manage the stresses that you can.

Managing stress

You can manage your stress by practicing simple, healthy habits. Believe it or not, it’s the little things that you do day in and day out that make a big difference. Here are some simple tips on managing your stress levels:

Get Good Sleep
Anyone who has had a poor night’s sleep can tell you how it impacts their productivity the next day. Feeling sluggish, dull, and not at one’s best are all hallmarks of a lack of sleep. Try getting 7-8 hours sleep per night. Turn off electronics 1-2 hours before bed, make your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool, and try taking 0.5-3 mg of melatonin and/or 250 mg of magnesium before bedtime.  These simple tips can help you get the sleep your body needs.

Stay Hydrated
Your body needs water for just about every function, from burning fat, to digestion and absorption of nutrients, to flushing toxins through sweat, urine, and bowel movements. Not getting enough water can add stress to your body. Try to consume half your weight in water (ounces) every day (ie 140 lb person would need to drink 70 ounces of water). Use herbal teas, use water enhancers (fresh fruit, cucumber, or mint), eat fresh fruits and vegetables, and even carry around a re-usable water bottle to get more daily water intake.

Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. Exercise releases the “happy” chemicals in your body to help you to feel good. Aim for 30-45 minutes of exercise 3-5 times per week. Find an exercise that you enjoy so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Block out your schedule to allow time for exercise. If you have difficulty sleeping at night, try to not to exercise in the evening hours.

Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises can greatly diminish stress. Block out 10-15 minutes per day to sit in a quite, dark room and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. To help you stay focused on the breath you can count while breathing. Inhale for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and out for 8 counts. If you notice you get dizzy or lightheaded take a few normal breaths in between.

Make Healthy Food Choices
Making poor food choices can increase the stresses on your body. Certain foods you may be eating can cause an inflammatory responses that causes or worsens bodily pain and other inflammatory symptoms. Limit processed foods, eating organic when possible, eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (eat the rainbow), eat fermented foods, and eat grass-fed and/or pasture raised meat products.

Sit With Good Posture
Poor sitting posture will definitely increase the stress on your body. When sitting in your chair, be sure to sit “deep in the seat“. You may find yourself sitting on the edge of the chair which will cause you to slouch. It’s important to get your bottom as far back in the seat pan as it can go. This will keep your lower back supported and prevent you from slouching.

Limit Time on Social Media
Unfortunately, social media can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. You may find yourself feeling low when your social media friends seem so happy and have everything together. However, social media is not a true representation of your life or anyone else’s. Not too mention all the negative political posts!  Try limiting time on social media and instead connect with family and friends through a in-person visit, phone call, or even by writing a letter. How fun it would be to receive an actual letter in the mail?!

Set Boundaries at Work and in Your Relationships
You are only one person and you can do only so much. Working yourself ragged is certainly not helping you or anyone else around you. Set boundaries for your lunch time, end of work time, and personal time. It’s OK to say no.

Go For a Walk
Taking a 10-15 minute walk each day can be a great way to reduce stress. This can be part of your exercise routine. You can even practice your deep breathing exercises during this time. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes, get some good music, and take a hike.

Write in a Journal
Writing down your thoughts can help you process your emotions. Often times your thoughts are swirling around in your head causing you more emotional stress. By writing them down, it can help you to see the big picture and help to resolve your inner conflict. You can also use your journal as a “to do” list. Writing down all you need to do can help you to relax at the end of the day. That way you are not constantly reminding yourself what you need to do the next day

Watch a Funny TV Show or Movie
Laughter is the best medicine. Laughing also releases the “happy” chemicals in your brain. This can help turn any bad day into a good one.

Maintain Healthy Posture and Spinal Alignment
Healthy spinal alignment and posture are an important part of your overall health. Abnormal deviations in your posture and spine can increase the physical stress on your body. This can lead to chronic pain and stiffness in many areas of your body. Headaches, neck, pain, and low back are just a few of the issues that we see with poor posture and poor spinal alignment. Getting corrective chiropractic care can help you to maintain healthy posture and healthy spinal alignment, reducing the physical stress on your body.

Chiropractic and Stress

Chiropractic care does not cure stress. However chiropractic care can help with the effects of chronic stress. Many people with chronic stress report feeling better after chiropractic care. Chiropractic care has been known to reduce pain and stiffness, improve sleep, and even lower blood pressure!

All in all, you don’t live in a bubble. You have to deal with stress in one form or another. By managing your stress, you can help your body to not break down and suffer the consequences of chronic stress. Remember, it’s the little things that you do on a regular basis that will have big impact on your body, positively or negatively.
You get to choose.